The Character of Elul
It was on Rosh Chodesh Elul some 3,328 years ago that Moshe Rabbeinu climbed Har Sinai again, carrying blank marble tablets. Again he stayed up there 40 days and 40 nights, descending at the end of Yom Kippur with the Tablets that were now inscribed by Hashem with the Ten Commandments, the fundamental laws for the B’nei Yisrael, the laws that should have governed the moral behavior of people around much of the world.
Elul is the month of divine mercy and forgiveness for Hashem extended His forgiveness to the B’nai Yisrael for the Chet Ha’egel, their worship of the golden calf. Elul is the month of introspection, of soul searching. It is the month of Teshuva, Tefilla and Tzedaka. In the reading of Parshat Re’eh we are introduced to Ma’aser Ani, tithes for the poor to be given to them at festival pilgrimages in Yerushalayim. . The elimination of poverty is one of the 55 mitzvot in today’s parsha. And yet, the pasuk laments, poverty will never be entirely eliminated.
Elul is the month in which we should be asking for slicha, forgiveness or pardon, from our business associates, our customers, our merchants, our competitors, even our rivals, our relatives, friends and neighbors, for the money and time we caused them to waste, for our selfishness, and for our deprecating language or worse—our deceptions. If we don’t ask them the sins and grudges will carry on into the books of memory on the Yamim Noraiim. Hashem can only forgive us for the sins of bein ahdahm laMakom, not bein ahdam lachvairo.
Elul follows Av, a month of multiple tragedies and mourning. But Elul is a month of ascending from the pits of history. On the first of Elul we begin to ascend by blowing the shofar as a wake-up call to do teshuva. The Sephardim recite Slichot while in our tradition, according to Ra’amah, we begin the Slichot recitation four or five days before Rosh Hashana…usually on the Mozaei Shabbat before Rosh Hashana. Nonetheless we recite the formidable capitol chof zayin, Chapter 27 of the Tehillim— Hashem Ori v’Yishi—On Elul and parts of Tishrei through Shemini Atzeret.
In the sonnet, David Hamelech implores Hashem: Achat Sha’alti me’et Hashem ohto avakesh, , “one thing that I request of Hashem,” Shifti b’vait Hashem kol yemai chayai, “that I be permitted to dwell in house of Lord all my life so that I can behold His pleasantness and meditate in His sanctuary.” And then he says: Ahl tahster panecha memeni, “Do not hide Your face from me when things go wrong,” David implores, “teach me Your ways and lead me in the path of righteousness.”
And finally it was in Elul that the world clock started ticking. According to our chachamim the world was created on the 25th of Elul. Therefore the first day of Rosh Hashana occurred on the sixth day of creation and the first Shabbat, the 7th day of creation, took place on 2nd day of Tishrei. I never understood this calculation inasmuch the shofar service on Rosh Hashana states Hayom harat olam, today is the birthday of the world. So maybe someone can explain it to me later. Thank you.
But Teshuva, Tefillah and Tzedakah remain the necessary actions of Elul even if it is first stated formally in the Rosh Hashana shofar service.
The word Elul originated from Akkadian. It has meant “harvest.” The Talmud says the word Elul is similar to the word for “search” in Aramaic. The Talmud states that the word Elul could be expanded from an acronym to what Shlomo Hamelech defined in Shir Hashirim as the perfect relation between Hashem and the B’nai Yisrael, namely, Ani L’Dodi v’Dodi Li… I am for my beloved and my beloved is for me. Many couples have this romantic phrase inscribed on their wedding rings.
It was in Chodesh Av when two of our Batei Mikdash were destroyed, when Yerushalayim was set aflame, when there was sinat chinam in the community, when mothers cannibalized their own children. How horrible!
Rav Shneur Zalman of Liadi, the first Lubavitcher Rebbe, wrote that Elul is a month process. At the beginning of the month we are often back to back with Hashem and with other people…and by the end of Elul we both turn around and are now face to face. Hester panim and enmity turn to acknowledgement, recognition and the acceptance of new attitudes for both parties and hence new relationships.
On Elul we get another chance if we go the way of teshuva, tefilla, tzedaka, Jew or Gentile. I once asked Rabbi Grunblatt if Amalekites were entitled to do teshuva and if doing this would have had any meaning. He answered, “absolutely.” At the end of Devarim it declares that sons are not responsible for the sins of their fathers nor fathers for the sins of their children…that is if they express contrition and decidedly change the pattern to one of goodness and mitzvot.
So it is with asking for forgiveness. Don’t be shy. I have no qualms about asking you for sl’icha. Teshuva is unbounded, unlimited. Anyone can do it if he or she is sincere. If the forgiveness is granted, even verbally, it’ll bring you to a rapprochement, to new relationships, new friendships and a higher level of existence and readiness to face Hashem in the coming Yamim Noraim.
I not only forgive you and all those I wronged but wish upon you all the blessings we read in musaf: a chodesh of b’racha, sasson v’simcha, yeshua v’nechama, parnasa v’chalkala, l’chayim u’l’shalom, limchilat chet v’lislichat avon. Chodesh tov v’Shana Tova Umvorechet.
David implores, “teach me Your ways and lead me in the path of righteousness.” Elul could be expanded from an acronym to what Shlomo Hamelech defined in Shir Hashirim as the perfect relation between Hashem and the B’nai Yisrael, namely, Ani L’Dodi v’Dodi Li…