Elul Hebrew Month
The month of Elul is the final month of the Jewish Calendar. The month is one of only two in which there is no festival or special day. (The other is Cheshvan). However, there are a number of important customs that we do observe during this month.
- We start to sound the shofar. This is for two reasons: as a wake-up alarm, the year is ending and we need to try and use the remaining moments of the year constructively. Secondly, Moses went up the mountain to receive the second set of Tablets. In order to not make the same mistake as the Children of Israel did the first time. They would sound a Shofar and announce the day. This would mean no confusion.
- We start reciting Psalm 27 in the evening and morning. The Psalm hints to repentance and the holy days of Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur and Sukkot.
- We start to recite the Selichot- special penitential prayers asking for forgiveness. The custom of the Sephardi Jews is to begin the recitation from Rosh Chodesh Elul. Ashkenazi tradition begins from the Saturday night before Rosh Hashana.
Elul is remarkable, in that there are more acronyms attached to this month than any other. The themes of the acronym relate to the thoughts we should be reflecting on during this month, being Teshuvah – repentance, Tefillah- prayer and Tzedakka charity.
The following are some of the classic acronyms. Each acronym is based on a biblical verse:
- את לבבך ואת לבב (Deut 30:6)
- Umal Hashem Elokecha Et Levavcha VetLevav Zarecha:
- Then the LORD your God will open up your heart and the hearts of your offspring to love the LORD your God with all your heart and soul, in order that you may live.
- אנה לידו ושמתי לך
- Ana Leyado Vesamti Lach -Exodus (21:13)
- The Ari (Rabbi Yitzchak Luria), of blessed memory, wrote, “If he did not lie in ambush but Hashem made it happen, then I will provide …” (Exodus 21:13)
- “This verse teaches us that this month is a favorable time for repentance to be accepted for the sins committed during the entire year. It also alludes to the fact that sins done inadvertently also require repentance.”
- (Kitzur Shulchan Aruch chap 128)
איש לרעהו ומתנות לאביונים
“Ish Lereieihu Umatanot Laevyonim” (Esther 9:22)
This verse from the Book of Esther hints to Elul being the month of sending Gifts to the poor.
- אני לדודי ולדודי לי
- “Ani Ledodi Vedodi Li” –
- (Shir Hashirim – Song of Songs 6:3)
I am for my Beloved and my Beloved is for me.
As a result of these actions, we pray that the month of Elul will lead to our redemption. This is hinted by the next acronym.
אשירה להשם…ויאמרו לאמור
Ashira Lahashem Vayomru Leimor” (Ex15)
I sing to Hashem- These words were recited by the Children of Israel at the Red Sea. This was the song of freedom and redemption.
The “Oy”-woe- Months
Finally, when we look at the structure of the calendar we have two months Av and Elul which are next to each other. Av is the month of the destruction of the Temples and caused us to cry out oy! Woe to us. Elul is meant to learn from the oy and reflect on our misdeeds and failings that we may improve ourselves. This is reflected in the oy of Elul – woe to me that because of my sins all this has befallen us. The events of Av are a catalyst for the Teshuva of Elul and is reflected in the following acronym:
- אוי לרשע ואוי לשכינו
- —Oiy Lirasha Veoiy Leshcheino
- “Woe to the wicked and woe to his neighbour.”
- A broken heart is the first step on the path of Teshuva.
May the acronyms of Elul inspire you to a meaningful Elul and a blessed new year.