Updated: Sep 8, 2020
As we pass Tisha B’Av and Tu B’Av, we head on to the high holidays, but first we must prepare ourselves to make the most out of it. Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur and Sukkot is one full spiritual system that depends on all its parts to change our lives.
But, before that entering these very auspicious times, we go through the holy month of Elul. The month of Elul holds tremendous potential for transformation in our spiritual and physical lives. In his incredible compassion, Hashem shines his 13 Attributes of Mercy on all Creation, as a way of helping us “score high”.
We also have the custom of blowing the Shofar and saying the Psalm 27 in order to beseech Hashem to help us do Teshuva. It’s interesting to note that this Psalm has 13 times the name YHVH, corresponding to each one of the 13 Attributes of Mercy. The powerful “divine unification of the beard” can also be done during the day and not only on times of grace like Shabbat and after midnight on weekdays.
The Sephardim have a custom to pray the Selichot (penitential prayers) every day until Yom Kippur, while Ashkenazim recite them only the week before Rosh Hashanah until Yom Kippur. It is known that the Arizal followed both customs in different regards, but when it comes to Selichot, he goes according to the Sephardim as Rabbi Chaim Vital writes in Sha’ar HaKavanot (Gates of Mystical Intentions).
If you want to change your life for the better, there isn’t a more auspicious time than these 40 days from Rosh Chodesh Elul until Yom Kippur.This is because our sages teach us “everything follows the beginning” and this is a very powerful period.
While it’s still possible to change our year after Rosh Hashana, it’s more difficult (but doable) since on this day, the Judgment is written. After Yom Kippur it requires even more effort as that is when the Judgment is sealed. Finally, after the night of Hoshanah Rabbah from Sukkot, it’s almost impossible to change what will happen since the notes of Judgment are delivered to the Heavenly angels to carry it through. And, as the Ramchal writes, “their minds don’t settle until they fulfil their mission”.
As the Pasuk in Tehilim says: “Seek Hashem when he is to be found”. Our prophets reveal to us that this is the month of Elul and the Zohar says that this period is like when the King is in the fields. While usually secluded in his castle overseeing His kingship, during Elul Hashem goes out to meet everyone and hear their needs.Elul also stands for the phrase from Song of Songs אני לדודי ודודי לי (whose initial letters for Elul), meaning “I am to my beloved and my beloved is to me”.
It’s noteworthy that Rebbe Nachaman teaches us in Likutey Moharan (II : Torah 73) that whoever wants to merit returning to God should recite Tehillim regularly, and that just as we go back to Hashem, He comes back to us on the 50th Gate of Repentance.
To explain: There are 50 Gates of Repentance, corresponding to the 50 Gates of Understanding emanating from Olam HaBa. A person can’t reach the 50th level by himself. He can do all his work of perfecting himself but the last one is reserved for Hashem to lift him up, as it is written, “Return to Me and I will return to you” (Malachi 3:7).
Rebbe Nachman also teaches that each of the forty-nine gates of repentance correspond to the forty-nine letters in the names of the Twelve Tribes of God and also the 49 Days of the Omer where we purify ourselves. Sometimes people can’t find their letter and gate, in order to enter the state of Teshuva. Nevertheless, Tehilim have the immense power to arouse a person to it.
As we know, our sages teach us that Teshuva was created before the physical world, because Creation could not endure without it. It follows that it literally transcends our mode of understanding, because logically, there wouldn’t be any reason to allow a person to continue his normal life after sinning. Hashem knew this and paved the way for us to receive the greatest good in this life and the next through Teshuva.
Therefore, it’s incumbent upon us to make the most out of these special 40 days from Rosh Chodesh Elul until Yom Kippur to rectify everything we’ve done and ask for forgiveness.Many have the tradition to do Cheshbon Nefesh (self-accounting) for all they did during the year because when we go out to meet Hashem by confessing our sins, all accusations are dropped.
May we all be blessed to have a wonderful preparation for the high holidays!
This article was written and published in the zechut of all Emuna Builder Partners. May they have complete emuna and continue spreading emuna!