Seasons - Then and Now

For the week ending 25 August 2018 / 14 Elul 5778

Month of Elul

by Rabbi Chaviv Danesh
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Unlike secular holidays that simply commemorate the past, Jewish holidays revive the past and bring it to the present. The commentaries explain that every holiday carries within it a special energy that becomes available every year on the holiday. Through keeping the mitzvot that pertain to each holiday, one can tap into the special energy of that holiday and thereby draw closer to G-d (see Derech Hashem, part 4, 4:8). The same is true regarding the different months of the year. Every month has its own unique characteristics, which, if utilized correctly, can help one deepen his relationship with G-d. With this in mind, let’s try to analyze the special characteristics of the month of Elul.

Historically, Chazal tell us that Moshe Rabbeinu went up to receive the second set of tablets on Rosh Chodesh Elul. It was then that they blew the shofar to remind the people not to sin like they did the first time that Moshe Rabbeinu went up and they made the golden calf, and to awaken them to repent for the past. Theirrepentance culminated on Yom Kippur when G-d finally said that He forgave them and gave them the second set of tablets (Pirkei d’Rabbi Eliezer 46; Rashi on Devarim 9:18). Therefore, just as Yom Kippur continues to be a day of forgiveness in the present, so too, the days leading to Yom Kippur continue to be days that are auspicious for repentance.

Based on the above, many have the custom to blow the shofar starting from Rosh Chodesh Elul, to awaken the people to stay away from transgressions and to repent before Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur; as the verse says “Can a shofar be blown in the city and the nation not be frightened?!” This is indeed the prevalent custom of the Ashkenazim. The prevalent Sefardic custom is to say selichot starting from the day after Rosh Chodesh Elul with the same intention of awakening people to repent (See Tur, Beit Yosef 581:1; Chayei Adam 138:1; Kaf Hachaim 581:13-14).

Hints to Elul

The commentaries find hints of the name Elul in various verses, and, from there, learn out how one can utilize the energy of this month properly.

The name “Elul” is hinted at in the verse “Umal Hashem elokecha et levavecha v’et levav zarecha” (G-d will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendent). The beginning letters of the words “et levavecha v’et levav” spell Elul (Ba’al HaTurim on Devarim 30:6). This hints at the special help from Above that we are given in this month to break free from the bonds of the yetzer hara (evil inclination) that hardens our hearts and prevents us from repenting.

Furthermore, the beginning letters of the verse in Shir Hashirim (6:3), “Ani l’dodi v’dodi li” (I am for my Beloved and my Beloved is for me), which refers to the relationship between us and G-d, spell “Elul” (Abudarham, Seder Tefillat Rosh Hashana). This idea hints to the month’s being an auspicious time for our prayers, which are essentially a form of bonding with G-d — Who is our Beloved — to be accepted.

Finally, the name Elul is hinted at in the verse in Megillat Esther (9:22) “U’mishloach manot ish lere’ehu u’matanot la’evyonim” (referring to the mitzvah of giving presents to the poor on Purim). The first letters of the words “ish lere’ehu u’matanot la’evyonim” spell Elul. This hints at the idea of the importance of giving charity in this month as well (Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 128:1).

Chazal tell us that repentance, prayer, and charity have the power to undo a harsh decree (Ber. Rabbah 44:15). The Kitzur Shulchan Aruch says that the places where the name Elul appears refer exactly to these three things, encouraging us to involve ourselves with them before the judgment on Rosh Hashana (Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 128:1). May we all merit making the most of this precious month and be granted a favorable judgment on Rosh Hashana.

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