Rabbi Sarah DePaolo
After months of only the occasional workout, I recently started lifting weights again. On that first day back at the gym I picked up the same weights I had always used, and felt myself strain to finish a set that was easy a year ago. I had gleefully returned to working out, only to feel uncomfortable and frustrated. Then, as bad as I felt working out, the day after was even worse. My sore muscles screamed as I attempted an everyday task, and I almost did not want to return to the gym. Why would I do something, if the effects were so unpleasant? After months of lack of use, I needed to build up the strength I once had. I had pushed my muscles without giving them the proper preparation.
I imagine Elul like a month-long warm up after a year of inactivity for our t’shuvah muscles. If we were to simply dive right into the High Holy Days without any preparation, it would be like trying to run a marathon after months of just taking a short walk around the block. We would be miserable, and we would never want to participate. Therefore, we take these weeks leading up to the Days of Awe to ease ourselves into the practice of t’shuvah. We stretch our minds around the difficult task of self reflection; warm up our tongue to say: “I’m sorry.” We push ourselves a little further each day, strengthening our t’shuvah muscles, so they are able to carry the weight of our repentance into the new year.