ELUL – The Sixth Hebrew Month
BLESSING OF THE NEW MONTH – BIRKAT HA’CHODESH
May it be Your will, O LORD, our God and the God of our forefathers, that You inaugurate this month of Elul upon us for goodness and for blessing.
May You give us long life,
a life of peace – Shalom
a life of goodness – Tovah
a life of blessing – Bracha
a life of sustenance – Parnassa
a life of physical health – Hilutz Atzamot
a life in which there is a fear of heaven and fear of sin
– Yirat Shamayim ve’ Yirat Chet
a life in which there is no humiliation – Ein Busha u’Chlimah
a life of wealth and honor – Osher ve’Kavod
a life in which we will have love of Torah and awe and reverence of God
– Ahavat Torah ve’Yirat HaShem
a life in which Adonai, the LORD, fulfills our heartfelt requests for good.
Preparation for the Days of Awe
The month of Elul is considered a particular time for repentance and reconciliation with God. There are forty days between the first day of Elul and Yom Kippur. These correspond biblically with the forty days between the day (1st Elul) Moses saw the Israelites worshipping the Golden Calf, when he broke the first set of tablets carrying the Ten Words or Commandments of God, and the day (10th Tishrei) that he returned with the second set of tablets, after ascending Mount Sinai to intercede and plead for God’s Divine pardon. In response to Moses’ heartbroken and persistent intercession, God forgave the sin of idolatry and the gift of His Word was evidence of His forgiveness. This manifestation of Divine pardon has marked these forty days as a time for self-examination and repentance, and for giving and receiving forgiveness.
The name of the month is a reminder that this season of repentance (teshuvah) and spiritual reflection is not to be a time of morbid introspection or conducted with heaviness. E,l,u,l (aleph, lamed, vav, lamed) is an acronym for the Hebrew verse, Song of Songs 6:3,
Ani le’dodi ve‘dodi li.
I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine.
The month affords a special opportunity to turn one’s heart to God in love. We are reminded that teshuvah, repentance, is a gracious gift from our faithful Father. It is, in fact, a supernatural gift – a process above the forces of nature. The Creator set the laws of nature in place. Day follows night, time marches on, death follows life, and penalty follows sin. Teshuvah/repentance, however, demonstrates that the same Creator is able to counteract His laws of nature. As Jewish author Avraham Finkel describes:
Time is reversible, the past can be undone, a wasted life can be restored;
“God is close to all who call to Him – to all who call Him with sincerity”
(Psalm 145:18). 
Teshuvah enables the light of God’s Presence to enter any areas of darkness in our hearts, to allow purification and illumination. The Baal Shem Tov  uses a beautiful analogy to describe the concept of repentance:
When you enter a dark room carrying a burning lamp, the darkness vanishes without leaving a trace. So too a baal teshuvah [one who repents and turns to God and His Word] even though until now he lived in the total darkness of sin, when the light of Torah begins to shine in his soul, all the darkness is gone.
Teshuvah is always linked with tzedakah, charity. In this respect, Bnei Yissaschar says: “Behold, Elul corresponds with the tribe of Gad.”  The Sages record that the letters of Gad’s name – gimmel, dalet – stand for gemol dalim, which translates as: “Bestow kindness upon the poor.” As God blesses and prospers us, we need always remember to give and to share what we have with those less fortunate.
Psalm 27 is read every day during Elul. Orthodox Jews recite it morning and evening through both Elul and Tishrei, until Yom Kippur. It is a worthwhile exercise to write it out yourself, also in Hebrew if you are able, and keep it available for easy access.
The psalm reminds us, in view of the approaching Day of Repentance, Rosh HaShanah, that the LORD our God is our Light. When we repent, His light dispels any darkness in our lives and the light of His Truth guides our feet into and through the coming year.
As we look towards Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, ten days later, we proclaim that God is our Redeemer and we joyfully anticipate the coming of Messiah and the Final Redemption for all nations. We know, as enacted on Sukkot, that our Father in Heaven literally hides us in the Sukka – the tent, or tabernacle, of His Presence (yitzfeneini b’sukka). He protects us from all harm and, as we allow the powerful truths of this season to infuse our innermost beings, He leads us forward and will guide our steps through the coming year b’orach yishor, on a straight path of righteousness. What joy to realize, as David proclaims, that one can in faith “…dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life!”
Know Before Whom You Stand
The weekly Torah portion of Nitzavim – ‘We are Standing’ (Deuteronomy 29:9 – 30:20) is always read during the month of Elul, specifically on the Shabbat before Rosh HaShanah. The opening verse is a clear, resonant reminder of the central theme of Elul and the Days of Awe: “Today you are all standing before God your LORD.” Nitzavim also carries a Divine promise of the joyful time when the hearts of all Israel will return to God and will yield to His will in loving obedience:
“You will do everything that I am commanding you today; you and your children will repent with all your heart and with all your soul” (30:2).
On that Great Day the Shofar of God will sound with a triumphant blast to announce the arrival of the King of kings before whom every individual will stand to give an account. The shofar is thus sounded at the morning and evening synagogue services every day through Elul in the hope that its stirring blasts will awaken those who are “asleep” in the stupor of sin, apathy, and ignorance. The clarion call moves us to repent and turn again to the Almighty; to receive the power to break any negative patterns of the past and to walk forward in new hope and inspiration.
This Hebrew month of Elul affords us the opportunity to draw aside spiritually, to press in to the Presence of the Beloved of our souls. We can rejoice and rest in the knowledge that we are forgiven and can stand confidently before the “Judge of all flesh” when the shofar resounds on Rosh haShanah, the Day of Trumpets, and on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 23:24;27). We then can eagerly anticipate another year of devoted service in joyful worship of our God and King.
1. Avraham Yaakov Finkel, The Essence of the Holy Days, Insights from the Jewish Sages, Jason Aronson Inc., New Jersey, London, 1993; 2.
2. Israel Baal Shem Tov (1700 – 1760), founder of the Hassidic movement in Eastern Europe.
3. Avraham Yaakov Finkel, The Essence of the Holy Days, Insights from the Jewish Sages, Jason Aronson Inc., New Jersey, London.
4. Bnei Yissaschar, Ma’amarim Chodesh Elul 1:8.