The last month of the Jewish year, called Elul in Hebrew, is upon us. As the last month of the year, and the last month before the High Holidays, Elul is a time of self-reflection, a time to look inward and take mental stock of the year. It’s a time to remember what we have learned in the last year, evaluate it, and bring it with us into the coming new year.
I’ve always thought of Elul as the calm before the storm. It’s like limbo, a brief thirty days of quiet, reflective serenity before the High Holidays are upon us, which descend in a whirlwind of preparation, prayers, feasting, and family togetherness. The High Holidays are a loud rush of activity bursting us into the new year, while Elul is its quieter, more somber precursor.
Elul is all about the relationship between man and God. The name “Elul” is comprised of the Hebrew letters aleph, lamed, vav, and lamed. Some sages say that this is an acronym of a phrase from Song of Songs: ani l’dodi v’dodi li, I am for my Beloved and my Beloved is for me. The entire month is personified by this relationship, the relationship that each one of us has with God, and we work extra hard during Elul to strengthen that relationship, repent for any wrongdoings, and improve ourselves before the Days of Judgement.
We work on our relationship with God in a few specific ways. One of the traditions of the month of Elul is to blow the shofar every day after the morning prayers. The blast of the shofar is a heavy symbol, meant to “wake us up,” so to speak – to rouse our spiritual selves and inspire us to become closer to God. If you have never heard the cry of a shofar, I do recommend you find a place where you can listen to it. It’s a sound unmatched by anything else I’ve ever heard, a profound echoing call that can make a person tremble. The shofar’s blasts could come directly from the soul.
There is also the tradition of reciting special daily prayers of atonement, called slichot, close to midnight, and the reciting of Psalm 27 at the conclusion of daily prayers. All of these traditions serve the same purpose: to help us accept our actions of the past year and move forward into the next year with renewed religious dedication.
It’s difficult to work on oneself. We all struggle with self-acceptance and being able to forgive ourselves for past misdeeds. God knows how harsh we can be on ourselves, and so we have Elul. We can rebuild ourselves, and come back to a relationship with God as refreshed and refueled as possible. Elul is a time dedicated especially to overcoming our struggles and getting closer to God. Isn’t that beautiful?
Keeping in mind the incredible opportunity we have this month to reflect, I would like to give you a blessing: May God grant each and every one of us the ability to accept what we have done in the past, and strengthen us so that we can move forward into an even stronger relationship with Him. And may this month of Elul, the last month of the year, be a healing and meaningful one.