Customs of Elul

Wishing each other a sweet new year:[1]

We begin to wish each other a “Kesiva Vachasima Tovah”[2]  starting from Rosh Chodesh Elul. [Some[3] are accustomed to begin doing so from the 15th of Menachem Av.] In a letter to a friend one must begin [or end[4]] with a blessing for the person to have a good year.[5] [The Rebbe’s custom was to write the blessing at the end of the letter.[6] One is to continue to do so until Rosh Hashanah. From after Rosh Hashanah until Yom Kippur one writes Chasima Vegmar Chasima Tovah.[7] From after Yom Kippur it is no longer our custom to write the blessing[8], although some do so until Hoshanah Raba.[9]]


Sparks of Chassidus

The blessing affects oneself and the person being blessed:[10]

The reason of blessing each other is because the words of a Jew have power and affect. One can actually change another Jew’s future through a kind blessing. When one blesses another Jew this adds to the blessing of Hashem to every single Jew in Klal Yisrael in both physical and spiritual matters.


Going out of one’s way to bless each other:[11]

For the above reason each person is to actually go out of his way to bless a fellow Jew with a Kesiva Vechasima Tova both orally and in writing. A man is to bless another man and a woman another woman. Children are to bless other children of their gender, boys are to bless other boys and girls are to bless other girls.[12]


Story of Rebbetzin Devorah Leah:[13]

In the known story of Mesirus Nefesh that the daughter of the Alter Rebbe took upon herself to exchange her life for the life of her father who was given a supernal decree of death[14], the blessing of “Kesiva Vechasima Tova” took a pivotal role. It was understood that whoever would be the first to wish the other this blessing on Rosh Hashanah would take the decree upon himself and revoke the decree from the person who received the blessing. On that first night of Rosh Hashanah against the usual practice of the Alter Rebbe viewed in previous years to avoid speaking at all on Rosh Hashanah, the Alter Rebbe asked for his daughter Devorah Leah. The Alter Rebbe came to approach his daughter Rebbetzin Devorah Leah and began blessing her with “Leshana..”. Before he got a chance to finish the blessing his daughter cut him off and said “Leshana Tova Tekaseiv Vesechaseim, Father don’t speak”. And so it was that she exchanged her life for the life of her father and saved the Chassidic movement. She fell sick the next day and passed away on Tzom Gedalia.


Teshuvah-Making an accounting of the soul:[15]

During the month of Elul one is to perform a general[16] accounting of the soul [i.e. Cheshbon Hanefesh] and add in Torah, Tefilla and Tzedaka. [Some communities have the custom that in the month of Elul, after Mincha, the Gabaiy announces “Shuvu Banim Shovivim”. This is a nice custom.[17] This custom was not seen practiced in Lubavitch communities.]

Main Avodah is Cheshbon Nefesh:[18] The Rebbe Rayatz stated that the learning of Chassidus is not the main Avodah of the month of Elul but rather the Avodah of Cheshbon Nefesh.

When is one to perform the Cheshbon Nefesh?[19] The Avodah of Cheshbon Nefesh is to be performed prior to the bedtime Shema, prior to sleep[20] and prior to the morning prayers.


Charity-Increasing in charity and establishing a charity fund:[21] 

One is to increase in charity throughout the month of Elul.[22] Communities should begin collecting money so all families will have their Yom Tov needs by the time the festival arrives. This includes funding for Rosh Hashanah[23], Yom Kippur[24] and Sukkos.[25] [The Peri Chadash would distribute Mishlaoch Manos on Erev Rosh Hashanah so the poor are able to eat good foods for the Yom Tov meal.[26]]


Reading Zohar:

Some have a custom to read the Tikkunei Zohar during Elul as a Segula.[27] They begin the reading on Rosh Chodesh Elul and complete it on Yom Kippur.[28] This custom was practiced also in Lubavitch[29] and was hence accepted amongst Chabad Chassidim. Nevertheless it is not obligatory for one to do so.[30]


[1] Maharil brought in Beir Heiytiv 581/10; Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 128/2; Kaf Hachaim 581/18; Regarding wishing each other a good year orally see Hisvadyos 1988 Vol. 4 p. 209

[2] “You shall be written in and sealed for a good year”. This is hinted to in the words “Vayishalu Ish Lireieihu Leshalom” which is also an acronym for Elul [Lekutei Mahrich]

[3] Custom to begin from the 15th of Av: The Shaar Yisacher and Darkei Chaim Veshalom [684; Munkatch] write that one is to begin wishing each other Leshana Tova starting from the 15th of Av. The Rebbe states that it is a Minhag Yisrael to do so. [Hisvadyos 1991 Vol. 4 p. 179; printed in Shulchan Menachem 3/72] The Gematria of “Chamisha Asar Beav” is the same as “Kesiva Vechasima Tova”. [Darkei Chaim Veshalom ibid; Hisvadyos ibid] This is also hinted to in the acronym for the Mazal of Menachem Av which is “Aryeh” and stands for Elul; R”H; Yom Kippur; Hoshanah Raba, as in the month of Av is hinted to the completion of the Piska Tova of Hoshanah Raba. [Rebbe ibid] This blessing is found in letters of the Rebbe Rayatz and Rebbe written in the month of Menachem Av. [Otzer p. 11-13]

[4] Some Poskim write that the blessing is to be written in the beginning of the letter. [Beir Heiytiv ibid; Elya Raba 581/1; Drashos Maharil; Kaf Hachaim 581/18] Others mention that the blessing may be written either in the beginning or end of the letter. [Mateh Efraim 581/9; Likkutei Mahrich in name of Avodas Hageirshony]

[5] Mahril brought in Beir Heiytiv 581/10; Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 128/2; Kaf Hachaim 581/18

[6] As is seen in hundreds of letters printed in Igros Kodesh. So was also the custom of the Rebbe Rayatz. [Otzer Minhagei Chabad p. 11] See Otzer p. 10 for the Nussach used by the Tzemach Tzedek and Admur Maharash and Rashab. They wrote in the beginning of the letter, although at times the Rebbe Rashab wrote it at the end of the letter. It is not found in the letters of the Mittler Rebbe or Alter Rebbe, and there are letters of the Rebbe Rayatz in which no blessing is written.

Writing to a gentile: See Shulchan Menachem 3/72 footnote 1 that the Rebbe once told the secretary to write this Nussach to a gentile, stating that also the gentiles are judged on this day.

[7] So is the wording of the Rebbe on many letters written during Aseres Yimei Teshuvah.

[8] The Rebbe omits the blessing in letters written after Yom Kippur. This follows our custom brought in Sefer Haminhagim [p. 146 English edition] from the Friediker Rebbe [Sefer Hasichos 1948 Sichas Hoshanah Raba] that we do not say Gmar Chasima Tovah or Piska Tova on Hoshana Raba. However there were letters of the Rebbe Rashab and Rebbe Rayatz of after Yom Kippur that the blessing is found. [See Otzer Minhagei Chabad p. 10-11]

[9] See Piskeiy Teshuvos 581/1 footnote 7

[10] Sichas 1st Elul 1988

[11] Sichas 1st Elul 1988

[12] The custom is for also boys before Bar Mitzvah to bless adults even though this is not so much Derech Eretz. [Hisvadyos 1988 4/339]

[13] Based on Likkutei Dibburim Volume 1 Likut 2 [p. 56-60 in Hebrew addition]

[14] See Otzer Sipurei Chabad Volume 3 p. 265

[15] Sefer Hamamrim Yiddish p. 75, 78, 129; Shaar Hamoadim Elul p. 189-203; Likkutei Sichos 9 p. 297, 457

[16] A particular accounting of one’s actions is to be performed every night by Kerias Shema Sheal Hamita. A general accounting of all ones matters is to be performed during Elul. One cannot do so every day of the year as one needs to use his time for Torah and Avoda, and hence doing it during the rest of the year constantly is advice of the evil inclination to prevent one from serving G-d. [Toras Menachem 1. P. 175]

[17] Birkeiy Yosef 581/10; Shaareiy Teshuvah 581/1; Mateh Efraim 581/7; Kaf Hachaim 581/11

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

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

[20] The Chida writes one is to perform a Cheshbon Nefesh every night between Rosh Chodesh Elul and Yom Kippur. Furthermore it is the act of Tzaddikim to do so on every night of the week throughout the year, although every man is especially to do so in Elul. [Moreh Baetzba 243; Kaf Hachaim 581/24]

[21] Likkutei Sichos 14/369; Shaar Hamoadim Rosh Hashanah 9; Shaarei Halacha Uminhag 2/236.

As for the reason that there was no special charity fund established by the Sages for Rosh Hashanah and Sukkos, as was done for Pesach, perhaps this is due to the poor economic state of the Jewish people in exile, as well as because they did not wish to make a bad omen in emphasizing that there are paupers by the new year. [ibid]

[22] Likkutei Torah Re’e 25a “Therefore it is explained in Chazal that one is required to increase in charity in the month of Elul”; Sefer Amrachel brought in Elya Raba 581 that one of the Roshei Teivos of Elul is “Ish Lereihu Umatanos Laevyonim”; See above in Shaar Hachassidus for all the Roshie Teivos of Elul!

The reason: In Elul we are in need of an arousal from above in order to return to Hashem with a full heart. This is accomplished through the giving of charity during this month and the revelation of the 13 attributes of mercy. [Admur ibid]

[23] As states the verse in Nechemia  regarding Rosh Hashanah “One is to eat fatty foods and sweet beverages, and give presents to those who lack [food].”

[24] For the Erev Yom Kippur and Motzei Yom Kippur meals.

[25] For the Yom Tov meals as well as for the expenses of building a Sukka and buying a Lulav and Esrog.

[26] Peri Chadash end of 581; Kaf Hachaim 581/101; In the Sefer Keser Shem Tov of Rav Gagin 6/60 he writes “I do not know why the custom has not become widespread”; brought in Likkutei Sichos ibid footnote 20

[27] Kaf Hachaim 581/7; Kisei Melech Hakdama 1; Or Tzaddikim; Kitzei Hamateh 603/7 writes this is the custom of communities in Poland. This custom is mentioned in Likkutei Deburim Vol 1 page 151-158 as a custom that existed in Lubavitch.

[28] Kaf Hachaim ibid

[29] Likkutei Deburim ibid

[30] Toras Menachem 34/303; Sichos Kodesh 1962 p. 690 [brought in Shulchan Menachem 3/75]

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