As Jackie Mason has observed, they are always either early or late – never on time. When they are on weekends, they leave us exhausted for the week. When they are on weekdays, they interfere with our ability to get anything done. When the occur in early September, who can maintain the fast so late on Yom Kippur? When they are in mid-October, who can get home in time for Kol Nidrei?
The relatively unpredictable pattern of the Yamim Nora’im may be very appropriate. If we become complacent in our observance of the days of penitence, then they lose their urgency and meaning. Planning a month of introspection and ten days of repentance might easily become the equivalent of quarterly tax payments, changing the furnace filter or confirming the time-share. This season is meant to shake us out of our usual patterns and force us to take a look at how we spend our time – especially the ruts in which we find ourselves.
The month of Elul (it has just begun) is a time for taking stock of your actions and interactions. Look with affection at the people around you. What have you done to elevate the spark of God within each one? What opportunities have you missed to raise them up? How have you diminished them through action or neglect? Even thinking in those terms cracks the veneer of usualness in your life.
Once you have begun to identify the good and the bad in your life, you have the chance to reinforce your strengths and compensate for your deficits. The process is called teshuvah, “turning.” The result is forgiveness by those you have wronged – other people, God and yourself.
Can it ever really be too early?