Summer days with great weather are a limited commodity in Duluth, so we try to spend as much time as we can enjoying the outdoors. Which is why it is so disappointing to receive warnings not to go outside and to close all the windows because of the heavy smoke from wild fires, this time in Greenwood, Minnesota. A strong wind had blown the smoke into the Duluth area from some 175 miles away. Which reminded me of a quote from the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe's Memoirs:
"Though summer still lingered and the day was bright and sunny, there was a change in the air. One smelled already the Elul-scent; a teshuvah-wind was blowing. Everyone grew more serious, more thoughtful... All awaited the call of the shofar, the first blast that would announce the opening of the gates of the month of mercy."
-Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, describing the Shabbat before Elul in the town of Lubavitch.
Imagine the atmosphere where people sensed the spiritual preparations the way we sense smoke in the air. It's something you can't ignore, you can feel it in your lungs. It changes your behavior, you adapt your schedule. How can we recreate an atmosphere like that?
Perhaps the answer lies in another quote from the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe:
My revered father, the Rebbe Rashab, once said: “A chassid creates an environment. If not, he must carefully check through his own knapsack; he must examine his own spiritual state. The very fact that he is not creating an environment should crush him like a mere splinter. He should ask himself: ‘What am I doing in this world?’"
As Rosh Hashanah approaches we need to create our own environments for ourselves and our families. We can't just turn the page on the calendar like it's another day. Every day we need to add in Torah study, Prayer and Charity. We need to think about how this year will be better than the last. These actions will affect us and those around us, creating an atmosphere we can be proud of.
And surely we will all be written and sealed in the book of life, for a Happy and Sweet Year.