THE NAME: ELUL
The beginning of the month of Elul initiates the first days
of our annual month of preparation before the High Holy days, when the
Jewish people are judged on their behavior of the past year. The Shlah
comments on the verse "When the lion roars, who is not afraid?"
(Amos 3:8), explaining that the Hebrew word for "lion", "aryeh",
(spelled alef, reish, yud, hei), is an acronym for the 4 words, Elul,
Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur and Hoshana Rabbah (the last day of Sukkot).
When the "lion" of the High Holy Days arrives, people feel the
urge to change their behavior for the better, in preparation of the Day
Because of the spiritual potency of the month of Elul, there
are ancient traditions associating the name of the month with different
Torah verses where the first letters of the words spell out "Elul",
showing us the different aspects of its character and how we can utilize
them to connect with G-d. The most well known include "I am for my
beloved and my beloved is for me" (Songs 6:3), which refers to the
power of prayer; "Each man to his friend and gifts for the poor"
(Ester 9:22) about charity and, in general, kindness to others; "Your
heart and the heart of your children" (Deut. 30:6), referring to
repentance; and "It came to his hand and we placed for him"
(Ex. 21:13), which alludes to the cities of refuge, built for one who
murdered accidentally (referring to the Torah, our refuge).
When we will truly use all of our efforts during the month
of Elul, to learn Torah and do all of the commandments, then the final
verse hinted in the name "Elul" will become fully revealed:
"And they said, we will sing to G-d." (Ex. 15:1) This was the
prophesy of the Jewish people at the splitting of the red sea, that everyone
will sing together at the time of Mashiach celebrating the arrival of
the Final Redemption!
Rabbi Shaul Yosef Leiter is a co-founder and the executive
director of Ascent-of-Safed.
Thirteen Attributes of Compassion
A remarkable phenomenon exists in regards to the Thirteen
Attributes of Compassion. While throughout Elul only their light shines
forth, nonetheless, that light contains within it the essence of its
source. Since they are the Light of the Infinite One ( Ein Sof), they
consequently illume His Absolute Being.
Elul's radiated Thirteen Attributes of Compassion are a preparation for
their full revelation on Yom Kippur. One might ask, how can a mere radiation
be related to intense Absolute Light? But it certainly can, for although
their state during Elul is external - as a king in a field - nevertheless,
they are the Infinite One's Light, and we can't distinguish between them.
Based on a discourse by the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem
Mendel Schneerson, parashat Re'eh 5739-1979
The eighteenth day of the month of Elul [2017: Sept. 8-9], 12 days before
Rosh HaShanah, is the the birthday of the Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov,
the revealer of the Chassidic movement in 1734, on his 36th birthday.
It presents a precious opportunity to inculcate into our lives his main
teachings and his essence. To start, here are some of the principles that
he made famous, found in the possession of a grandson of the Baal Shem
Tov in Hamburg (copied from the holy handwriting of the Admor Moharash).
The following is translated by Yaacov-David Shulman from Kovetz Eliyahu,
1. The entire Torah and the entire world contain nothing but the light
of the Infinite One (blessed be He) concealed within them. All the verses
that speak of this, such as "there is no other than He" and
"I fill the heavens and the earth," are to be taken literally.
There is no act, word or thought in which the essence of divinity is
not constricted and hiding. And so when you look and see with your mind's
eye, you will see the inner, life-force aspect of everything, not just
its outer, superficial layer. You will see nothing but the divine power
inside all things that is giving them life, being and existence at every
And when you listen carefully to the inner voice within any physical
sound that you hear, you will hear only the voice of G-d as, at that moment,
it is literally giving life and existence to the sound that you are hearing.
2. The "exile of G-d's Presence" refers to the life-force and
divine power that gives a person life and existence even at the moment
that he is transgressing G-d's will.
3. The evil inclination and lust are agents of G-d. They carry out G-d's
will to mislead a person in order that he will overcome them.
From them, you can learn to be as mighty as they are. Just as they never
slacken in their work but are trying to destroy you day and night (because
a person always desires what his eyes see and what his ears hear), just
as they are happy and delighted to carry out G-d's will, it should be
as clear to you that G-d wants you to overcome them until you will conquer
yourself and all your desires will be under your control - until you transform
them to good.
This idea is alluded to in the verse, "We will take from it [from
the flock] to serve G-d" (Ex. 10:26), meaning that we will take a
lesson from the evil inclination to act just as it acts to fulfill G-d's
will. And a word to the wise is sufficient.
4. Having no [divine] source, evil does not come down from heaven. Nevertheless,
evil that exists has an inner power giving it life. And this [inner power]
is total goodness. So if you look at the inner aspect of evil, you will
only see the good in it.
5. A person has to cling to the words that he speaks. Because each word
contains a soul and divinity, when you cling to them, you are connected
6. Everything that happens in the world, no matter how insignificant,
comes from G-d. And so do not concern yourself with whether or not what
has occurred is in accordance with your will.
7. Neither thinking about the day of one's death nor the fear of punishment
in hell will arouse a person's heart to serve G-d. But yearning to cling
to the source of life and goodness will do so. And neither fasting nor
afflicting oneself will be of any help. But forgetting oneself out of
the depth of one's yearning will do so.
8. Every person in his own right is [essentially] a complete spiritual
Torah. If he goes in G-d's path, that [Torah] is absorbed into his being,
according to his level.
9. When a person prays for something that he needs, he should pray for
the divine life-force hiding within that thing and giving it life, which
is now suffering because of whatever it is lacking. And so one should
ask G-d to have pity on His life force that is hidden in that thing.
10. G-d's Providence extends to all created beings, even to inanimate
objects and plants. There is nothing that is not viewed from above in
every detail. Everything was made with a particular intent. And a word
to the wise is sufficient.
Note: the number 18 is represented in Hebrew numbers as chet-yud, which
has the same letters as the word 'chai', life.
Additionally, Chai Elul starts the final count-down to Rosh Hashanah.
It is taught that each of these last 12 days correspond to the 12 months
of the ending year. On each consecutive day, we look into our "account
books", checking to see if we served G-d to our maximum during the
corresponding month, and how we need to improve in the future.
Yaacov-David Shulman Yaacov-David Shulman is the author
of about twenty books. These include translations of Rav Kook and the
Piaseszner Rebbe. He can be reached at email@example.com
Some Laws and Customs
Saturday night Petitions
At midnight, Saturday, 25 Elul 5777 (Sept. 16, 2017),
Ashkenazic Jewry begins to recite the Selichot prayers (Sephardim
have already been doing it since 2 Elul).
There are many different terms used to express forgiveness
in the Torah and Rabbinic liturgy. "Yislach", "kapara"
(literally, "atonement"), "nosay avone", (literally
"bear iniquity"), "ovair al pesha" (literally,
"forgive transgression"), "nirtzeh avono" (literally,
"repentance for the iniquity is acceptable"), "avonatee
macha" (literally, "erase my sin"), "kabsainee
ma'avonee" (literally, "cleanse me from iniquity"),
"may'chatotee taharaynee" (literally, "purify me from
my sin"), and more.
Each one has of course, its special meaning and represents
a unique form of rectification. For instance, when one says, "I
have removed from you all your transgression", it infers that
the transgressions have a reality of their own, only now they are
removed from any association with the person. "Bears iniquity"
- that the iniquity remains, only G-d bears it and suffers with it.
"He erases iniquity", means that G-d represses its effects.
But when sin or iniquity is forgiven, then the result is as if the
sin never had a existence at all. "Selicha" means complete
forgiveness so that there remains absolutely no trace of the sin.
For only "Selicha" can denote absolute forgiveness.
It is interesting to note therefore, that the word "selicha"
in all of the Tanach is only used by G-d himself and never between
one person and another. A person cannot repair something as if it
was never ruined. Only G-d can give absolute forgiveness so that the
transgression is forgiven as if it never occurred.
Rabbi Binyomin Adilman is the former
head of the Nishmas Chayim Yeshiva in Jerusalem. Back issues of his
weekly parsha sheet, B'ohelei Tzadikim, from which this article was
taken, may be found on www.nishmas.org.
Chag Samayach - Have
a joyous holiday!
The ASCENT staff