Month of Elul
Rosh Chodesh Elul is the beginning of the Jewish month of Elul. Elul is a very important month in Jewish spiritual life. It is the month of preparation for the High Holidays, the most Holy time in the Jewish year.
A Time for Repentance
Known as the month of "Divine Mercy and Forgiveness," Elul is an exceptionally favorable time for repentance as we prepare for the High Holidays. The origins go back to the first year after the Jewish people went out of Egypt. Tradition tells us that on Rosh Chodesh Elul Moses ascended Mount Sinai to receive the second set of tablets after the incident of the Golden Calf (see Exodus 32 and 34:27-28). During that time G-d taught him the secret of His "Thirteen Attributes of Mercy" as found in Exodus 33:18-34:8. Moses remained on Mount Sinai for 40 days. By following the instruction of G-d, Moses obtained for the Jewish people G-d's wholehearted forgiveness and reconciliation. He descended at the end of Yom Kippur on the 10th of the Jewish month of Tishri when the repentance was complete.
The Customs of Elul
There are many important customs of Elul. These customs prepare our minds, souls and homes to celebrate, repent, and obtain G-d's Grace and Mercy.
The Shofar From the 2nd through the 28th of Elul the shofar is sounded daily except on Shabbat. The daily shofar blast is meant to waken spiritual sleepers and rouse them from complacency. It is a call to proclaim the High Holidays are approaching and it is time to prepare for repentance.
Forgiveness We begin the process for the High Holidays by asking for forgiveness for wrongs done to other people. According to Jewish law, G-d will not forgive us for sins committed against another person until we have obtained forgiveness from the person we have wronged. As this can be a long, difficult process, we give ourselves the entire month to do this earthly element.
Prayers of Selichot As the month of Elul draws to a close the tone of repentance becomes more imperative. Beginning from the Sunday prior to Rosh HaShannah special prayers of penitence, called Selichot in Hebrew, are recited each morning. G-d's "Thirteen Attributes of Mercy" are the central theme of these prayers. Arguably the most notable night is the first when men, women and bar/bat mitzvah-ed children attend a late-night service on Motzei Shabbat (Saturday night). Psalms Chapter 27 is also added to daily prayers. This Psalm is about divine acceptance of our repentance and the benevolent force G-d has on our lives.
Home Preparation In addition to these spiritual preparations, the month of Elul is also a time for practical preparations for the High Holidays. It is a time when mezuzahs are checked to make sure they are in good condition or purchased and hung if they are absent. We make sure we have all the materials we need for Rosh HaShannah and Yom Kippur including tallits, shofars, honey, and other table décor for the holiday meals. We make sure everything is in excellent condition and purchase what is missing or not in good condition. This is also a very important part of the High Holidays without which we cannot properly honor the traditions of the season.
As the month of Elul begins, it is time to open our hearts to those whom we have wronged. It is time to ready our homes for celebration and reflection. It is time to practice humility and repentance for this most Holy time. And it is time to prepare to receive G-d's Grace.
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