ELUL:THE PREEMINENT MONTH OF SPIRITUAL RECOVERY AND REJUVENATION
By Ariella Bracha Waldinger
The Hebrew month of Elul is an amazing time of new possibilities and new beginnings. It arrives at our metaphorical doorstep and greets us with a spiritual gift basket of goodies filled with deep meaning and significance enwrapped in its energetic force field. For most people, a calendar is merely a tool to keep time, so to speak, which marks the passage of days and events relevant to our lives. However, in the Jewish world and predominantly in the Holy Land, the calendar connects time to history and transcendence.
Rabbi Shimon Jacobson writes, “The Jewish calendar is a spiral staircase that winds up and around, cycling the events of history and drawing us into its energy and embedded spiritual potential.” Each month of the Jewish calendar arrives with its inherent spiritual dimensions from which we can draw new life force. The month of Elul arrives with a spiritual uplift. Its deeper meaning channels its energy force field of rebirth, recovery and rejuvenation into the world, so we can access it. The month of Elul truly longs for our full attention, as it has much to teach us about love, life and returning to our true selves. We have the ability to tap into its energy of renewal, rebirth, forgiveness, empowerment and joy, if we take the reins into our hands and commit to the process. This process of returning to our true selves can only come about through a carving out of sacred time in which to do the work. Committing to do the work means that you are gifting yourself with opening the spiritual basket of goodies that were left on your metaphorical doorstep as the new month emerged.
Each month of the Jewish year presents us with a unique manifestation of G-dliness. According to the Book of Formation attributed to Avraham Avinu (our patriarch), each month of the Jewish year has a Hebrew letter, a zodiac sign, one of the twelve tribes, a sense and a controlling limb of the body that corresponds to it. The Book, “Mishnas Chasidim” by Rabbi Emanuel Chai, a sacred book of Kabbalah based on the Zohar and the writings of the Arizal, adds that each month also possesses G-ds ineffable name lettered in a different way. In other words, every aspect assigned to the Hebrew month becomes a Divine channel through which Hashem’s blessings flow. Each month has a Divine objective and through developing our awareness of its spiritual dimensions, we can refine our conduct, improve a specific character trait and draw closer to Hashem.
Beautiful insights into the Hebrew months from Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsberg can be found on the web-site www.inner.org. About Elul he explains the following: Yud is the letter of the month and is the smallest letter of the Hebrew alphabet. It represents the beginning of the essence of divine mercy. He explains that all created forms begin with an essential point of energy and life-force which is the point of the letter Yud. A similar word in Hebrew is Yad which means hand. The Yud of Elul is the left hand which is the controller of the months’ sense—the sense of action and rectification. Yud also represents humility, feeling its smallness in comparison to G-ds greatness. Acquiring humility is necessary to do true teshuva.
The mazal of Elul is Virgo represented by the virgin which symbolizes G-ds beloved bride Israel, the bride in the Song of Songs who says to her groom, “I am to my beloved and my beloved is to me.” In Kabbalah, the “mother” remains forever (on the spiritual plane) a “virgin” which means in a continual state of teshuva and tefilah. The sense of the month is action. Taking action allows us to rectify the blemishes or broken states of the soul. This sense is especially powerful during Elul if we do not despair and if we commit to doing the work of repair. Additionally, the sense of action is the strong inclination to fix a broken object (to save a situation) rather than throw it away. It is also the sense of organization and management. The left hand is the controller which actually controls the sense of action. Action is required if one desires to move forward.
Gad is the tribe associated with Elul and his special talent is to organize. He organized his men into camps to lead the Jewish army into battle. The name Gad also means “good fortune.” It is truly the good fortune of Israel to be G-ds beloved bride and this good fortune reveals itself through the means of our good deeds, especially those intended to rectify our blemishes and beautify ourselves, as a bride for her groom. Gad was a master of boundaries as he was able to fight and lead the other tribes in conquering the land and maintaining the borders of Israel. Gad is the soldier among us and within us.
I see Elul as a month of spiritual recovery and reclamation—a sanctuary in time for inner exploration and discovery—in order to reclaim our genuine soul powers and become rejuvenated. In a beautiful shiur I attended, the teacher, Emuna Witt, said, “We must begin Elul in a state of readiness in order to receive all the blessings embedded in her gift basket. She reminded us not to judge anyone in a negative light the entire month of Elul. The Torah teaches that we will be judged on Rosh Hashana how we judge ourselves and others. Additionally she reminded us that we have the power to bless each other all the time through our words, thoughts and actions. She reminded us that we need to get rid of petty thinking during Elul and allow the power and energy flow of Elul to endow us with new thinking and big hearts. She said something very beautiful: every year a new light descends into the world and this new light enables our souls to grow and blossom. Since our souls have been growing, they may have acquired some weeds or bugs along with the new blooms and therefore, we have to do teshuva in a new way. This aspect of a new and deeper teshuva creates a soul expansion, like the flower beds in our overflowing gardens, and we essentially weave new garments for our souls.
The truth is that throughout the year, we struggle to live our beliefs and uphold our Torah principles. We sometimes lose our balance and need to fight to regain our footing. Elul is thus a time to re-evaluate our direction and life purpose, so that we do not hold onto behaviors that do not support our goals. We let go of the negative aspects of the past in order to be open to greater opportunities through which we can better express our divine purpose. This is the month in which Moshe ascended up the mountain a third time in order to receive the second set of tablets containing G-ds commandments. This suggests the reality of being given second chances to make amends for past mistakes.
I highly recommend the Book by Rabbi Shimon Jacobson, “60 Days: A Spiritual Guide to The High Holidays” as the perfect accompaniment to gain spiritual insight into the two months of Elul and Tishrei. It is a practical workbook that guides the reader along a beautiful journey of discovery that lends itself to delving into the depths of the holiday in order to excavate its treasures. It is filled with daily historic facts, exercises and inspiration. It brings alive the holidays and their depth of meaning in order to bring relevance and spiritual inspiration to our daily lives and aide us in the process of spiritual refinement.
I bless each of us that we may consciously choose to tap into the powers of refinement embedded in this Holy month of Elul. I bless us that we take a personal leadership role in our own lives and commit to rising to our greatness as Jews—G-ds chosen people. I bless us that we fall in love with refining and defining ourselves in deeper more meaningful ways and that our souls feel it and we bask in the joy of renewed life.
May we all be written and sealed for a healthy, happy, life deeply connected to the King of Kings and all of Am Yisrael. Ariella Bracha Waldinger