THE NAME: ELUL“I
am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine” (Song of Songs 6:3).
of the original Hebrew words, “Ani l’dodi v’dodi li,” spell Elul.
The month of Elul is the period of ‘arousal from below,’ when the initiation of
the man/G-d interaction is from our side: “I am my beloved’s.” Rosh Hashanah
and Yom Kippur are the time of ‘arousal from above,’ G-d’s response: “and my beloved
is mine.” The verse implies a causal relationship; the effulgence of Rosh
Hashanah and Yom Kippur is a direct response to the arousal from below in Elul.
That is why Elul is an acronym for “I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine,”
since proper preparation in Elul invokes the revelation of Rosh Hashanah and Yom
from Sefer Ha’maamorim Meluket, Vol. 3, p. 363.
The eighteenth day of the month of Elul [this year: Sept. 13],
12 days before Rosh HaShanah, marks the 316th year since the birthday
in 1698 of the Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov, the revealer of the Chassidic
movement --on the same date!--in 1734. It presents a precious opportunity
to inculcate into our lives his main teachings and his essence. To start,
here are three of the principles that he made famous:
- Respect and care for every single Jew,
Be conscious that everything that happens is for a reason in G-d's overall
- Study and spread the inner teachings of Torah–Kabbalah/Chassidut–in
order to prepare the arrival of Moshiach and the final redemption.
As Elul is quickly coming to close, so is the year. Let’s
make best use of what remains of this special time for spiritual self-evaluation.
There is a tradition among Chassidim that the 18th, the chai or
“life-force,” of Elul starts a final count-down to Rosh Hashanah. It is
taught that each of the last 12 days of the year (Elul 18-29; Sept. 13-24)
correspond to the 12 months of the ending year. The 18th corresponds to
the past Tishrei, the month of the high holidays; the 19th to Cheshvan;
the 20th to the month of Kislev including Chanukah etc.; until
the eve of Rosh Hashanah which is for Elul. On each of these consecutive
days, we look into our ‘account books,’ checking to see if we served G-d
to our maximum during the corresponding month, and how we need to improve
in the future. Doing so is an excellent technique to properly prepare
ourselves for the High Holidays.
from The Introduction to THE ELUL PROCESS
“Prepare the holy throne”
(Zohar). Holiness requires preparation. Our chief task is not to
create it, but rather to become a receptacle for holiness, which comes about
according to the manner of the preparation.
Elul is the last month of the Jewish calendar year. As the preparation
for Rosh Hashanah, the Day of Judgment, which immediately follows it,
Elul is a month of repentance, marked by a number of Festivals
and Holidays, special customs and traditions.
Elul is also the month of soul-accounting. A businessman occasionally needs
to calculate an overall profit-and-loss statement, as well as a detailed ledger.
We too need to conduct an annual audit of the state of our spiritual ‘business.’
The entire year we are involved in accruing profit: serving G-d through Torah-study,
mitzvah-observance, prayer and good deeds. In the month of Elul, we make
a general reckoning of all we have done throughout the year.
Further, the best
possible time for this soul-accounting is the month of Elul, for then the Thirteen
Attributes of Mercy shine (i.e. “...slow to anger and abounding in kindness and
truth; forgiving iniquity, ...”). This revelation may be compared to a king
who emerges from his palace and goes out to the field in full view of his subjects.
Only then is it possible to engage appropriately in spiritual introspection
without the danger of sinking into hopelessness and despair. For, after
all, the king is with him in the field—he has our benefit in mind.
for a proper soul accounting is total acceptance of and self-subordination to
the heavenly yoke. This self-subordination can produce a generous ‘growth ,’ just
as a seed sown in the ground and covered sprouts a yield far greater than itself.
Although engaging in such spiritual labor can be difficult, making a sincere,
all-out effort helps to generate the necessary inner strength to make our
actual, practical service conform with Divine expectations.
Refoel Leitner authored and illustrated Ascent “How-to” Charts
#8: ”Three Gates of Yom Kippur” (AQ#16) and #11: ”The Elul Process” (AQ#42).
He currently resides in New York State.
Some Laws and Customs
HEAR THE SHOFAR. Beginning with the first
day of Elul (this year: Aug. 19), until Friday, Sept. 14, it is customary
to blow the shofar [ram’s horn] after the week-day morning
prayer. The call of the shofar stirs the heart. Its daily
blasts proclaim: “Awaken, you sleepers, from your sleep! Arise, you
slumberers, from your slumber! Examine your actions and repent.”
SAY EXTRA PSALMS. From the first day of
Rosh Chodesh Elul (Aug. 18) until and including Hoshanna
Rabba (Oct. 7), we recite twice daily Psalm 27, “A psalm of David:
the L-rd is my light and my salvation.” This custom is based
on the Midrashic comment, “the L-rd is my light” on Rosh Hashanah,
“my salvation” on Yom Kippur, “He will hide me in His tent”
on Sukkot. Chassidim and Sephardim include it in the Morning
and Afternoon prayers; the Lithuanian custom is to say it during the
Morning and Evening prayers.
RECITE SELICHOT. The Sephardic tradition
is to begin reciting selichot immeditely after Rosh Chodesh
Elul. The Ashkenazi custom is to recite selichot beginning
with the Saturday night of the week in which Rosh Hashanah falls,
provided that four days are left before Rosh Hashanah. Therefore,
if Rosh Hashanah falls either on Monday --like this year -- or Tuesday
of the week, the recitation of selichot is begun the Saturday
night (Sept. 8) of the week preceding.
INCREASE IN GIVING
CHARITY. During Elul, charity is given liberally, since the merit of
charity is a shield against evil decrees and prolongs life. It casts a mantle
of protection not only over the giver but over the whole Jewish people. When a
person transcends his natural instinct and gives when not beholden, G-d in turn
grants him more than he would otherwise be worthy of receiving.
IN PENITENCE. The fundamentals of repentance are threefold: forsaking
the sin one has committed, regret and confession. Forsaking of sin consists
of abandoning the sin in both practice and thought, coupled with a firm resolution
not to repeat it. Regret is the understanding that separating from
G-d is evil and bitter, and the intense awareness that there is a price for transgression.
Confession must be expressed orally: “I have sinned, I have done such and
such; I regret my actions and feel ashamed of them, and will never again revert
[based on Book of Our Heritage, s.v.
Repentance requires regret of past
and positive resolution for the future, yet the first step is repairing and properly
organizing the present, so that it is good and correct in all aspects of action,
speech and thought. Only then, when the present is as it is supposed to
be, can one do the work necessary to compensate for lackings or undesirable elements
of the past, and to create guidelines and disciplines for the future.
correcting and straightening out the present, it is easier to fix action and speech
than thought. How do we correct and bring order to speech and deed? By being preoccupied
with good deeds and being accustomed to proper speech, prayer and study.
However, even before one gets to this level, one can at least refrain from negative
action and speech: it is neither necessary nor advisable always to do what one
wants to do and to say what one feels like saying.
Not so with
thought, which is constantly active and impossible to stop or silence. The
only option is to turn to other thoughts, since a person can always choose to
change the topic of his thought. Therefore, every Jew should have words
of Torah engraved in his memory, so that at any moment he can switch from an undesirable
thought to a holy one.
The month of Elul is propitious for self-stocktaking,
and for repentance in the three ‘garments’ of the soul--thought, speech and action.
Divine service requires thorough self-knowledge. Just as ignoring our faults can
be crippling, so can being oblivious to our strengths. One must know oneself well:
both one’s abilities and talents as well as one’s deficiencies and weaknesses.
[translated and adapted from the Introduction
to Pokeach Ivrim]
Chag Samayach - Have
a joyous holiday!
The ASCENT staff
last year's Elul page
for more Kabbalah
insights on Elul