The Theme of the Month of Elul

“During the month of Elul the main service is the accepting of the yolk of Heaven which entails an arousal of fear of G-d.” [1]

 

Soul Searching:[2]

The month of Elul is the month of introspection. In business every man has a set time in the year when he makes an accounting of his business; assessing losses and gains. Similarly regarding one’s spiritual service to G-d, Elul is the month of one’s accounting. Throughout the year a Jew is involved in Torah, Mitzvos and good deeds. When the month of Elul arrives every Jew, whether a Jew who involves his day in learning Torah [i.e. Yosheiv Ohel] or a Jew that is involved in working to make a living [Baal Eisek], must make a Cheshbon Hanefesh [accounting of the soul] of his previous year’s accomplishments, achievements, deficiencies and mistakes, in reference to spiritual matters of Torah, Mitzvos, and good character traits. He must recognize his good points and resolve to strengthen them. He is to acknowledge his bad points and fix them. Through this good preparation one merits a good sweet year both physically and spiritually.

 

Ir Miklat-A month that is a “City of Refuge”:[3]

The month of Elul is a month when Hashem gives every single Jew, no matter his spiritual state, thirty days to return to Him and begin a new page in his relationship with Him. One has a chance to erase any trace of sin through repentance. This concept of Elul is hinted to in one of the acronyms of the Hebrew word Elul, “Ina Liyado Visamti Licha”. This is a verse discussing the cities of refuge that Hashem commanded us to build for inadvertent murderers to seek refuge from the Goel Hadom.[4] Similarly the month of Elul is a ‘city of refuge’ for those who committed a sin. It is a time they can seek refuge from the evil inclination who is also the heavenly prosecutor. This matter is to be publicized to all: Hashem is telling the Jewish people “I give you 29/30 days to remove yourselves from your bad habits and flee into the theme of Elul. In this month you can affix all that was improper until today and consequently the month will serve as a city of protection from the prosecutor.”

 

Ani Ledodi-The Avoda of the Month:[5]

Another acronym of Elul is ‘Ani Lidodi Vidodi Li’. This simply means ‘I am to my beloved and my beloved is to me’. This saying represents the service of Elul; to perform actions that show ones love and nullification towards G-d. Unlike other times of the year when there may be an arousal from above, from Hashem, to motivate us to serve Him properly, the month of Elul is the month of our Avoda. It is the time that we have to take the offensive position in the building of our relationship with Hashem, without relying on outside factors.

 

Revelation of the thirteen attributes of mercy:[6]

During the month of Elul there is a revelation of the thirteen attributes of mercy.[7] The reason for this revelation specifically in the month of Elul is because it is part of the 40 days that Moshe ascended to receive the second Tablets, and these second tablets, which were given on Yom Kippur, represent the forgiveness and acquittal of the Jews from sin. This revelation in the month of Elul assists a Jew in repenting and doing his Avoda of Elul. This is the difference between the revelation of the thirteen attributes of mercy in Elul and during the rest of the year, as during the rest of the year the mercy is only revealed in regards to ones physical life, while in the month of Elul it is revealed for the benefit of one’s soul.

 

King in the field-The Avoda of Kabalas Ol:

To truly take advantage of this revelation one must first perform the above mentioned service of Elul. This is like the parable of a King who although during the rest of the year sits in the inner chambers of his palace, for one month of the year he goes out into the fields of the villages to greet all of his subjects from the lowest to the most dignified. However just like in the parable the people must leave their houses to go to the field and greet the King, so too in the month of Elul one must ‘leave his house and go out in to the field’. Going out in the fields in the parable represents the people accepting the yolk of Heaven [Kabalas Ol Malchus Shamayim], showing that they truly feel his power and awesomeness and therefore they go out to greet him. Similarly with man’s service of G-d he must show his acceptance of Him as King, as G-d. During the month of Elul the main service is accepting the yolk of heaven which in is the beginning and main aspect of Teshuva.[8] 

 

Kabalas Ol:

How does one show or expresses his acceptance of Hashem as G-d and King? Is it just plainly by stating “I hereby believe in G-d’s existence and that He rules over the world” or does it demand something more practical, something in the realm of action. Logically speaking, both are demanded in fully accepting Hashem as our King. As showing ones acceptance of a King also means that one accepts his decrees. If one were to only express in speech that he accepts the King but when it comes to following His orders he disobeys the king, this is an obvious sign that his acceptance was never true to begin with. Similarly expressing Hashem’s existence and sovereignty through simple belief without any action does not fully show our acceptance of Him as our King. It is specifically when we go out of our way to do an action that G-d asks of us that shows we truly accept his Kingship, that his sovereignty has penetrated us to the point that we are willing to give up some of our time and life to do His will. Practically speaking in this month it is upon each person to ponder which areas are in need of spiritual improvement. For one person it may be accepting upon himself a new Mitzvah such as putting on Tefillin for men or lighting Shabbos candles for women. For another it may be setting aside extra time for Torah study or making practical changes in one’s character traits. Whatever it is, a change is demanded of each one of us, since it is this change which fully expresses that we have accepted G-d’s sovereignty His Kingship and His commands. When one fulfills this he can then fully receive the revelation of the thirteen attributes of mercy which leads to complete repentance and vindication of all sin.

 

Before and After-The effect of Chassidus on the month of Elul:[9]

The Rebbe Rayatz states as follows: The Baal Shem Tov opened the gates of Penimiyus Hatorah. The Alter Rebbe opened the gates of Chabad. Both together revived the month of Elul. In the past when the month of Elul arrived everyone would fall into a state of gloom and sadness [Mara Shechora]. Everyone would enter into their own cloud. The Alter Rebbe brought into Elul an inner vitality which chased away the atmosphere of gloominess [Makifei Hatzvus] and entered into it inner bitterness [Merirus Penimis]. When Elul arrives one must be more G-d fearing. Thus the superficial people would suddenly become melancholy and call themselves a Rasha in order to put themselves down. Consequently a depressed spirit resided on people throughout the month of Elul. However the Baal Shem Tov and Alter Rebbe chased away the gloominess and contaminated spirit of depression and brought the Jews to a realization that even a Tzaddik must do Teshuvah.

 

The town of Lubavitch during Elul:[10]

The following is a description of the Rebbe Rayatz on Chodesh Elul in Lubavitch: “Every Jew became more calm, more contemplative in his thoughts, and forgetful of his material matters. Every day of the month of Elul is different than the days of the rest of the year. When one arises in bed at 6:00 in the morning he hears that the Minyan of Vasikin has already finished the prayers and is blowing Shofar and he asks himself “why did I sleep so much”. The sound of the Shofar awakens. It announces that Elul has arrived. It arouses one to dress quickly and not be satisfied with himself. He thinks of the great auspiciousness of the month and how he must be a proper Jew and cannot waste his time.”

 

Every day of Elul is Mitaken that date of every month of the previous year:[11]

Each day of the month of Elul effects that date of the month of every month of the past year. It likewise effects every day of the month of the coming year. [Thus for example the 1st of Elul effects the 1st of the month of each month of the previous year and of the coming year.]

 

Learning Torah:[12]

In addition to the above service of Elul as a preparation for Rosh Hashanah, there is another service of Elul which is unique to its own month and that is the learning of Torah. In Elul Moshe ascended to receive the second Luchos which represent the giving of the Torah. Thus one must excel in his Torah learning in the month of Elul. Nevertheless this Avoda is only secondary to the Avoda of Teshuvah, as the Avoda of Teshuvah serves as a preparation for the entire coming year.

Adding in Chassidus and Avodas Hatefila:[13]

The Rebbe Rayatz informed the Yeshiva students that they are to establish a special time for learning Chassidus during this month. They should learn in groups of two or three students and review the same Mamar several times. The Mamarim learned are to involve matters of Avoda.[14] The students are to be allotted more time for prayer in order to pray with depth and concentration.[15]

 

The Mamarim to be learned in Elul:[16]

  1. Derech Chaim[17]
  2. Shaareiy Teshuvah
  3. Shaareiy Tefilah
  4. Likkuteiy Torah
  5. Ateres Rosh
  6. Igeres Hateshuvah[18]

 

Cheshbon Nefesh:[19]

The Rebbe Rayatz states that the learning of Chassidus is not the main Avodah of the month of Elul but rather the main Avoda of the month is the Avodah of Cheshbon Nefesh which is to be done prior to the bedtime Shema, and prior to the morning prayer.

 

The Avodah of Elul from a letter of the Rebbe Rayatz:[20]

  • “The month of Elul is the month of mercy in which the Thirteen Attributes of Divine Mercy shine forth.”
  • “This is the month of compassion, in which the Gates of Mercy are opened to all those who desire to draw near to sanctity, to serve G-d through repentance, prayer and Torah study.
  • “This is the last month of the year that is ending, and passing from the present to the past. It is a month of spiritual stock taking during which one contemplates how one has spent the past year, utterly regretting whatever has been undesirable, and resolving to be vigilant in the meticulous observance of the commandments, to be conscientious in one’s Torah study and in one’s prayers, and to habituate oneself to positive character traits.”
  • “This is a month of preparation for the new year. May it bring us and all of Israel goodness and blessing, materially and spiritually.”

Traveling to the Rebbe:[21]

It is accustomed amongst Chassidim to travel to their Rebbe for Rosh Hashanah. The Rebbe Rashab once stated[22] “How is it that a Jew is not in Lubavitch for Rosh Hashanah. Where is he going to be?

 


[1] Sefer Hamamarim Melukat-Elul p. 224 [Mamar Parshas Shoftim 1972]

[2] Hayom Yom 27th Menachem Av

[3] Likkutei Sichos 2 p. 307 [Hebrew]; Toras Menachem 3 p. 285

[4] This refers to the relative of the murder victim who has permission to kill the murderer unless the murderer is found in the city of refuge.

[5] Likkutei Torah Reah p. 32

[6] Likkutei Torah Reah p. 32-34

[7] Mishnes Chassidim Miseches Elul 1/43

[8] See Sefer Hamamarim Melukat-Elul p. 224 [Mamar Parshas Shoftim 1972]

[9] Likkutei Dibburim Likut 2 p. 49

[10] Likkuteiy Dibburim Vol 1 page 151-158

[11] Hisvadyus 1989 Vol 4 p. 236               

[12] Hisvadyos 1983 4 p. 1949 [Shaareiy Moadim-Elul 12]

[13] Igros Kodesh of Rebbe Rayatz 4/131

[14] Igros Kodesh 21/227

[15] Takanos of Rebbe Rayatz in Hakria Hakedosha Teves 1941

[16] Likkutei Sichos 2 p. 632

[17] Mentioned also in different letters of Rebbe.

[18] Mentioned in Igeres Hakodesh 11/432

[19] Takanos of Rebbe Rayatz for the Temimim, printed in Hakeriah Hakedosha Erev R”C Teves 1941

[20] Igros Kodesh Rebbe Rayatz 4/131, brought in English Sefer Haminhagim p. 100

[21] Otzer Minhagei Chabad Erev R”H 1; In the Siddur Mahrid of Liadi there is a Mamar printed “To understand the order of Divine service involved in Anash traveling to the Rebbe and their Hiskashrus to the Rebbe”

[22] Toras Shalom p. 188

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