I’m not a big fan of T-shirts, either as a fashion statement or as a political one. Either as a symbol of a long-ago rock concert or a lack of desire to think about what to wear. Either with oh-so-cute slogans or oh-so-vulgar ones. But I did see one recently that seemed appropriate for the moment: LIFE IS SHORT, it said, STAY AWAKE FOR IT!

This resonates with the theme of the month of Elul, the month leading up to Rosh Hashanah, the day of judgment. Every day during morning prayers this month we blow the shofar. Long before the T-shirt designer, the Almighty recognized that we all need a wakeup call, that we are all at risk of living our Iives on automatic, of going through the motions. Even in less predictable situations like the current pandemic, we tend to try to create a routine (good) and may still end up living life by rote, phoning it in rather than really engaging.

Along comes the shofar (or the T-shirt!) to remind us that this is not the way we want to live, not the ideal format for spiritual growth. We need to snap out of our somnolent state and grab life by the horns. In whatever circumstances we find ourselves, there is still a lot of Iiving to do, a lot of choices to make. But we have to be awake to make them effectively, to make them wisely, to make them well.

It’s much more effort to “stay awake for it”. It’s much easier to just go with the flow and allow life’s winds to just carry us along. But that means we’ve given up all agency for our own lives and decisions. We’ve decided to let life happen to us rather than take responsibility for it. We’ve abandoned our precious gift of free will.

This frequently happens without our really choosing it. We just don’t choose not to let it happen. We just don’t take the reins in our hands. We’re a little too tired, a little too passive, perhaps a little too worn out. It’s understandable. It can happen to all of us; usually it’s a slow erosion.

But the Almighty knows how destructive this is and He loves us too much to ignore this damaging behavior. He commands us to blow the shofar every day this month so that we will wake up, so that we will remember that Rosh Hashanah is fast approaching, so that we will think about the need to grow and change, to make new choices and reinforce old decisions. It’s a gift He’s given us, this opportunity to grow and He won’t let us forget it! For which we are grateful.

I tend to associate T-shirts with old Grateful Dead concerts, freebies given out at a work conference, the easiest choice in the morning to pick up off that pile of clothes on the floor (!), rather than with important spiritual messages.

But I was wrong. And so begins my growth for the month of Elul.