Elul: The month spent preparing for Rosh Hashana and the High Holidays.
With grateful thanks to Rabbi Nissim Mordechai Makor
Elul is a very interesting month. Officially it belongs to the year that is finishing, yet it is completely connected to the new year. How is this possible? It is written that from the fifteenth of Av, Heaven begins preparing the chairs for judgement and it is a good time to start doing teshuvah. 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. 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 on the situation at that moment. What we did in the last year has brought us to this point. Remember, Elul also includes the whole of the next year.
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 this 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. Elul is a gift from Hashem. Nobody would dare go into a court case in this physical world without preparing. A persons lawyer would be interviewing witnesses, checking facts etc. Elul is the time for preparation for Rosh Hashanah. Hashem made it easy for us to do teshuvah in Elul. It says in the writings 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 teshuvah, 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 Elul it is different. Hashem makes it easy for us and 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 teshuvah? We say it is repentance but what is repentance? It is very simple. Stop doing the negative thing or things we are 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.
Yoma 86b: “Great is teshuvah, for it brings healing to the world.”
Teshuvah is so far above human comprehension as it is a supernatural concept. 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 it a chok? In the physical world if a person is caught by the police 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. In the spiritual world, when we teshuvah,(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 teshuvah, 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 teshuvah. Remember there can be no growth without honesty. Please understand, I have simplified the process. Also know that Elul includes the whole of the next year. What we do in Elul is going to affect Rosh Hashanah and the whole of next year.
One of the ways the Tzadikkim suggest we should prepare fo Rosh Hashanah is to write two lists, one what we want from Hashem for the new year and one with things we will do for Hashem 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, nachat 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 teshuvah. If you read it everyday, slowly the things on the list will become achievable goals and you will change.
Elul is the month of perfection. The word for this month in Hebrew 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. Teshuvah is equal to all the mitzvot.
The tikkun of people born in 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 see perfection, they have the trait of judgement. They can’t understand why people can’t see things the way they do.
Remember, even though this month is for people born in this month, we all experience these tests during this month. That is the whole idea of the months and astrology. You cannot act the same way every month. Every month has a different energy. Hopefully by knowing how to act in this month, Hashem will have mercy on us and grant us a good month and good year.
It is easy to find faults if you look at things with a microscope. See the big picture. Daven for Massiach. Don’t be fragmented because when you don’t see the big picture, you start to judge, which is the tikkun for Virgo’s. Look for the good in situations.
Moshe was in Heaven during Elul and received atonement for the golden calf. Let’s take Moshe Rabeinu’s example.
Take the example of the animals. Get ready now for the upcoming year. It will help you a great deal on Rosh Hashanah.
Chodesh Tov. Chag Sameach. Shana Tova.
As from Reb Kalman