By Rabbi Moshe Meir Weiss
The season of Elul is upon us. What should Elul mean to a serious minded Jew? Rabbi Bentzion Lopian, the son of the venerable mashgiach, Rav Eliyahu Lopian, Zt”l, Zy”a, relates that when he was a little boy back in Europe, he recalled a revealing event. During the early days of Elul, there was a market day in his town. He remembered going there and how exciting it was to see scores of merchants hawking all kinds of fascinating merchandise. While in the market, he overheard two gentiles debating whether they should do business with a certain Jew. One of them was concerned that the price that the Jew was offering was so reasonable that it made the deal look suspicious. The other gentile calmed him down by saying, ‘This is their month of Elul. They are especially mindful of their G-d this month and are extremely scrupulous with their laws during this time of the year.’ Rav Bentzion ends with a flourish: that in the olden days, even the non-Jews felt the aura of Elul upon us.
Why is Elul such an important time of the year? The elementary reason is because we know that thirty days before a festival we start preparing for and learning about the festival. That’s why there’s a custom that on Purim (which is thirty days before Pesach) many people begin their seudah, banquet, with some study of the laws of Pesach. So therefore, since Elul is thirty days before Rosh HaShannah, we start preparing with repentance, prayer, and charity to prepare for the Day of Judgment.
Another reason is that Elul is the last month of the year and we have a tradition stated in the Gemora, “Hakol holeich achar hachasom – Everything goes after the end.” It’s the way we finish things that is absolutely critical. So, for example, the Mishna tells us “Shuv yom echad lifnei misascha – Repent one day before you die,” how we end our life defines our entire life. So too we are taught that when we concluded the Shemone Esrei, the silent devotion, after we back up three steps, we should pause before going forward and finishing, for if we don’t pause in reverence, “Torfin tefiloso b’fonov – Hashem rips up our prayers in His Presence.” Once again, we see that the conclusion is all-telling. So too, we define the quality of our spirituality and our relationship for the entire year with our behavior at the end of the year.
Furthermore, the very fabric of time, from Rosh Chodesh Elul until Yom Kippur is propitious for divine mercy and forgiveness. Just like the days of Adar have good mazal and the days of Av until T’u b’Av have bad mazal, so too these forty days are auspicious as the Y’mei rachamim v’ha selichos – As days of divine forgiveness and compassion. This is because on Rosh Chodush Elul, thousands of years ago, after the dreadful sin of the golden calf, Moshe Rabbeinu went up a third time to heaven for forty days and forty nights to petition Hashem to forgive Klal Yisroel for the heinous crime of the golden calf. Forty days later, on Yom Kippur, Moshe Rabbeinu descended victorious with the happy message Salachti ki’dvorecha – I have forgiven them as you requested. Ever since, these forty days have become a time extremely favorable to petition Hashem for forgiveness and, by extension, a time of reflection and meditation to spiritually inspect ourselves to know what needs to be corrected, a time of repentance and contrition, and a time to ask one another for forgiveness and mend sullied relationships.
We hear the call of the shofar every morning as a wake-up call to stir us from our spiritual comatose state to think about bettering our religiosity. As the Ksav Sofer, Zt”l, Zy”a, used to say, shofar reminds us shapru ma’aseichem – we should make prettier our ways, how we use our time, how we daven how we give charity, how we keep Shabbos, how we talk to our spouse, how we honor our parents, how we spend time with our children, how we do business, how we act with our fellow man, and how we watch how we talk.
May it be the will of Hashem that we use our Elul correctly and in that merit may we be blessed with a ksiva v’chasima tova u’mesuka, a year that we are written and sealed for sweetness and everything wonderful.
Please learn and daven for the refuah sheleima of Miriam Liba bas Devorah, b’soch shaar cholei Yisroel.
Sheldon Zeitlin takes dictation of, and edits, Rabbi Weiss’s articles.
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