I had to stop and think for a moment. What day was it? Was it Monday or Tuesday or maybe Thursday? I was standing in front of the minyan at the podium leading the Shacharit morning prayers. My rapid mantra mumble came to a complete halt. The psalm for the day needed to be recited. After praying for endless pages flawlessly by rote and rhythm, I came to a standstill—“What day is it today?”

The rabbi softly said to me, no doubt to ease my embarrassment, “A sage once commented that the psalm for the day is the only time during the prayer service that we actually have to really think about what we are praying.”

Was it Monday or Tuesday or maybe Thursday?

Okay, so the specific day was figured out, the psalm was said and life went on. But the rabbi’s words stayed with me beyond his momentary whisper. I began to reflect and ponder—perhaps the reason we chant a psalm for the day is to specifically teach us how to approach all our prayers.

When we invoke the names of our patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, we should also stop, hesitate, think and remember about their lives and who they were. We should falter in the moment while we try to recall their personal great efforts, their interactions with their families, their struggles and their relationship with the precious Land of Israel.

A few lines down we utter, “Somech noflim v’rofeh cholim, He supports the falling and heals the sick.” Those words, too, need to cause us to stumble over our mumble. We should pause from the plethora of prayer and try to think intently about the families of the soldiers who sacrificed their lives for the sanctity of our Jewish homeland. And I need to stall in my tracks and cry to the Holy One for complete physical restoration for my dear friend with MS who was just diagnosed with lung cancer.

Hashiveynu Avinu, Cause us to return, our Father.” I’m confused. Return? Where have I gone? When do I get back? What’s the first step of this journey? How can I even turn the page before I figure this one out?

And it is no little thing to request, “Sim shalom, Bestow peace.” Let me concentrate on this for a moment. But those in the room reply “Amen,” and the clock ticks on.

Time out! Wait! What day is it? What year is it? What month is it?

It is Elul. The entire month is the pause we take before we pray in the following month of Tishrei. Elul is a time to stop and take an account of our confusion. We hesitate before the New Year.

Our past year has been filled with news flashes, red alerts, and dinner chatters on serious matters that erupt, ebb and explode before our eyes. The politicians and sirens, the errors and terrors, the fights and anti-Semites, the ceasefires and liars, wealth and health—we can barely digest or invest in what is happening in our world.

It’s Elul. Slow down

What day is it today? It’s Elul. Slow down. We have to remember how to pray. As parliaments prepare, and armies rearm, and as our loved ones juggle and struggle with their tills and ills—we need to pray with deliberate words and focused thoughts.

It’s Elul.

We should pray this month, leading up to Rosh Hashanah, with thoughtfulness, hesitation and hope—like one who cautiously and purposefully approaches the blessing of a new day.