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Elul: A time to reinvigorate our spiritual selves

by Rabbi Yeruchem Eilfort

  

Library » Holidays » Rosh Hashanah » A Month of Preparation | Subscribe | What is RSS?


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The Hebrew month of Elul is a time of spiritual preparation as we look forward to the imminent arrival of the High Holidays. There are several observances during this month all meant to foster an awakening of our higher spiritual senses. The Shofar is sounded daily, extra Psalms are recited, and the special Selichot prayers are uttered.

Besides for its obvious proximity to the High Holidays is there something special about Elul that elicits so many unique observances?

Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi (originator of the Chabad Chassidic Philosophy) gave an explanation that bears analysis1 . He said that, "During the Month of Elul it is as though the King - meaning G-d - is in the field." He further explained by giving an analogy. During the course of a year the king is practically sequestered in his palace. Only those with specific missions or those considered greatly important are granted access to the king's presence. Those who are merely laypeople do not have the opportunity of seeing the king, much less conversing with the king.

During the Month of Elul it is as though the King - G-d - is in the field...When in the field the king greets each of his subjects with a smiling face, and he wants to hear their concerns and comments
However, the king would dedicate one month of his yearly schedule specifically to go out from his palace and interact with his subjects on their turf. He would make his way into the fields and villages, and there he would grant his subjects access to himself. How does the king act when out in the public eye? In the palace itself we know that there is a strict standard of etiquette that must be maintained. When standing in the king's throne-room one must be properly attired and carry himself with utmost dignity. Only finery is to be worn, and one must certainly be on his best behavior.

Those conditions do not apply in the field. On the contrary, the king made his way to the field because he wanted to reassert his relationship with his subjects on their level. By doing this he reinforces the notion that he is their king. As is understood there is no king without a people. So during that month the greatness of the people is the point that is emphasized. When in the field the king greets each of his subjects with a smiling face, and he wants to hear their concerns and comments. Again, that is the very purpose of his visit.

The question really then is not, "Is the King available to us?" The question instead is, "Are we looking for Him?"
So too this same concept applies to the Holy One, the King of the Jewish people. G-d makes Himself accessible to His people this time each year. He is amongst us, and greets each of us with a "smiling face." The question really then is not, "Is the King available to us?" The question instead is, "Are we looking for Him?" If we open our spiritual eyes and seek out our King, His Presence may certainly be felt.

Once we perceive our loving and caring King one cannot help but be profoundly moved by the experience. Our love and devotion of the King grows. Our awe of the King's power is enhanced. Our lives become impacted and we anticipate the looming High Holidays with a combination of excitement and energy.

This is not to say that G-d is not available during the rest of the year. It is a cornerstone of Jewish belief that G-d is always available. However, during the course of the year we must approach G-d in His palace. We must do so at specific intervals and under exacting standards. On the other hand, during Elul the level of G-d's availability skyrockets, as G-d comes to us, as it were.

It is time to "seize the moment" in our spiritual pursuit of G-d. On second thought, this time of year it is G-d Who "pursues" us, so we should let Him "catch us." What does allowing G-d to capture us entail? It means that we simply open our eyes and hearts and return G-d's gaze as He smiles at us. It is time for all of us to be inspired!

Footnotes

  • 1. Likutei Torah, Parshat Re'eh, p. 32a, Ani L'Dodi

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RELATED CATEGORIES

Holidays
Miscellaneous » The Jewish Calendar

Chabad
Chabad, an acronym for Wisdom, Knowledge, and Understanding, is the name of a Chassidic Group founded in the 1770s. Two of the most fundamental teachings of Chabad are the intellectual pursuit of understanding the divine and the willingness to help every Jew who has a spiritual or material need.
Chassidic
(Pl.: Chassidim; Adj.: Chassidic) A follower of the teachings of Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov (1698-1760), the founder of "Chassidut." Chassidut emphasizes serving G-d with sincerity and joy, and the importance of connecting to a Rebbe (saintly mentor).
Shofar
The horn of a Kosher animal. The Shofar is sounded on the holiday of Rosh Hashanah, and is intended to awaken us to repentance. Also blown to signify the conclusion of the Yom Kippur holiday.
Elul
The 6th month on the Jewish calendar, normally corresponding to August-September. This is the month which precedes Tishrei, the month of the High Holidays, and is a month of introspection and repentance.
Psalms
The Book of Psalms. One of the 24 books of the Bible. Compiled by King David; mostly comprised of poetic praise for G-d. A large part of our prayers are culled from this book.
Selichot
Penintential prayers recited before the High Holidays and on Jewish fast days.
G-d
It is forbidden to erase or deface the name of G-d. It is therefore customary to insert a dash in middle of G-d's name, allowing us to erase or discard the paper it is written on if necessary.