During services today, my almost-three-year-old daughter ran into the shul, parading in my wife’s high-heeled shoes. Hrmph, I thought. Here it is, the special month of Elul, and we are all working on preparing our souls for the approaching High Holidays. And my daughter marches in and breaks our devoted concentration with her distracting (albeit adorable) antics.

I quickly realized that my reaction is what needed the work. Everything happens for a reason; G‑d doesn’t play dice with the universe, and all of that. We call this “divine providence.” I think of it as supernal synchronicity.

My reaction to this cute event was, “How can this be happening when I am trying to serve G‑d?” My reaction should have been, “What can I learn from my daughter?” Upon short reflection, the answer was obvious. Here she is, presenting graphically what we are all trying to do emotionally and spiritually. She is working on elevating herself just a few inches.

We have had a nice warm summer, with leisurely pastimes and a very intense focus on “taking it easy.” But then, sometime during September, Rosh Hashanah appears on our calendar. It is serious business, the Day of Judgment. This is followed by several more days with the inviting epithet “Days of Repentance,” which conclude with Yom Kippur—the Day of Atonement.

What about transition?

Judaism does provide one. In fact, it provides an entire month before Rosh Hashanah, called Elul. And now back to the high heels. This is a month of self-improvement. It is a month in which we endeavor to lift ourselves just a few inches higher to prepare for the High Holidays. But our elevation during this month is quite different, and in a sense more profound, than the elevation of Rosh Hashanah et al.

Kabbalah explains that Jewish holidays bring with them an intensive amount of light and inspiration. (Ever felt inspired on Yom Kippur? Now you know why!) On the one hand, this is awesome. On the other hand, a very important ingredient may be missing—our own personal effort.

On Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur we are lifted, but we are lifted from above, so to speak. During the month of Elul,1 we are not privy to that awesome light. We must lift ourselves up from below. We may not feel the inspiration; we may not feel anything at all. We are simply aware that Rosh Hashanah is coming again, and we must make a move, a change.

This uninspired feeling is referred to in chassidic writings as the “heel.” It has the least sensitivity. But it provides the footing for the rest of one’s service. And although the inspiration may be of a lower grade, it is infinitely more precious to G‑d. It is for this effort that we make, when we are not in the mood, that G‑d created us in the first place.

Our service during the holidays is infused with G‑d’s gift to us. But lifting up our heels, and changing just a bit, even when there is little stimulation—this is our gift to G‑d.