Elul is the twelfth and final month in the Hebrew calendar. It is the month that directly precedes Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, which are days of judgment and attornment. As such, the month of Elul is a serious time of preparation. One month remains before the arrival of Rosh Hashana at which time every single member of mankind will stand in judgement and be evaluated. Based on calculations of vast importance, Hashem formulates decrees of every kind for the coming year. Each man’s destiny is decreed on this awe-inspiring and frightful day. Elul is the month to prepare.
Who will live through the year? Who will die? Who will remain healthy? Who will become ill? Who will find success? Who will become impoverished? Which countries will prosper? Which ones will be destroyed? Every event that transpired over the course of the year was decreed ahead of time on Rosh Hashana, and everything that will transpire in the coming year will have be decreed on the coming Rosh Hashana. As such, it behooves us to prepare ourselves properly for judgment day.
Elul can be understood to be an acronym for “Ani L’dodi V’dodi Li” – “I am for my Beloved and my Beloved is for me” (Shir Hashirim 6,3). This means that G-d is our most beloved and we are most beloved in G-d’s eyes. And because we are so beloved by Hashem, He urges us to be ready for judgment day. Showing up to court unprepared is a recipe for disaster. Smart people prepare ahead of time, and judgement day is no different. As such, Elul is a time for introspection and repentance, and for forging a closer connection with G-d.
Let’s begin with a little bit of history.
When the Israelites travelled in the desert, shortly after having received the Torah on Mount Sinai, the incident of the Golden Calf transpired. Moshe was on the mountain for forty days, after which he was informed by Hashem that the nation was serving a calf. Moshe descended from the mountain and shattered the tablets. That event took place on the seventeenth of Tamuz. At that time, Hashem told Moshe that He had had enough. If Moshe “allowed”, G-d would annihilate the Jewish nation and begin anew with Moshe. As the destiny of the Jewish nation hung precariously in the balance, Moshe summoned every ounce of strength and begged G-d to relent. G-d accepted Moshe’s entreaty and forgave the Jewish nation.
After Moshe smashed the tablets, summoned the Levites, and exacted retribution to the sinners, he delayed going back up onto the mountain. It wasn’t until Rosh Chodesh Elul [first day of the month of Elul] that Moshe ascended Mount Sinai for another forty days, returning on Yom Kippur with the second tablets. It was on Yom Kippur that Hashem forgave the Jewish nation for the sin of the Golden Calf.
During the month of Elul, Moshe was on the mountain begging G-d for forgiveness. This was the time when Hashem “extended a hand” by offering us a second chance. In every generation, this time of year has been designated as a time to plead for forgiveness from Hashem, and to rectify mistakes that we may made throughout the year.
On a deeper level, we should learn to forgive ourselves . We must believe that man is capable of error and that Teshuvah is an effective remedy. If we keep on beating ourselves up emotionally for past errors rather than asking for forgiveness and moving on, we demonstrate that we do not believe in the power of Teshuvah. When G-d forgives us, he wipes our slate clean. As such, we ought to be in a state of happiness once forgiveness is achieved. If G-d can forgive us, so can we.
Rosh Chodesh Elul
Rosh Chodesh Elul marks the beginning of the “Di Heilige Teig” (The Holy Days) when a feeling of awe descends upon the Court of Belz. Hundreds of Chassidim and Yeshiva students will join the Rebbe in prayer in the Big Shul at the start of this special month. Over the course of the coming weeks, tens of thousands of people will congregate here to pour out their hearts in prayer, as they head into the new year.
Blowing The Shofar
After morning prayers during the month of Elul, and on Rosh Hashana, the arousing sound of the shofar, blown by the Rebbe, will be heard in the Court of Belz. The shofar blast inspires hearts and minds toward Teshuva during the month of Elul, as it signals the approach of Rosh Hashana and the urgency of preparation for the Day of Judgment.
The New Zman
The first day of Elul marks the beginning of a new semester for Yeshiva students who will return from their summer break to the Yeshivas of Belz. Elul is also the time of year when hundreds of new students will arrive from various countries around the world, including the USA, UK, Canada, and even Australia, to join the Yeshivas of Belz in Israel. There they will study for the next few years until they’re ready to marry and build families of their own.
Words of Guidance
After davening on Rosh Chodesh Elul, the Rebbe ascends the steps of the majestic Aron Kodesh to speak words of encouragement and guidance to thousands of Yeshiva students who fill the Big Shul. The Rebbe inspires them to grow in Torah and service of Hashem, as well as to strengthen their interpersonal traits, and to be there for one another. The Rebbe then gives a bracha to the students that they should have much success in the new zman.
Passing the Rebbe
After the Rebbe finishes inspiring the students, they file passed the Rebbe to “gezegen” (say farewell) and to be wished “A Git Chodesh” (a good month) before boarding the waiting buses and heading out to the Yeshivas spread out around Israel. Now, the students who have arrived from countries abroad will approach the Rebbe to give “Shulem” (Welcome) and to receive a personal bracha from the Rebbe.
Visits from other Rabbonim
Throughout the month of Elul many Rabbonim and Community Leaders will visit the Rebbe in his home. They will make a Lechaim and wish one another a Kesiva Vechasima Tova” (a happy new year). During these visits, they engage in Torah discussions and talk about the Minhagim (customs) that are practiced during the Yamim Naroim (Days of Awe). The Rebbe too will visit other Rebbes and Rabbonim to wish them a Kesiva Vechasima Tova before the new year.
Prayers of the Children
While the pure tefilos of young children always have a special quality, they are most powerful in the days of Elul. During this month thousands of young children from multiple schools around Jerusalem will gather in the Big Shul to recite Tehilim and special prayers for the merit of the Jewish Nation in the upcoming year. This event is extremely heartwarming and inspiring.
The First Day of Selichos
As is known, the end forms the beginning. In Belz, the Yamim Noraim begin on the first day of Selichos. In the early hours of the Sunday before the week of Rosh Hashana, thousands of Chassidim from around Israel will join the Rebbe in prayer. The Big Shul gets packed to the rafters and a hushed silence descends as the Rebbe enters the Shul to begin the Selichos.
The Special Tefillos
The Rebbe begins the Selichos prayers with an emotion filled voice. Tears are shed by many as thousands sway to and fro in deep prayer. Being with the Rebbe at this occasion gives one a sense of awe, and a feeling that he is standing by his father’s side and being assured that all his physical and spiritual needs will be met.
Shacharis and Tehillim
After Selichos concludes, Shacharis commences. All the prayers of this day are recited with extra emotion, as feelings of awe and holiness begin to set in. Later in the day, the Big Shul will fill yet again and the entire Tehillim will be recited. When reciting the special prayer upon completing the book of Tehillim, the Rebbe sheds copious tears, as he begs Hashem to have mercy on the Jewish Nation and to bless them in the coming year.
One Rosh Hashanah, the first Belzer Rebbe, Rabbi Shalom Rokeach, (1781-1855), saw two Jews standing off to the side in deep conversation. The Rebbe told his son and eventual successor, Rabbi Yehoshua Rokeach, (1825-1894), to listen in to what they were saying and report back. Rabbi Yehoshua walked over and took a listen. He heard one saying to the other, “Woe! Today is Rosh Hashanah, such a mighty and awesome day! With what will we come in from G-d, master of the world, He who examines the hearts and minds of all men?” His friend sighed deeply, and at once became engrossed in thoughts of repentance.
Rabbi Yehoshua reported back to his father what he had just heard. Said Rabbi Shalom: “Today there was a great accusation in heaven against the Jewish nation. Whenever the defense attempted to say something to vindicate the Jewish people, the prosecutor would speak up in accusation. The defense would say, “the Jewish nation gives charity!” and the prosecutor would cry back, “so do the nations of the world!” And so it went. One tried to vindicate the Jewish nation and the other opposed. It kept on going that way for a while until the exchange you just overheard between those two heartbroken Jews ascended heavenward.
Suddenly, the defense spoke up and said, “The Jewish nation is contrite and broken hearted!” Now the accuser stood silent. It was true and there was nothing to counter. Indeed, the Jewish people are the only ones who are truly contrite and repentant. The conversation you overheard carried the day.”