Elul: The Jewish Month of Repentance

A Bissel of This and That

The current Hebrew month of Elul (observed this year from August 21st to September 18th, 2020) is traditionally a time of personal reflection and spiritual repentance in preparation for the High Holy Days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, which are celebrated in September this year.

According to the Talmud, the word “Elul” is an acronym for Ani L’dodi V’dodi Li, a phrase from the Song of Songs which translates to “I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine,” where “beloved” allegorically refers to G-d. As such, it is a time to reshape our lives and return to G-d.

Elul is a month of deep introspection, where we ask for forgiveness so we can come into Rosh Hashanah (the New Year) with a clean slate. As the month of divine mercy and forgiveness, Elul is a most opportune time for teshuvah (“return” to G‑d), prayer, and charity to others, in the quest for self-improvement and coming closer to G‑d.

Some basic customs and practices for the month of Elul include:

  • Each day of the month of Elul (except for Shabbat and the last day of Elul), the shofar (ram’s horn) is sounded. The shofar blasts are meant to inspire us to begin our soul searching and repentance in preparation for the High Holy Days.
  • Psalm 27, which begins with the words “G-d is my light and my helper, whom shall I fear?”, is recited every day from Rosh Hodesh Elul (the beginning of the month) through the middle of Sukkot (the Festival of Booths).
  • During the last week of Elul, in the days leading up to Rosh Hashanah, special penitential prayers, called Selichot, are recited. On the first night they are recited at midnight; on the following days, in the early morning.
  • When writing a letter or meeting one another, we bless one another by including the greeting, L’shanah tovah tikateiv veteichateim, which roughly translates as “May you be inscribed and sealed for a good year.”

May this month of Elul be meaningful for us all as we prepare for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. In our next A Bissel of This and That, we will focus more specifically on the preparations and observances associated with these High Holy days.

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