by Rabbi Ephraim Sprecher, Dean of Students, Diaspora Yeshiva
Judaism’s great spiritual adventure begins in the month of Elul. In many ways Elul is the most profound spiritual reJEWvenation, a time of introspection, of self-judgment, and spiritual improvement. We spend this month preparing for YOM HADIN, Judgment Day. It is a time to contemplate the greatest themes of existence, the meaning of our lives, Free Will, and the celebration of living responsibly.
The very name of this month, ELUL, are the initials for the verse in ShirHaShirim, ANI L'DODI V'DODI LI (I am my Beloved’s and my Beloved is mine), the Beloved, of course, being Hashem. As the pop song of the 60s says…”Me and You, and You and Me, forever!” This month becomes the opportunity to come close to G-d, by directing our hearts and our minds to these great themes of Judaism. We must engage in spiritual stock taking and introspection, seeing where we have strayed, and where we have sinned. This process gives us the spiritual strength to acknowledge our faults and character defects, to remake ourselves into the person we would want to be.
Thus, three things are done in Elul to help us prepare properly for Judgment.
1) The Shofar is sounded daily, a signal and a warning to scrutinize our lives and be ready for Rosh Hashanah.
2) Prayers of SLICHOT (forgiveness) are recited, assuring us that we are judged by Hashem who is eager and willing to forgive us if we do a proper Teshuvah.
[Ed. note: S'faradim say Slichot throughout Elul; Ashkenazim - this year - on the four days that precede Rosh Hashanah and during Aseret Y'mei T'shuva]
3) Tehillim 27, is recited daily in which we turn to Hashem for forgiveness and put our trust and hope only in Him.Through these three actions, each day of Elul becomes a special time, strengthening our faith, deepening our love and devotion to Hashem, and living up to Hashem’s requirements. As the Prophet taught us, “What does G-d require of you? Only to act with justice, love acts of kindness and walk modestly and humbly with your G-d” (Micah 6).
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