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).
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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