Wake up! The significance of the Hebrew month of Elul which aligns with Virgo in the zodiac.
Contributed by Rav Nissim Mordechai Makor.
May this article on the month of Elul be an Ilui Neshamah for Chaim ben Moshe Aharon HaLevi zt’l.
Elul and t'shuvah - Remember, astrology is not about telling the future, nobody can do that. By understanding the energy of each month, we are able to navigate smoothly through the month, because one cannot act the same way every month. Every month has a different energy and it helps to know what that specific energy is.
I recently heard a shiur where the Rabbi asked a very interesting question. He was talking about Elul and t'shuvah. He said that the month of Elul is the month to do t'shuvah, to try and change ourselves for the upcoming year. The question he asked his class was;
“Are you any different this year from the same time last year? Did you change besides being one year older? Did you do the things you promised yourself last Elul and Rosh Hashanah? Were you able to manifest your goals?”
In the secular world, people make New Years resolutions on January 1. How long do these last until one falls back into their bad habits?
If this is the case, what is the benefit of t'shuvah? Is t'shuvah just lip service? We know that HaShem knows our innermost thoughts. If so, how can we expect to con HaShem? What is this all about?
Stop for a minute and reflect on the last year - have you changed?
The Rabad, referred to Elul as a time of “Eit Ratzon/time of mercy or desire. Eit Ratzon is a very special time. Eit Ratzon connects directly to the Sefirah of Keter and Elul is a very good time to bring down blessings for the new year.
The Gaon of Vilna said that the main reason we came to this world is to improve/change our middot(character traits).
Elul is a very interesting month. Officially it belongs to the year that is finishing, yet it is completely connected to the upcoming new year. How is this possible? It is written that after the fifteenth of Av, Heaven begins preparing the chairs in the upper courts for Rosh Hashanah and it is a good time to start doing t'shuvah.
Summer is drawing to a close. In the world of nature, especially in the very cold climates, all the animals are very busy at this time getting ready for the upcoming winter. They have to make exact plans for food or otherwise they won't survive the harsh winter. They take this time very seriously. They know instinctively what to do and how to prepare. It says that the fish in the sea tremble when Elul comes around. Every animal is seeking to do while there is still time left, because the Master will call. When we say this, we mean that Rosh Hashanah will come around and everybody will have to answer for the last year. We must remember, on Rosh Hashanah we are judged at the level where we are at that moment. What we did in the last year has brought us to that point.
In nature, obedience is the rule. All of nature stands around Hashem's throne, each one bringing Hashem the product of it's labor. No animal or plant would dare to go against it's nature. Nature has rules and the animals have to follow them. This is a definite.
Only man can be enticed from his set path. Man is casual and inattentive and ignores the seriousness of this time. The animals shiver with fear that Hashem won't destroy the world.
With free will, man has to choose with his own intellect what is right or wrong. He has the power to go against what is right(nature).
This is one of the reasons we start to blow the shofar the beginning of Elul, to wake us up. In the old days, people used to faint at just the mention of the word Elul. The shofar speaks a language. It is telling us; do t'shuvah and change your ways. We just need to understand the language of the shofar.
Elul is a gift from Hashem. Nobody would dare go into a court case in the physical world without preparing. A persons lawyer would be interviewing witnesses, checking facts etc.the month of Elul is the time for preparation for Rosh Hashanah.
Hashem made it easy for us to do t'shuvah in Elul. Chazal says that in Elul, “the King is in the fields”. What does this mean? During the rest of the year, if a person wants to do t'shuvah, he has to go to Hashem. The analogy is the person has to make an appointment with Hashem, go to him and present his case. In the month of Elul it is different. Hashem makes it easy for us and He comes to us, “the King is in the fields”. Wherever we are, Hashem is listening and waiting for us every second.
Let’s ask the question, what actually is t'shuvah? We say it is repentance but what is repentance? It is very simple. Stop doing the negative thing or things that we have been doing. It sounds easy but is actually very difficult. To change our nature is the most difficult thing in this world for us to do.
“Great is t'shuvah, for it brings healing to the world”, Yoma 86b.
T'shuvah is equal to all the Mitzvot.
The concept of t'shuvah/repentance is so far above human comprehension. Why?
It is one of the biggest Chokim. A chok is a law which is very difficult for humans to understand. Some of them are, meat and milk, the red heifer and Shatnez. Why is t'shuvah a chok? In the physical world if a person is caught by the police for doing a serious offense, and he goes to court and tells the judge he is sorry and won’t do it again, the judge will never let him off. However, in the spiritual world, when we do t'shuvah,(we are truly sorry for what we have done), Hashem looks into our heart to see if we are serious and not just doing lip service. This is the key to t'shuvah, as we can’t hide anything from Hashem. If Hashem decides to give us a second chance, He wipes the slate clean. This is mind boggling to think that we can be forgiven just like that for our sins. This is the reason we cannot comprehend t'shuvah.
A conventional understanding of t'shuvah would suggest that one can do wrongful deeds all year long and come to Shul on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur and ask for forgiveness. People think they can evade the consequences of their actions over the past 12 months. But can we really expect to be forgiven for our sins simply by saying some prayers on these holidays. This is definitely not t'shuvah.
We can see that repentance is not a ritual that we do once a year like matzah and sukkah. Repentance takes us back to our source and we are able to make changes for the next year. It is a very powerful gift that HaShem gave us to guarantee a good year. Use it!!!
Remember there can be no growth without honesty. Humans have an incredible ability to con themselves. We will make up the biggest stories in our minds and before long we will have convinced ourselves that we are perfect and don't need to change, only our friends have to change.
We also have to have the desire to do t'shuvah. Many people don’t want to change their bad habits. Take for an example a person who smokes. He knows it is very bad for him, yet he does not stop. He makes excuses that he enjoys it or it calms him down.
Please understand, I have simplified the process, but the basic message is that we have to stop doing things that we are doing wrong. Also know that Elul includes an the whole of the next year. What we do in the month of Elul is going to affect Rosh Hashanah and the whole of the next year.
One of the ways the Tzadikkim suggest we should prepare for Rosh Hashanah is to write two lists, one with what we want from Hashem for the new year and one with things we will do for Hashem, example, more charity, more learning and davening etc, in the new year. Write down ten things on each list. With the list for Hashem, try to put down things that we have been trying to do for years. Things like, trying to change a bad character trait, to do mitzvot better, to get healthier, go to the gym etc. On the other list put down things you want from Hashem. Things like better parnasah, health, nachas from the children etc.
Think about ways you can achieve your goals. Read the list on Rosh Hashanah and also read it every day. You most probably won’t achieve the ten things for Hashem. It is doubtful if you can achieve half, but if you achieve one or two, guaranteed you will have a good year. It seems like this is kind of childish, but believe me it is a very powerful tool to do t'shuvah. If you read it everyday, slowly the things on the list will become imprinted on your consciousness and change will become possible.
Elul is the month of perfection, HaShem’s purpose in creation. The word in Hebrew for the zodiac sign this month is Betula, which means virgin, the same as the English word, Virgo which is connected to virgin, which implies purity. In this month we have the ability to cleanse ourselves of a lot of dirt.
The tikkun of people born in the month of Elul is that they focus on details too much and don’t see the big picture. Virgo’s live in a world of fantasy and, because they have the ability to see perfection, they have the trait of judgement. They can’t understand why people can’t see things the way they do. Many Virgo’s are very particular about there possessions and are fanatical about keeping things neat and in order. I know some Virgo’s whose clothes are not only neat and tidy but are all color coded. Look at a Virgo’s office or home and you will find everything perfectly in place. It is very difficult for a Virgo to live in a mess, it drives them crazy. Virgo’s are not very sensitive to others and don’t have a lot of patience. Because they see perfection, Virgo’s also have a bit of a superiority complex. Try not to pass judgement in this month.
The letters of the month are Reish and Yud and the line of the Ana Bekoach is the sixth line. Virgo is an earth sign and is center of the three earth signs.
The Gemara says:
Tshuvah is great; it reaches Hashem's honored throne. Before Hashem's throne is t'shuvah.
T'shuvah is for everyone. Regardless of what you did, one can repent, and Hashem will cherish your t'shuvah. Our entire status changes when we do t'shuvah. We become different people and when the Satan looks for us on Rosh Hashanah, he can’t find us because we are a totally different person.
It is very hard to do t'shuvah, because change is so difficult to make. We must not be satisfied with a small degree of success. We must keep going until we change completely.
To break a habit you need to impress on your subconscious a new thought pattern. This is a very difficult thing to do. First you have to break the old habit and then imprint on the subconscious the opposite to what you were doing.
It is not easy, in fact it is extremely difficult. It takes an enormous effort and most importantly it does happen overnight.
The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. I think this is not only the definition of insanity but also the definition of a habit.
The Shevet HaLevi(vol. 4 55), said that Yismach Moshe zy'a, had a dream where he was told that castigations and fasts are not necessary, because the greatest castigation of all is CHANGE itself. To succeed to change oneself, one must endure many hardships. Such a person has already received his castigations. He doesn't need anything else such as fasts.
Every Rosh Hashanah, we are created anew and the world is new. Therefore, Rosh Hashanah is an ideal time to change one's behavior and ways, and to act like a completely new person.
The actual reality is that you don't just act like a new person, but you are actually a new person. When you act differently, changing your habits, on Rosh Hashanah you become that new person because everything on Rosh Hashanah is created new.
It is easy to find faults if we look closely. Don’t be sensitive to criticism. Let go of your selfish desires.
Moshe was in Heaven during Elul and received atonement for the golden calf and received the thirteen attributes Let’s take Moshe Rabeinu’s example.
There is a Gemara that says; if we don't know what we have, then it doesn't belong to us. In the old days, people used to faint at just the mention of the word Elul. It also says that the fish in the sea tremble when Elul comes around. Take this opportunity to prepare for Rosh Hashanah and guaranteed Hashem will grant you a good year.
Take the example of the animals. Get ready now for the upcoming year. If you prepare properly for the new year in Elul, it will help you a great deal on Rosh Hashanah. Take advantage of this gift that HaShem gave us. It only comes around once a year.
We have to accept responsibility for our actions. Each and every one of us is responsible for our own success or failure. There is no free ride. In spirituality we have to earn everything.
Sefer Yetzirah tells us that Elul/Virgo gives us the opportunity to achieve control over our lives and to shape our destinies. In this month we literally have the power to go back in time to those moments we erred, fix them and then erase them and all the suffering they brought us. This is the power of this month. I beg you, take advantage of it. Please do a list.
The month of Elul/Virgo is the solution. Go back, become pure and have a great year.
Chodesh Tov and Shana Tova.
Another perspective on change
From a shiur given by Rabbi Moshe Aaron Pinto.
There is a very interesting Gemara, Gitten 50:7.
It talks about Onkalos who was a ger (convert). He came from a very prominent Roman family and was involved in sorcery. He was able to bring up spirits. He brought up Titus harasha and Bilaam harasha.
He asked Titus, “Where is the truth in this physical world. Titus answered with the Jews. He then asked Titus; “Who is the chosen nation and Titus answered, the Jews. He then asked Titus, what is your punishment for hurting the Jews. Titus answered that every day he brings wood and they burn him to ashes which is very painful. He then asked Titus, should I become part of the Jews. The answer given by Titus was no, you should kill them, hurt them.
Onkolos then asked Bilaam the same questions. His punishment he said was that every day they put him in a pot of boiling water and boil him which is very painful. He then also asked Bilaam if he should become part of the Jews. Bilaam’s answer was the same as Titus, to kill them.
This Gemara is very strange. Why?
Both of them were in the next world where the truth is known. They answered about the Jews the truth yet they still wanted to hurt them. How could they give this advice when they were suffering so much. The Gemara explains that this is the power of habit. They were so negative that even when they knew the truth, they could not change. This is the power of habit.
The Gemara goes on to talk about the other side. In Gan Eden there was a bat kol(Heavenly voice) that said a big Tzadik had just died, Yehoshua ben Levi and that he was coming to Gan Eden. His place was near Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai who was sitting on gold bricks. In heaven there is no more ego. If a person merits a reward, he gets it. This was Rabbi Shimon’s reward. Rabbi Shimon went over to Yehoshua ben Levi and asked him if there was ever a rainbow in his life, as there was never one in Rabbi Shimon’s life. There was not one in the life of Yehoshua ben Levi as he was a Tzadik Gamur(complete). Yet his answer surprises us. He said yes, there were many. How could he lie in the world of truth. He was so humble in his life on earth, then he couldn’t change even in the world of truth. Again we see the power of habit.
Reb Kalman Leví
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Pearls of Life
The Pearls of Life teaches that there is a famous verse in Mishlei 3:6 – “In all your ways know Him, and He will make straight paths”. According to Rabbeinu Yona it means that a person has an obligation to have Betachon in Hashem in every step he takes. Every minute movement a person makes, he must turn his eyes to Hashem and have Betachon that Hashem will help him. A person must also remember that he is incapable of doing anything at all without Hashem’s help. All success is in Hashem’s hands, and if a person has success in something and thinks that he didn’t get it through Hashem, then he is guilty. However, when a person fulfills the words “In all your ways know Him” then Hashem will reward him and he will be success in all his deeds. Besides having success, he will also receive merit for having had Betachon. This merit is “the greatest thing in Heaven. When a person is Nifter [passes away] he is asked did he ever believe that when one is nifter did he believe he will be saved by Heaven? Did you have Bitachon in Hashem (and not be give up) in every new factor of your life? He also adds that by doing this - besides getting what you hoped for you will receive tremendous merit in the next world for the Mitzvah of Betachon in believing in the next world. The Ramban teaches that a person should praise Hashem always. He says, that it also could mean that you are praised since you have Hashem as your God. Adapted from the Betachon Weekly by Yeshiva Pirchei Shoshanim