Elul, Month of Opportunity
By Menachem Levison
The month of Elul distinguishes itself in the Jewish calendar by being the last month of the Jewish year. As with many businesses, the year-end is a time for self-examination: how were goals met, where what were the failings and successes? Elul is a time of personal stocktaking; how well did we fare during the year in our relation to G-d. Remember, it was at the beginning of the year, on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur that we pledged to improve. How well did we do?
No man is perfect; we all have our particular weaknesses and strengths that distinguish us from our friends. Although we may have made mistakes and committed sins, we must probe into our hearts to see what values we posses that caused us to not improve to the proper degree.
G-d in His infinite kindness gave us the month of Elul as a month set aside for regret, repent, and return. The rabbis have told us that Elul is the acronym of “Ani Ledodi V’dodi Li” a phrase from the Song of Songs meaning, “I am to my beloved and my beloved is to me.” It is a time of turning with love to G-d and He returns that love to us.
The origin of this period of time began during the exodus of the Jews from Egypt when they had come to Mount Sinai to receive the Torah. Unfortunately was on the sixteenth of Tamuz they sinned with the infamous Golden Calf. Moses had ascended Mount Sinai earlier and on the seventeenth of Tamuz came down with the first set of Ten Commandments. Seeing the Jews engaging in idolatry, he broke the stone tablets. It was not until the first of Elul that he was instructed to ascend Mount Sinai to receive the second set of tablets of the law. Finally on the tenth of Tishre, which was to be designated as Yom Kippur, did he come down with the second set of Ten Commandments; signifying that the repentance of the Jews was accepted to G-d.
Since that time, the period between the first of Elul until the tenth of Tishre, Yom Kippur, has been a special time for introspect and repentance. It is a time that G-d Himself desires us to return to Him and that anyone who takes the time to look into his thoughts, speech and actions to repair wrongs will find that the gates of repentance will be opened for him.
During the month of Elul, the shofar is sounded in the synagogues at the conclusion of the morning prayers. The sound of the shofar, so pure and simple, serves to remind the individual Jew that Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are nearing. Have we improved or have we back slided? The sound of the shofar blast arouses the Jewish soul to return to its source, G-d in heaven, who created it.
G-d is not desirous of exacting punishment for wrong doings; he is only interested in a sinner abandon his sin and to return to Him with a full heart. The divine law differs from the human law in this respect. When a person breaks a civil law, the judge is generally not interested in what the person thought and now thinks. The judge cannot be certain that the lawbreaker is sincere in his regret; he cannot see into the criminal’s heart. The judge only looks to see if a law was broken and that the proper punishment is meted out. Not so the divine Judge of judges; He can see true intentions in the heart. Therefore He is always prepared to forego divine retribution is the sinner repents and really desires to improve.
We are fortunate that we have a G-d who loves His people and desires to see them improve. Even though we may sin many times, still He will forgive us if we are sincere in our repentance.
Elul is the time of revelation of G-d’s infinite love. Take the opportunity use it to improve your spiritual side. You will be pleasantly surprised that even though you might expect to suffer materially, G-d will accept your sincere desire to return to Him and give you a better life both spiritually and physically.
That is Elul, the opportunity of the year.
from the August 2007 Edition of the Jewish Magazine