By Rabbi Yair Hoffman
Elul has arrived. Rosh Chodesh Elul has special significance in regard to connecting more with Hashem and developing “second chances.” On Rosh Chodesh Elul, Moshe went back up Har Sinai to receive the second set of Luchos. The second set replaced the first set of Luchos that was broken because of the collective sins of Klal Yisrael.
Moshe Rabbeinu spent 40 days and 40 nights there, returning on the tenth day of Tishrei, Yom Kippur. Since that time, these days have been considered yemei ratzon — days in which a person’s teshuvah is more readily accepted.
The rav of Kremnasa, Rabbi Avrohom Chacham, zt’l, once gave an interesting mashal describing the period of time that precedes the Days of Awe. It is a true story and serves as a powerful metaphor as well.
Every spring there was a great fair in the city of Mechuz, a city known for commerce and trade. Every enterprising businessman prepared his wares in anticipation of this great fair. Each merchant thought carefully as to what merchandise to bring, which quality to emphasize, what styles and colors would be in vogue, the quantity to manufacture or order, and how best to display the merchandise in order to engender the greatest sales volume possible.
Those merchants who were most on the ball made sure to rent the booths facing the center of the square. All, of course, were aware that these booths were the most lucrative ones, and the sharpest merchants were the ones wise enough to book these booths well in advance of the fair.
Those who were not as astute still managed to rent some booths on the side streets. But those who woke up at the last minute were unable to obtain booths even in the side streets and had to make do in the worst locales of all. Some merchants did not even prepare at all and came with their wares on the day of the fair itself, planting themselves and their carts in the middle of the arena.
On the first day of the fair, many purchasers arrived, along with the fair organizers. The carts situated in the middle of the arena were quickly removed as they blocked the flow of traffic. Indeed, they were fined considerably for violating the bylaws of the fair. Much of their merchandise was confiscated and they were told to vacate the premises immediately. Facing imminent losses, they disposed of their merchandise and wares quite cheaply.
As can be predicted, those who rented the prime booth locations did extraordinarily well and amassed enough business to support themselves for an entire year. Those who were not as sharp and had rented booths in the side streets had to work twice as hard to entice customers, had to substantially reduce their prices and, consequently, their profits. Those in the worst locations had to sell at a loss and barely broke even, some of them even taking a loss.
The parallel is clear.
We must know that true teshuvah, one that is deep and sincere, does not occur without preparation. It requires sincere perseverance and resolution. It requires a realization well before Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur that this year we will make that effort to go into the Days of Awe with a business plan. It requires planning during the month of Elul.
We can better prepare ourselves for judgment during this time by fulfilling the mitzvos of teshuvah, tefillah, and tzedakah. During Elul, we perform our mitzvos with greater care and devotion. It is proper to set aside time each day to examine our deeds. Many check their mezuzos and men check their tefillin during this month.
Each morning during the month of Elul, the shofar is sounded after Shacharis. According to the Gemara in Rosh Hashanah, Moshe Rabbeinu enacted that the shofar be sounded during this time so that Klal Yisrael would not sin again. This minhag helps us in our teshuvah. Rav Moshe Feinstein, zt’l, rules (Igros Moshe O.C. IV #21) that if a congregation forgot to blow shofar at Shacharis they should do so during Minchah.
L’Dovid Hashem Ori
From the first of Elul until Shemini Atzeres after Sukkos, we recite “L’Dovid Hashem Ori” twice each day. Nusach Ashkenaz says it in the evenings and at Shacharis; Nusach Sephard says it during Shacharis and during Minchah.
What is the reason for this minhag? There are a few answers. The pesukim in this perek contain allusions to the yomim tovim in Tishrei. It is also the tefillah that Dovid HaMelech wrote to be recited when the Aron would be placed in the Kodesh Kedashim in the Beis HaMikdash — where Hashem is enthroned as Master of all Creation.
Time Of Dveikus
Elul is also a time when we can achieve the pinnacle of closeness, dveikus, to our Creator. The word “Elul” comprises the roshei teivos (initial letters) of Shlomo HaMelech’s words in Shir HaShirim (6:3): “Ani l’Dodi v’Dodi li—I am my Beloved’s and my Beloved is mine.” This pasuk expresses the yearning of the Jewish neshamah for dveikus with Hashem.
Another z’chus that we can gain during the month of Elul is, in both our oral communications and our written ones, to wish others a kesivah v’chasimah tovah — a good writing and sealing. Done with the correct intent, such a greeting is a fulfillment of the Torah mitzvah of v’ahavta l’rei’acha kamocha. This may be categorized under “tzedakah,” which doesn’t just mean charity; it means acts of righteousness, especially toward others.
This is also alluded to in the pasuk in Megillas Esther — “ish l’rei’eihu u’matanos la’evyonim” — where the first letters spell out Elul again.
During this time, many have the minhag to recite the entire Tehillim twice before Rosh Hashanah. Since there are 150 perakim, saying it twice will equal 300 perakim. The gematria (numerical equivalent) of the letters chaf, pei, and reish is 300; in Hebrew, these letters make up the word “kaper,” which means “atone.”
With these changes we can best prepare for the coming year.
The author can be reached at Yairhoffman2@gmail.com. Read more of Rabbi Hoffman’s articles at 5TJT.com.