Insights into Halacha

For the week ending 24 September 2011 / 24 Elul 5771

Of Elul, L'David, and Golems

by Rabbi Yehuda Spitz
The Color of HeavenArtscroll

There is near universal[1] custom during the month of Elul as preparation to the Yamim Noraim, to recite the Chapter of Tehillim (27) “L’David Hashem Ori” during davening, both every morning and evening, and all the way up to Shmini Atzeret[2]. This custom is based on the Midrash Socher Tov[3] that elucidates that various phrases of this chapter allude to the holidays of the repentance period - Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur, and Sukkot, as well as to the month of Elul itself[4].

The Malbim offers an alternate explanation. In this chapter, David HaMelech, the author of Tehillim, asked to cleave to Hashem and that all obstacles that block coming close to Him be removed. The Malbim[5] explains that when we strive to do so, Hashem will attach Himself to us with a higher level of personalized supervision. It is thus quite apropos to recite “L’David” during the month of Elul, whose name hints to the acronym “Ani L’dodi V’dodi Li [6] - I am to my beloved and my beloved is to me”. Elul is a month which symbolizes our relationship to Hashem, and one in which proper repentance is more readily accepted[7].

Where’s the source?

Where and when did this minhag start? It is not mentioned in the Gemara or in the Rishonim, and not even referenced in the Shulchan Aruch or its commentaries. Much research has been done and many works have been written to try to find the earliest source for this meaningful minhag[8].

Many attribute it to the noted Kabbalist and author of “Amtachas Binyamin”, Rabbi Binyamin Beinish Cohen in his seferShem Tov Katan[9]”, first printed in 1706. He writes that one should be scrupulous to recite “L’David” daily from Rosh Chodesh Elul until after Simchat Torah, as saying it has the potential to avert and even nullify Heavenly decrees. Others erroneously concluded that the earliest source was a controversial sefer called ‘Chemdas Yamim” first printed in 1731.

Yet, there is possibly an earlier source. In “Nezer Hakodesh - Minhagei Beis Ropschitz[10] a story is related about the Ba’al Shem Tov, where he mentioned a Tzaddik, known as Rabbi Eliyahu Ba’al Shem, who had saved the Jews of a certain town from eviction by successfully promising the childless mayor a son within a year. The Ba’al Shem Tov mentioned that this Tzaddik, who lived in the late 1600’s, was the one who established the custom of reciting “L’David” during Elul.

History has shown that there were two Tzaddikim known by this name[11]. The better known of the two is Rabbi Eliyahu Ba’al Shem of Chelm, who was of such stature that he was known to have created a Golem[12]. His grandchildren, the Gedolim known as the Chacham Tzvi, as well as his son the Ya’avetz (Rabbi Yaakov Emden), both have written responsa on the topic of the Golem that their grandfather created[13]. The Chid”a[14] also attested to its existence. Not only that, there is even a halachic debate between the Mishna Brura[15] and the Chazon Ish[16] whether such a Golem can be counted for a minyan!

The other Rabbi Eliyahu Ba’al Shem was Rabbi Eliyahu Luentz, who was known as a master Kabbalist in the 17th century. He wrote a seminal volume on the Zohar[17], and was a disciple of my namesake, the Maharal m’Prague, (who was rumored to have also created a Golem[18]).

In conclusion, although we are left uncertain as to whom the originator of this powerful minhag was, we can rest assured that it has a reliable source. We can thus appreciate the significance of saying this chapter of Tehillim during Elul, as it underscores the major goals of the season of repentance[19].

Much of this article is based on Likutei Eliezer by Rabbi Eliezer Brodt, Chapter 1.

[1]There are a few Chassidic communities, including Sanz, who do not however. The Gr”a also did not approve of this addition to davening (Ma’aseh Rav 53). See Shu”t Divrei Moshe 34, and Sefer Minhagei Kamarna, (printed in the back of Shulchan HaTahor) Elul, 381, as well as Likutei Eliezer pg. 5, footnotes 30 - 31. The Kamarna Rebbe told me that although in his shulL’David” is recited, as most of his congregation are not his Chassidim and nearly everyone’s custom is to recite it, nevertheless, he personally does not.

[2]Mishna Brura 581:2.

[3]On said Chapter of Tehillim.

[4]See V’ani BaHashem Atzapeh pg. 71, footnote 13, quoting Rabbi Chaim Falag’i.

[5]Malbim - in his introduction to said Chapter of Tehillim; quoted in Awesome Days pg. 31.

[6]Shir HaShirim 6:3.

[7]See the Mishna Brura’s introduction to 581.

[8]For long list of recent works addressing this see Likutei Eliezer pg. 1, footnote 2.

[9]See Likutei Eliezer pg. 4.

[10]Cited in Likutei Eliezer pg. 7.

[11]Likutei Eliezer ibid.

[12]See Yeshurun 17, pp. 665 - 666, in the article by R’ M.D. Chichik on Rabbi Eliyahu Ba’al Shem from Chelm, for more on this topic. In fact, the story of Rabbi Eliyahu and his Golem was recently adapted as a hardcover comic book entitled "The Golem of Chelm – Hayah V'Nivra".

[13]Shu”t Chacham Tzvi 93, Shu”t She’elas Ya’avetz vol. 2, 82.

[14]Shem Gedolim vol. 1, Ma'areches Gedolim - Ma’areches Alef, 166.

[15]Mishna Brura 55:4, who does not actually rule, but rather addresses the issue and says it is a safek; which is actually the main thrust of the Chacham Tzvi’s teshuva – that he personally was undecided as to the proper halacha.

[16]Chazon Ish Y"D 116:1, who wrote that a Golem would not be able to count for a minyan as it not only would be excluded from the rights and privileges of a Jew, but even from those of a human being. This is also the opinion of the Ya'avetz (quoted above), as well as the Chid"a (Birkei Yosef O.C. 55, 4 s.v. u'lmai), the Ikrei HaDat (Ikrei Dinim O.C. 3:15), and the KafHaChaim (O.C. 55:12).

[17]Titled “Aderes Eliyahu”.

[18] Although legends about the Maharal’s Golem have been in print since 1837, the well known stories that captivated the popular imagination were first published in the early 20th century (Nifla’os HaMaharal) by Rabbi Yudel Rosenberg, author of the Yados Nedarim, who also translated the Zohar into Hebrew, and later was the Av Beis Din of Montreal, Canada. See Tradition 36, 1 (2002) “R’ Yudl Rosenberg and the Golem of Prague”, by Prof. S. Z. Leiman.

[19]This article was written as a zechus for- לישועה מיד .שירה יפה בת רחל מרים וכל ילדיה

For any questions, comments or for the full Mareh Mekomos / sources, please email the author:

Disclaimer: These are just a few basic guidelines and overview of the Halacha discussed in this article. This is by no means a complete comprehensive authoritative guide, but rather a brief summary to raise awareness of the issue. One should not compare similar cases in order to rules in any real case, but should refer his questions to a competent Halachic authority.

Disclaimer: This is not a comprehensive guide, rather a brief summary to raise awareness of the issues. In any real case one should ask a competent Halachic authority.

L'iluy Nishmas the Rosh HaYeshiva - Rav Chonoh Menachem Mendel ben R' Yechezkel Shraga, Rav Yaakov Yeshaya ben R' Boruch Yehuda, and l'zchus for Shira Yaffa bas Rochel Miriam and her children for a yeshua teikef u'miyad!

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