Ellul, the Month before Rosh Hashanah
By Roy Edelstein
The month preceding Rosh Hashanah is called Elul. This year it comes out on Friday, August 13, 1999. The period of time, which extends from the first of the month of Elul until Yom Kippur is a propitious time. Although God accepts repentance for those who turn unto Him wholeheartedly at all times, these days are a time more appropriate and suited for repentance. These are considered a time of mercy and good will.
The first tablets were broken as Moses descended and saw that the Jews had made the golden calf, which they began to worship as a deity. God's wrath was upon the Jewish people. Many were killed due to the sin of idol worship, and all had to repent. Yet it was not known if the sin was forgiven. Because of this, no one could be happy.
In the month of Elul, Moses ascended Mount Sinai to receive the second tablets. The second time Moses when up into Mount Sinai, he tarried there forty days and descended on the tenth of Tishre, which is Yom Kippur. From that time onward, this period has been set aside as days of good will and the tenth day of Tishre, the day that Moses came down with the second tablets, was proof of God's forgiving Jewish people for the sin of the golden calf. It became known in all generations as the Day of Atonement.
The name of the month also, is considered by many to be an acronym of the four words in Kings Solomon's famous "Song of Songs" (6:3) "I am my beloved's and my beloved is mine."
This alludes to the special relationship of the Jewish people to God, and his special relationship to the Jewish people.
It is the custom of Elul to blow the shofar each morning. Only on the day before Rosh Hashanah is the shofar not blown. This is to make a distinction between the blowing which is the special commandment for the New Year, and for the blowing in Elul which is a reminder for us that it is time to make an accounting of our deeds. We must make amends for inappropriate speech and actions and return with a whole heart to God.
In ancient times, the shofar was blown in time of communal disasters such as fires or enemy attacks, etc. This served as an emergency signal that the men must quickly assemble. Akin to today's air raid sirens, when a man heard the shofar being blown, his heart would tremble with anticipation. So, we too, should tremble as we hear the shofar, knowing soon that we will have to give an accounting of our past to our Creator.
It is also the custom to say Psalm 27 during the period of Elul until after the Succoth holiday. In this Psalm there are allusions and references to the month of Elul, the holidays of Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Succoth and Simchat Torah.
Another custom of Elul is to have the mezzuzot and tephilin checked by a competent scribe. Mezzuzot and tephilin deteriorate with time and weather conditions; therefore this time has been set aside by many to have them examined. The rules regarding mezzuzot and tephilin are very complicated. However if one letter is damaged it will cause the entire mezuzah or tephilin to become worthless. When they are no longer "kosher", like a defective burglar alarm, they can not protect the inhabitants of the house.
At the end of Elul, the custom is to recite the special "Slichot" prayers. Pious men and women rise before the break of dawn and go to the synagogue. There, the special prayers are recited with tears and anguish, as the days of the high holidays, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur draw near. This year, 1999, the Slichot prayer will begin on September 5, early Sunday morning.
May we all merit to return with a complete and honest heart to our Father in heaven!
from the August 1999 Edition of the Jewish Magazine