New Year's Eve must be the loneliest night of the year.

People jumping up and down imbibing vast amounts of alcohol in a frenzy of unspontaneous merriment. Painted faces contorted in expressions of forced hysterical laughter. At twelve o'clock everyone joining hands and slurring their way through a Highland ballad with obscure lyrics. And then, the morning after... New Year's was always a bit of a mystery to me.

There was a great Jew who passed away from this world not so many years ago. In the month of Elul, before Rosh HaShana, his entire demeanor would change. He would sit at his meals surrounded by his talmidim in complete silence, preoccupied. Rosh HaShana was coming. How could one speak when the Books of Life and Death were about to be opened? On his face was a palpable fear.

How could one make light at such a time as this?

We live in a world where everything has to be "light." The word heavy has become almost exclusively pejorative ("You're so-o-o heavy!").

Light (or, as it is now commonly spelled, lite) is a synonym for all that is socially acceptable. Light is the buzzword that sells drinks and foods. Light is what people want from their bathroom scales. Light is what people want from relationships. We are so concerned with being "light" that we are in danger of taking off and floating away. Given this cultural focus, is it any wonder we have such difficulties relating to the preparation for the "heaviest" day in the year?

So how can we relate to Rosh HaShana and the time of preparation for it?

There is nothing in this world from which we cannot learn something. Every experience, every feeling, is an echo of a higher reality.

Imagine that after living somewhere for many years, you have to go away. The day before you leave you walk around, looking at your surroundings differently. You think, "This time tomorrow, I'll be on the other side of the world. And all of this will still be going on." Even though you're still looking at familiar faces and places, you have the uncanny feeling you've already left. Everything seems distant and remote. The here-and-now becomes "there-and-then."

When we enter this "twenty-four-hours-before-departure zone," we look at familiar sights through the eyes of a stranger. For the first time, perhaps, we see our surroundings and our lives objectively. Leaving home clears our eyes. We see where we are. We see where we have come from.

Elul is like a last day before a long journey. On Rosh HaShana, God decides what will happen in the life of everyone in the world. Who knows what the new year may bring? Some will wander; some will be at rest; some will find their lives in turmoil; some will find tranquility; some will live; some will die.

That feeling of objectivity that we experience just before we leave home is a metaphor for the month of Elul. In Elul, God allows us to come very close to Him. He gives us the chance to see ourselves and our lives with a sense of detachment.

Like the last day before a long journey, Elul is a time to reflect on our lives. Everyone must make this journey. Time is a compulsory ticket to the future. But in these precious moments before God writes the itinerary of another year, we have the chance to influence our ultimate destination. Every morning the shofar is sounded in the houses of prayer like a ship's siren calling us, warning us that the boat is about to sail: "All aboard! You cannot stay where you are. All aboard for the New Year!"

To where will this year take us?

Grab that feeling that is the gift of Elul. Look at your life and realize that you can change it. Elul empowers us to return to the Source, to return to Reality. Elul empowers us to rid ourselves of the superficialities of the world and to connect once again to our real selves.

More articles available at Ohr Somayach's website.