As the Israelites prepare to cross the Jordan into the Promised Land, Moses seizes one final opportunity to set them on the right path, warning them both how they must behave and what they must avoid.
This Shabbat we also recite the blessing for Rosh Chodesh Ellul, the month which precedes the High Holy Days. Moses's warnings resonate across the millennia to impact upon us at this season. Why is this the case? Because the month of Ellul has traditionally been the month of preparation and constructive introspection before the Days of Awe. Rabbi Moses ben Abraham of Premsla said that "the wise prepare themselves with repentance and prayer and charity during the month of Ellul. Then they will be ready to appear before God on Rosh Hashanah."
One of the things many honest Jews say when they come to synagogue over the High Holy Days is that they do not get that much out of them beyond the social reunion and a few other moments which may evoke memories of earlier times and the people they shared them with. There may be many reasons for these views, and undoubtedly one of them is that far too many of us come to these ten days without forethought or emotional and spiritual preparation.
This is where Ellul comes into its own. The month before Rosh Hashanah offers us 29 days on which we can think steadily and accumulatively about our lives and what we like and dislike in them and in ourselves. Identifying our strengths and weaknesses is good for us at any time, but especially just before the Days of Awe, for we can then go into their precious process of atonement and inner cleansing with a clear sense of where we need to change.