Elul — A Month of Mercy and Forgiveness
Elul is called the "Month of Mercy" and "Month of Forgiveness" (Hodesh haRahamin vehaSelihot). It is a time for teshuvah(return) to God, to renew one's efforts in prayer, Torah study and charity, and to seek forgiveness for transgression, especially against one's fellows.
It is the belief in Jewish tradition that God does not forgive sins committed against another person unless one first endeavors to be reconciled with those wronged. During Elul, the last month before the Days of Awe, we become mindful of the great sin of the Golden Calf, enter into a spiritual and practical cleansing which will culminate with Yom Kippur.
Lulei – "Had I not trusted!..."
There is a further allusion to Elul found in Psalm 27
"Had I not trusted that I would see the goodness of God in the land of life…" (v. 13).
The Jewish scribal tradition has accentuated the word lulei (Had I not) by placing dots over the word in the text. The word lulei in Hebrew, לוּלֵא, when read backwards (i.e., left to right) spells Elul.
The Talmud relates King David's uncertainty regarding his "reward in the land of the living." According to the Tanna, Rabbi Jose,
David spoke before the Holy One, blessed be He: "Master of the world, I am sure that you will pay a good reward to the righteous in the world to come, but I do not know whether I shall have a share in it?" This was because David was afraid that a sin of his might cause his exclusion or cause God's promise to be unfulfilled. (Berachot 4a).
The psalm teaches us that the possibilities that David envisaged, "Had I not the confidence that I would enjoy the goodness of the LORD", are so terrible the psalmist does not complete the thought.
According to The Pri Tzadik (Rabbi Tzadok HaCohen of Lublin) the word lulei (had I not) is significant because it is a hint that this is a time for a person to fix his or her actions so that their sins do not cause them to lose out on the reward in the world to come. The Baal Turim writes that lulei (לוּלֵא) are the letters of word Elul (אִלוּל) "because from Elul onwards I tremble before God." (Devarim 30:6)
The 5 Acronyms Of Elul
There are five acronyms given for the month of Elul each corresponding to a different Divine service of the month of Elul, one of the most auspicious months on the calendar. The acronyms point to our inner transformational service. The 5 acronyms relate to the service of Torah; Prayer (Tefilah), Charity (Tzedaka), Repentance (Teshuvah) and Redemption (Geula). A number of spiritual teachings are derived from the acronyms formed from the Hebrew letters of Elul. Aleph / Lamed / Vav / Lamed | א.ל.ו.ל
1. “Ina Leyado Vesamti Lach”:
This acronym is brought by the Arizal. It represents that Elul is an auspicious time for ones repentance to be accepted for all previous sins done during the year. It also represents that one must repent even for inadvertent sins. It also corresponds to Torah learning, that in the month of Elul one must strengthen in Torah learning.
This verse comes from the passage in Exodus which speaks of the cities of refuge. Elul, now associated with this passage, becomes a place of refuge [a Refuge in Time] for sinners. In Elul we are invited to take advantage of created refuges in "Time" and “Space." How? The Torah becomes a refuge in Time because according to the rabbis, "the words of Torah are a refuge" (Makkot 10a).
2. “Ani Ledodi Vedodi Li”
This acronym is brought by the Abudarham. It represents the service of prayer as prayer attaches a Jew to G-d. It represents the need of the individual to arouse his own Divine service, his own inner love and fear for G-d.
Also found in this verse is an illusion to the forty days after which the repentance of Israel was accepted by God. [The last Hebrew letter of each of the four words is yud. Yud = 10 x 4 = 40]. Mishna Berura states: “This alludes to the forty days from the beginning of Elul until Yom Kippur for during these forty days repentance is [more readily] accepted so a person should bring their heart near to their Beloved [God] with repentance, and then the Beloved will be close to them to accept the repentance with love (Berura 581:1).”
3. “Ish Lereieihu Umatanos Laevyonim”:
This acronym is brought by the Amrakel. It represents the service of charity (Gemilut Chasadim) and the giving of Tzedaka.
While these acts [giving gifts] constitute acts of loving kindness they also constitute a response to the Divine mercy and forgiveness which is anticipated and sought throughout the month of Elul. In the story of Esther the verse is the foundation for the halakhic requirement to celebrate, at Purim, the transformation from grief to joy. The book of Nehemiah (8:10–12), likewise, links the sending of manot (gifts) to those who have no prepared food, along with eating and drinking well, to constitute the celebration of the holy day, Rosh Hashanah.
4. “Umal Hashem Elokecha Es Levavcha Vies Levav Zarecha:
This acronym represents the service of Teshuvah- repentance. During the month of Elul this verse has particular pertinence. It is an invitation and a reminder that teshuvah (returning) to the ways of God is the way to LIFE. In context, the verse (Deut. 30:6) speaks of the experience of both the negative and the positive events that will occur in life and the divine promise that if you "shavta ad Adonai Elohekha"(turn toward the LORD your God) God will help you by extending the divine capacity for love and empathy (v.3) and the LORD will gather you, indeed, fetch you from wherever you are scattered (v.5). The verb "shuv" (to return) occurs seven times in Deuteronomy 30:1-10 and appropriately these verses are read at the beginning of the High Holy Days.
The passage speaks in the context of "end times" inviting teshuvah (return and repentance). In the penitential time of Elul it contains the promise of renewal in the new year beginning with Rosh HaShanah.
5. “Ashira Lahashem Vayomru Leimor”
This acronym represents the redemption-Geula as the song (Shira) sang by the sea had reference to the resurrection. This acronym is a hint towards the purpose of our Avoda. It also includes an Avoda of serving Hashem with the absolute faith in Moshiach’s arrival, and in a way of tranquility, as will occur in the times of the redemption. The linking between Elul and this verse (Ex. 15:1) connects the month of Elul with Redemption—Jewish interpretation of the verse helps form a bridge between Israel's experience of redemption in the past and the hope of redemption in the future.
From the very moment of miraculous redemption from Pharaoh's army by the hand of God, Israel said "I will sing." Indeed the moment is recalled in the daily prayers on Weekdays, Sabbaths and Festivals. Just as God was present for the Israelites of old, God too will answer the prayers of the faithful today. The Mekilta, too, draws on the possibilities inferred in the words "Az yashir"—"Then he will sing…" (Ex. 15:1). As Israel sang in the past, the possibility remains that Israel will sing again in the future.
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