I love it when Torah Tuesdays coincides with Rosh Chodesh! What a treat!
Today is Rosh Chodesh Elul. Elul is the last month of the Jewish year. It is the month preceding the high holidays (Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur). It is a month of spiritual accounting and preparation for the upcoming holidays.
You may recall that the Jewish year is like a spiral: As it cycles through the year, each time period is imbued with its own spiritual flavor which connects back to the events of that time throughout history. Pesach is a time of freedom, Sukkos is a time of rejoicing, and the High Holidays are a time of judgment and renewal. Elul is a month of Divine mercy and forgiveness.
The days of Elul are called “days of grace” or “days of compassion.” It was during this time, back in the days of our desert-wandering, that Moshe was successful in his pleas for forgiveness after the incident with the Golden Calf. This is when Moshe went back up the mountain, a second time, to spend another 40 days to commune with G-d. This is when Moshe learned the 13 Attributes of Mercy (Exodus 33:18-34:8).
We say that during the month of Elul, the “King is in the field.” This means that during this time of year, G-d is closer to us, so to speak, than He is at other times. This closeness makes Him especially accessible, and makes it easier to return to a way of living which will extend this closeness (I’m talking about improving our actions and service to G-d here, folks).
So, we dedicate this month to saying special prayers (we start reciting Psalm 27 at the end of Shacharis), sounding the shofar, taking a spiritual accounting, and yes, doing teshuvah.
This is an excellent time to start asking ourselves: How do I want to grow? What’s holding me back? How can I move forward? And once we’ve answered those questions, it’s time to act on it.
I’m planning on cracking open my machzor and reading a small portion of the Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur services each day, that way when it’s time to daven on those awesome days, I’m somewhat familiar with what I’m saying (it really makes such a difference, no shocker there).
I also plan on using Rabbi Simon Jacobson’s book 60 days: A Spiritual Guide to the High Holidays, which I love. It covers all the days between Rosh Chodesh Elul and Rosh Chodesh Cheshvan. Each day is allotted two pages: The first has a calendar with a quote, a list of historical events that occurred on that day, and some laws and customs. The other page has an inspirational thought and a practical exercise.
I’ve used this book for several years now, and while I do tend to peter out in the middle of the month (but not this year, I hope!), I still feel that I’ve gained from what I’ve read. I’m excited each year when I open it up. Much of this post was drawn from Rabbi Jacobson’s excellent introduction.
How are you planning to use this time of year to improve? Are there any books or resources you recommend?
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9 thoughts on “Torah Tuesdays: A Month of Introspection”
Thank you for this wonderful post! I am going to look for the book, although it is already Elul and will probably have to catch up. I need a good shofar sound today to wake me up to the new month. My brain wants to hit the snooze alarm and go back to summer vacation….
Wouldn’t it be nice if there was a ba’al tokeah who made house calls? I would love that. I also have to shake myself up to remember it’s Elul. Inertia is a powerful force. Even if it takes a little while to get the book, it’s still worth it, in my opinion. If you don’t get to do it all this year, there’s always next year (well, unless Moshiach comes first, that is).
That’s a great tip to start looking at the Machzor a little each day. I’m usually doing it the day before–this is a much better idea.
I think last year I did it the day OF. It was not the best davening for me, to put it mildly!
Very nice post. I’ll have to check out the 60 Days to the High Holidays book you mention. I love this time of year too because it truly is a new year. I always think of September and fall and back-to-school as the new year, which to me is no coincidence that they correspond with Rosh Hashanah. This year, I want to take a more spiritual approach to the holidays and delve deeper into what the holidays mean for me spiritually. It’s hard for me to explain more because I’m not quite sure where it will actually lead me. I just know my heart and mind is open to what comes.
I love the connection between the New Year and the beginning of the school year. That hadn’t occurred to me before, but it’s a neat parallel. I think you’d enjoy Rabbi Jacobson’s book, and I wish you much hatzlacha in your journey this Rosh Hashanah!
Hi Rivki – Avrum here (it’s been a while).
Like you, I tend to peter out on 60 Days. This year, I think I’ve discovered why. 60 Days is a stunning book, no question about that. However the self-growth exercises do not progress in any linear fashion (or none that I could discern). This is where the mormons and evangelicals have got us beat (I’m thinking the late Dr. Covey’s 7 Habits, Dave Ramsey, and others). I think Covey’s First Things First – mission statement building, long term goal setting, weekly planning, etc – would provide excellent scaffolding for one’s Chesbon Hanefesh plan. At least that’s how I’m rolling this year.
p.s. I’m still working on my book – learningtocommit.com – and look forward to chatting when it’s done. I’m thinking 2026, but hoping for the late Fall.
I wish I could say that my slacking off were only because of the format of a book! Alas, no, it seems to be the result of the normal waning of excitement. At the start of any project or endeavor, there’s the typical rush of enthusiasm, but once that rush wears off and the reality of the avodah kicks in, that’s when it’s harder to stay connected (but that’s when the real progress gets made, I suspect).
In any case, I joined Rabbi Aryeh Nivin’s chabura a couple years ago, and that has provided an excellent venue for cheshbon hanefesh/self improvement.
Hatzlacha with your book, and hatzlacha with Elul!