This month of Elul is a month of introspection – examining what we did right and how to improve upon it – and where we erred and how to correct it. It is especially a time of closeness to the King of Kings who is said these days "to be in the field" – in other words, our prayers are especially poignant, direct and pleasing to the Creator of the World at this time.
In the Jewish tradition, the month of Elul is a time of repentance in preparation for the High Holy Days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. The word “Elul” is similar to the root of the verb “search” in Aramaic. The Talmud writes that the Hebrew word "Elul" can be expanded as an acronym for "Ani L’dodi V’dodi Li" – "I am to my Beloved and my Beloved is to me". Elul is seen as a time to search one’s heart and draw close to God in preparation for the coming Day of Judgement, Rosh Hashanah, and Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur.
Aside from the blowing of the shofar, the other major ritual practice during Elul is to recite selichot (special penitential prayers) every morning before sunrise every morning during the entire month of Elul.
Above all, Elul is a time for teshuva, translated as "repentance", but it literally means "to return" – to return to our Creator and to return to the pure and holy spark which is the essence of our true selves. It is a time to straighten our paths and examine our direction. Especially at this time in world history, with the shattering of the world’s financial markets and the major decline of the U.S. dollar, the collapse of landmark businesses, the fall of savvy political players, the affliction of natural disasters which seem to batter our physical world almost weekly, and the threats of despotic leaders over Am Yisrael’s very existence, it seems that HaShem is sending us a clear message that we should depend on nothing except the Almighty and that we should repent (Ein Od Milvado!). We are being shown, in front of our very eyes, that all is truly as Shelomo HaMelech (King Solomon) said so many thousands of years ago "Hevel Havalim" – emptiness and vanity.
In short, it won’t matter at the end of our days whose bank account was bigger, who took the better vacation, and who had the latest hi-tech gadgets. How much time do we waste surfing the internet, screaming our lungs out at ball games, and watching the latest sitcoms – it’s all nothing more than the most insidious of all illusions as to what truly counts. These distractions are the ingenious work of the yaser hara (evil inclination) sent to deter us from our true mission in life, which, in short, is the perfection of ourselves and the betterment of our world that we have been blessed to live in.
We need to ask ourselves, every day, every week, every month and certainly every year, especially during this month of Elul – what did we accomplish? Whose life did we touch? What kind acts did we do? What charity did we give? What Torah did we learn? Did we give our Father in Heaven "nachat" (parental joy) today? What character traits do we need to fix? This is exactly how we should be spending our time, and incorporating it all into our daily routines because, at the end of the day, THIS is all we take with us. As Rebbe Nachman said, "money and the person never stay together; either money leaves the person or the person leaves the money." Invest in spiritual growth and in the end, the dividends, as promised by our Creator, are beyond our imagination.
How should we approach this Holiest time of year? With trepidation, of course, but also with great hope. Another Rabbinic scholar, in fact, state that at this time of year, we should believe that our upcoming year will be rich with blessings, that our prayers will be heard and answered for the good, and we should be seeking that sparkling kernel of good within each of us. We should believe we can do better and ask for the blessing of self-improvement and Divine guidance in this endeavor, and, for certain, this request will be granted.
We should also know that Elul is the foundation for the upcoming year – how we are in Elul reflects the roadmap for the year to come. Therefore, there is a firm statement in all the holy writings from which we should draw strength that if we "think good it will be good." In fact, the words "abracadabra" literally mean "I create as I speak." As HaShem created the world through ten utterances, so we, with our speech, built in His holy image, have the ability to channel Divine energies to create our own reality – it’s truly mind boggling!!
In light of this, we should remember all of the good we did during the year – acts of charity, kindness, lighting Shabbat candles, wearing tzi-tzi, refraining from saying something hurtful to another or gossiping – and we should draw deep satisfaction and strength from these acts, and where we erred – jealousy, anger, indecision, dishonesty, harsh judgment, etc. – we should make a concrete plan for improvement (note, not perfection!).
We are a holy, kind and brave people and our redemption, will come soon and hopefully, with great Divine mercy. As it has been said "Even the most evil amongst Israel is as full of mitzvot as a pomegranate is full of seeds."
Specific Elul customs include the daily sounding of the shofar (ram’s horn) as a call to repentance. The Baal Shem Tov instituted the custom of reciting three additional chapters of Psalms each day, from the 1st of Elul until Yom Kippur (on Yom Kippur the remaining 36 chapters are recited, thereby completing the entire book of Psalms).
Wishing you a year of great understanding, revelation and growth – that you should draw strength from your good points and continue on an upwards spiritual spiral toward holiness and closeness to our Creator – we should all become the true tzaddikim (righteous ones) that we were meant to be and in the merit of our efforts, may HaShem, in His mercy, dispel this terrible time of spiritual darkness and bring the return of our Righteous Messiah speedily and in our days, Amen.
Tags: affliction, day of atonement, day of judgement, dodi li, HaShem, hebrew word, High Holy Days, introspection, jewish tradition, king of kings, month of elul, natural disasters, ritual practice, rosh hashanah, rosh hashanah and yom kippur, shofar, teshuva, true selves, yisrael, yom kippur
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