Repentance, Prayer, & Tzedakah annul the evil decree.1
Come away, my Beloved…
Today I begin a series of posts speaking on the themes of the month of Elul, the sixth month on the Biblical calendar. It is the month just prior to the onset of the High Holy Days of the Fall. Here are some ways to understand this holy month from a Messianic perspective.
Each day in the month of Elul the shofar is blown in anticipation of the approaching High Holy Days of Rosh Hashannah & Yom Kippor (and then immediately followed by Sukkot/Tabernacles). On Rosh Hashannah (in the Bible it is only referred to as Yom Teruah – the Day of Sounding), the sound of the shofar is said to awaken the slumbering soul and rekindle a yearning to return to its Creator. For thirty days prior to Rosh Hashannah, the day the books of Life and Death are opened, the shofar reminds us of our need for a spiritual renewal and a reconnection with our Spiritual Source.
Let us hear the sound and be called to remembrance.
The month of Elul is the Season of Repentance:
“Rabbi Eliezer would say: Repent one day before your death.” (Avot 2:10)
“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” (Matthew 4:17)
“O Israel, return unto the Lord thy God; for thou hast fallen by thine iniquity. Take with you words, and turn to the Lord: say unto him, Take away all iniquity, and receive us graciously: so will we render the calves of our lips.” (Hosea 14:1-2 KJV)
“Open the door for me, my beloved sister…” (“Shir HaShirim”/Song of Songs 5:2) Rabbi Yesa said, ‘The Holy One, Blessed be He said to Israel, “My sons, Open the door of Repentance as the ‘eye of a needle,’ and I will open it for you so that wagons and carriages can pass through.” (Shir HaShirim Rabbah 24)
Rabbi Hama, the son of Hanina is quoted in the Babylonian Talmud as teaching:
“Great is repentance, for it brings healing to the world, as it is said: I will heal their affliction, generously will I take them back in love [Hosea 14:5].” Rabbi Jonathan opined: “Great is repentance for it brings redemption, as it is said: A redeemer will come to Zion, and to them that turn from transgression in Jacob [Isaiah 59:20].” (b.Yoma 86a)
The Days of Ninevah and the Captive Woman
The days of repentance are like the days of Ninevah. “Another forty days and Nineveh will be overturned,” Jonah proclaimed. But they believed in God, and they proclaimed a fast, and they clothed themselves in sackcloth and ashes–from the greatest of them to the least of them. God saw and consoled them. He withheld the calamity that He had said that He would do to them.
The Sages also appointed forty days of repentance. Thirty days to prepare the soul, to search out his ways and to awaken the heart, and ten days to do true repentance. These are the ten days from the Day of Judgment [Rosh Hashanah] until the Day of Atonement [Yom Kippur] and forgiveness.
The soul can be compared to the captive woman described in Deuteronomy 21. Just as the woman taken captive in battle is given a month to mourn for her father and mother, so to the soul is given a month of days for weeping–the month of Elul. That is why a man weeps and supplicates before the LORD all the days of this month. He blows the shofar each evening and morning to startle his heart and to awaken himself to do something so that he may escape the coming wrath.2
אלול – Ani l’dodi v’dodi li (Song of Songs 6:3)
The word Elul (אלול) is an acrostic formed of four Hebrew words from Song of Songs combined together in this way: ani ledodi vedodi li (אני לדודי ודודי לי), “I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine” (Song of Songs 6:3). How appropriate are these words! So it is, for the days of the month of Elul are days of repentance. They are days of compassion and grace, days of love, days of intimacy–so say many early and late sages and scribes (of blessed memory) in their books. If we repent, the Holy One, blessed is He, satiates us with grace. If a man declares, “I am my beloved’s,” it is certain that [God] will likewise respond, “and my beloved is mine.” 3
Rebbe Nachman says
The dominant spiritual theme of the month of Elul is the tikkun habrit, the tikkun for the abuse of the Holy Covenant. (Likuey Moharan II, 87).
Yeshua’s Parables of Seeking out the Lost
Luke 14 and 15 contain an account in which Yeshua has been invited to the home of a leading Pharisee for Sabbath. When they were all relaxing and dining together, Yeshua begins to teach various parables, based on his observations of his surroundings. When he began to teach on the seemingly absurd possibility of the salt losing its saltiness, it says, “the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him.” (15:1). It seems that they had picked up on the essence of Yeshua’s teaching most likely realizing that both they and the Pharisees were like the salt about which he spoke. The Pharisees, who were supposed to be the most pious group of people they knew, had let their piety be reduced to external showmanship. They, themselves, had lost their saltiness a long time ago. The Pharisees, in reaction to the pressing in of the “undesirables,” is to grumble and complain against Yeshua’s rubbing shoulders with these “sinners.” In response to this, Yeshua tells three parables. The first is the Parable of the Lost Sheep (vs. 3-7). The second is the Parable of the Lost Coin (vs. 8-10). The last is the Parable of the Prodigal Son (vs. 11-32). Each of these are intended to explain the great joy of the Father over a “sinner” who becomes a baal teshuvah – a “penitent,” (literally “master of repentance”). Yeshua is emphasizing the following theme from the Tanach (the “Old Testament”):
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. (Psalm 51:17)
No doubt, the attitude of Yeshua’s host and the more elite guests was the same as, and quite possibly the inspiration for his illustration of the hypocritical Pharisee gloating over his superior spiritual condition in Luke 18:9-14:
‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’
Let us heed Yeshua’s warning and not follow the example of the hypocritical Pharisee by thinking we have no need of repentance. We should be in a constant state of repentance.
“The feeling of ‘behold, I’ve arrived’ could well undermine the capacity to continue [one’s spiritual pursuit / repentance], suggesting as it does that the Infinite can be reached in a finite number of steps. In fact, the very concept of the Divine as infinite implies an activity that is endless, of which one must never grow weary. At every rung of his ascent, the penitent, like any person who follows the way of God, perceives mainly the remoteness. Only in looking back can one obtain some idea of the distance already covered, of the degree of progress. Repentance does not bring a sense of serenity or of completion but stimulates a reaching out in further effort. Indeed, the power and the potential of repentance lie in increased incentive and enhanced capacity to follow the path even farther.”
Things of which we need to become aware: our failures, our need for Hashem and His Messiah. During this time we are in the process of turning from our former selves (the “old man”) and returning to Hashem with all of our being, a spiritual rebirth of sorts. We begin this introspection thirty days prior at the first of Elul. Each day of Elul is sounded with one, short blast of the shofar, a lingering reminder of the impending immanence of Rosh Hashannah. The loud and multiple blasts of the shofar on Rosh Hashannah are intended to awaken our slumbering souls, reminding us of who we were and who we are to become in the following year. It is a time to take all accounts into consideration, righting wrongs and making good on vows.
- Rosh Hashanah Trivia
- Rosh Hashanah Trivia Answers
- Rosh Chodesh – 2 Days?
- 5 Minute Torah – Rosh Hashanah
- Brief note on Session 1