Elul, the last month of the year, is known as a time of summing up the past year and preparing for the new one. According to Jewish tradition, it was on Rosh Hodesh (the 1st day of) Elul 3320 years ago that Moses climbed up Mount Sinai in order to receive the second set of tablets, with which he descended onYom Kippur. Ever since, the 40 days between Rosh Hodesh Elul and Yom Kippur have been devoted to special spiritual elevation.
The word elul means “search.” In the story about the spies that Moses sent to explore the land of Canaan, which appears in the Book of Numbers, the Hebrew expression vayaturu is used in reference to the spies’ mission. In the Aramaic translation of the Torah, the word vayaturu is translated as veyaleloon (based on the same root as elul) –which means to search, explore and understand the different aspects and inner significance of the matter at hand.
Kabbalah teachings emphasize that our spiritual work during the month of Elul is to explore and search our souls, to find the good forces inside each and every one of us and apply them in the best way possible, so that they will positively influence the less favorable aspects of our personality.
The sign of the month of Elul is Virgo, which symbolizes the purification and cleansing of the soul and body in preparation for the new year.
The letters of Elul are an acronym for the passage in the Song of Songs: ani ledodi vedodi li haro’eh bashoshanim – “I am my beloved’s, and my beloved is mine, that feedeth among the roses.” The Zohar and other Kabbalah literature explain that the rose has thirteen petals, matching the thirteen attributes of Divine mercy. During the month of Elul there is a special revelation of the thirteen attributes of mercy and love in the upper worlds, and this has a positive effect on our deeds in this world.
The spiritual awakening of the soul in the month of Elul is the result of this marvelous revelation of the thirteen attributes of mercy. In gimetria (calculation of the value of the letters of a word), the Hebrew word ahava (love) and echad (one) each add up to 13, the number of petals on the rose.
Kabbalah and Hassidic philosophy present a wonderful parable about the special nature of the month of Elul, titled : “The King is in the Field.”
The parable tells us that while throughout the year the king is relatively inaccessible, closed in his palace, in the month of Elul the king is “in the field.” At that time, anyone can approach him and benefit from his presence, and the king gives everyone a warm, welcoming reception with a smiling face. The analogy is clear – during the month of Elul, everyone is given an opportunity to approach the radiance, the divine spark of the Creator, found deep inside each of us. Everyone is given special strength to explore and search their souls, to discover the beautiful treasures that are inside our souls, and bring them out into the open.
For this reason it is also a customary to blow the Shofar during the month of Elul. The blowing of the Shofar awakens the inner consciousness of the soul and reminds us of its ancient origins in the creation of man: “Then the Lord formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life” (Genesis 2:7). The word shofar also signifies the effort to improve (leshaper, in Hebrew) and beautify our deeds, feelings and thoughts as the new year approaches.
Rosh Hashanah marks the creation of man on the sixth day of the creation of the universe. On Rosh Hashanah we also blow the Shofar, which is actually the most important mitzvah of this day. Continuing the spiritual process of the month of Elul, the blowing of the Shofar on Rosh Hashanah expresses the Creator’s rule over all reality, as at the dawn of creation. In a similar way, the blowing of the Shofar at the Ne’ila prayer on Yom Kippur expresses the revelation of the soul and its unification with its divine origin.
May we all have a good and sweet year.
To read more on the month of Elul and the Tzfat Kabbalah