Many Jewish communities have the custom of saying Selichot (forgiveness prayers) during the entire month of Elul, leading up to the High Holidays.
Posts Tagged ‘elul’
If you had an important court date scheduled – one that would determine your financial future, or even your very life – you’d be sure to prepare for weeks beforehand.
On Rosh Hashanah, each individual is judged on the merit of his deeds. Whether he will live out the year or not. Whether he will have financial success or ruin. Whether he will be healthy or ill. All of these are determined on Rosh Hashanah.
Elul – the month preceding Rosh Hashanah – begins a period of intensive introspection, of clarifying life’s goals, and of coming closer to God. It is a time for realizing purpose in life – rather than perfunctorily going through the motions of living by amassing money and seeking gratification. It is a time when we step back and look at ourselves critically and honestly, as Jews have from time immemorial, with the intention of improving.
The four Hebrew letters of the word Elul (aleph-lamed-vav-lamed) are the first letters of the four words Ani l’dodi v’dodi lee – “I am to my Beloved and my Beloved is to me” (Song of Songs 6:3). These words sum up the relationship between God and His people.
In other words, the month preceding Rosh Hashanah is a time when God reaches out to us, in an effort to create a more spiritually-inspiring atmosphere, one that stimulates teshuva.
Beginning on Saturday night before Rosh Hashanah, we recite “Slichot”, a special series of prayers that invoke God’s mercy. If Rosh Hashanah falls at the beginning of the week, then “Slichot” begin on the Saturday night of the previous week. (Sefardim begin saying “Slichot” on Rosh Chodesh Elul.)
After the sin of the Golden Calf, Moses asked God to explain His system for relating with the world. God’s answer, known as the “13 Attributes of Mercy,” forms the essence of the “Slichot” prayers. The “13 Attributes” speak of “God’s patience.” The same God Who created us with a clean slate and a world of opportunity, gives us another opportunity if we’ve misused the first one.
“Slichot” should be said with a minyan. If this is not possible, then “Slichot” should still be said alone, omitting the parts in Aramaic and the “13 Attributes of Mercy.”
Finally, the most important aspect of Elul is to make a plan for your life. Because when the Big Day comes, and each individual stands before the Almighty to ask for another year, we’ll want to know what we’re asking for!
Additions to the Services
Beginning the second day of Rosh Chodesh Elul, it is the Ashkenazi custom to blow the shofar every morning after prayers, in order to awaken us for the coming Day of Judgement. The shofar’s wailing sound inspires us to use the opportunity of Elul to its fullest.
Also beginning in Elul, we say Psalm 27 in the morning and evening services. (Sefardim say it in the morning and afternoon services.) In this Psalm, King David exclaims: “One thing I ask… is to dwell in the house of God all the days of my life.” we focus on the unifying force of God in our lives, and strive to increase our connection to the infinite transcendent dimension.
Rewind 3,000 years to the Sinai Desert. God has spoken the Ten Commandments, and the Jews have built the Golden Calf. Moses desperately pleads with God to spare the nation.
On the first day of Elul, Moses ascends Mount Sinai, and 40 days later – on the seminal Yom Kippur – he returned to the people, with a new, second set of stone tablets in hand.
One of the things a religious Jew learns early on in their education is to revere the sages of the Talmud. And to treat the Talmud as the basis and discussion of all Torah law: That which is written; that which is derived, that which is oral, and that which is of rabbinic origin.
It is what the Rambam based his magnum opus, the Yad Hachazakah upon. He redacted all the laws discussed in the Talmud, organized them into categories and published them in this Sefer. This was also done in various other forms by other Rishonim as well and ultimately Rabbi Yosef Karo published a final version of Jewish law in what we now call the Shulchan Aruch. (Although the Shulchan Aruch has its own commentaries that in some cases differ with the conclusions of its author, that is beyond the scope of this post.)
The Talmud is not only the repository of Halachic discussion. It serves various other functions. Among them is a glimpse into the historical period of the sages; discussions about ethical behavior; and as a means of exercising the mind with the use of logic and rational thought.
But when a religious Jew studies the Talmud, his primary purpose is to understand it as the source of Halachic practice. The rest, as important as it all may be… is just a fringe benefit.
What about secular Jews? Should they be encouraged to study the Talmud too? Even if they ignore its most important function as the source of Jewish behavior? My answer to that is an unequivocal yes. But doesn’t that run the risk of ridiculing the sages of the Talmud that we are taught to revere? Perhaps. But being religious doesn’t prevent that from happening anyway. There are portions of the Talmud that make it very difficult to do, such as the portions known as the Refuos.
Those sections deal with cures for diseases. When one reads them, it is virtually impossible to give them any credibility as curative. How is one to see these passages? There are many possible explanations that allow us to remain with our respect for the sages. I am not going to list them. But suffice it to say that we can and should still respect the sages despite the fact that we do not understand how these cures could have ever worked.
But when a Jew who was not raised in an observant home and does not have the benefit of being impressed at an early age of the reverence we give to the sages of the Talmud, it would be very easy to ridicule them. With that in mind, how can we risk the ridicule that might result when a secular Jew studies the Talmud without the guidance of religious teachers?
I think the benefits of Torah study outweigh that possibility. In my view the biggest enemy of Jewish continuity is not secularism it is apathy and ignorance. Ideally it would be great if the observant community could reach out to all secular Jews and teach them Torah. I truly believe that there is an innate hunger among many secular Jews with no background to find out who they really are; what their heritage is.
Beth Kissileff is one such person. And she describes her own journey into learning about her heritage. Unfortunately her first attempt at it was quite the turn off for her. From her article in The Tower Magazine:
I tried a class on the weekly Torah portion at a Jerusalem girls’ yeshiva, taught by a rabbi with an Ivy League PhD who was known for his love of modern art. But I was completely alienated when he said that getting a PhD was a waste of time for anyone.
It’s really too bad that her first encounter was with someone who eschewed his own secular education. If there was ever a way to turn educated people off from Yiddshkeit, this is the way to do it! Why did he denigrate his own secular education? Who knows. I can only speculate that he had become a victim of the some of the more right wing Hashkafos in Israel that do just that. Fortunately this is an exception. At least I hope it is.
Jerusalem police have accelerated the shutdown of the Temple Mount to Jews and have barred them entry until next Sunday, sparking a planned protest rally for 7:30 Wednesday morning at the Mugrahbim Bridge entrance to the holy site form the Western Wall plaza.
The police are keeping the Temple Mount open only for Muslims because of their celebrations at the end of Ramadan.
The Temple mount was closed to non-Muslims for a large period of the current Hebrew month of Av and beginning of Elul.
One the days that Jews were allowed to ascend, they were subject to abuse and harassment by Muslims and their visits often were shortened by police.
What did you do when you built your portfolio? Did you invest the money and then simply walk away? Did you then expect to take another look in ten years’ time and find that you had miraculously become rich?
The financial world, like many other things in life, is always subject to change. Markets go up, and markets go down. What if there is a war in your part of the world, or a huge banking crisis? The financial markets are affected by so many outside factors, a lot of which are not necessarily as dramatic as the above two examples but still have their ramifications upon investments. For this reason, it is always a good idea to take a periodic check of your portfolio to see if the level of risk is still appropriate and if you need to readjust your investments in favor of something that would be better for your present circumstances.
This fiscal check could be compared with the annual reevaluation that Jews are supposed to make at this time of the year. The months of Elul and Tishrei are a time to examine your deeds. You look at what you have done over the past year and where you are going. Are the decisions that you made in the past for yourself and your family still right for you, given the circumstances in your lives that may have changed during the year? How have various challenges that you may have undergone affected the way that you live your life? When you look at the future, what do you see? Although you cannot predict what will happen, there are certain things that you may need to keep in mind and prepare for. Are you prepared for these events?
Spiritual accounting is similar to the financial accounting. In order to be an effective investor, it’s a good idea to sit down once a year with your financial adviser and ask:
– What has happened over the past year that might have changed the balance in your portfolio? – Which of your investments have become more or less risky as a result of market performance? (Learn more about assessing whether high or low risk is good for you.)
– What are your goals for this year, and do you have the means to accomplish them?
– Do you need to change anything in order to improve your financial situation? And if so, exactly what?
– What are the pros and cons of any possible financial move that you may be considering, in terms of hidden costs and taxes, as well as potential profits?
With best wishes in starting the New Year with renewed spiritual strength…and a reevaluated, stronger portfolio.
“Resident”- a person who maintains residency in a given place.
“Visitor”- a person who pays a visit; caller, guest, tourist, etc.
School has begun anew on this side of the ocean. It’s hard to find adequate words to describe the joy of parents during the course of this week. Beyond having their children fill their days with study rather then play, having them use time rather than waste it, and being in a secure environment rather than everywhere and anywhere, there is an added benefit to having our children back at school- routine!
No longer will parents have to rack their brains in finding past times and activities to fill the days and weeks of this pro-longed vacation. Each morning, they will wake up at a given hour, eat their breakfast at a fixed time, and have a schedule of classes and objectives that they will meet…each day.
Routine is a blessing: it provides an on-going consistency to our lifestyle, and creates a sense of devotion, as it’s done each and every day. It’s no wonder that when the Sages debated as to the most important verse in the Torah (introduction to the “Ein-Yaakov”) the verse that surprisingly “won” the debate was the verse that commands the Kohen (on-call in the Temple) to offer (Bamidbar 28/4) “The one lamb…in the morning, and the other lamb… in the afternoon.” As surprising as it sounds that such a technical command should triumph “Hear Oh Israel the Lord is our G-d the Lord is one,” or ” you shall love your fellow as you love yourself,” it seems clear that consistency in performing the commands of G-d each day supersedes the sporadic, one-time thrillers of sorts. It is therefore not surprising that our religion has always favored action over (just) thought (Tractate Avot 1/17) with even the intellectual exercise of studying Torah being a means for us to fulfill the commandments (conclusion of the Talmudic debate, Tractate Kidushin 40b).
But while a consistent, steadfast routine is indeed a value, and while remaining a devoted “Shomer Torah Umitzvot,” consistently adhering to the dictates of Jewish law, is a daily, elevated, worthy, and obligatory aspiration, there is also an undesirable side-effect to it as well; it becomes boring:
I don’t know many who have great joy to wash their hands three times each morning (Code of Jewish Law, 4/2), brush their teeth twice each day, or pray the same exact prayers (with the small exception of Monday/Thursday, and the “Psalm of the day”) each morning, afternoon and evening every day.
I have failed to see the “Minyaner” frequenting the synagogue thrice daily, who indeed feels the words that open the Code of Jewish Law (1/1- “One should rise like a Lion to stand in the morning to do the will of the commander”) when he walks into the shul in the early AM. The fatigue of waking up so early, together with seeing the same Tefillin & Siddur, usually does not allow the “lion” in him to express himself.
I am still waiting to see the smile and joy that one should have when he has the privilege of stating a blessing before and after eating his breakfast/lunch and dinner.
The list can easily go on, and I’m sure you can fill it with many more examples from your daily routine. But let’s take the example most fresh in our mind as August comes to an end: driving around the neighborhood on the first day of school. I’m sure you see excitement, smiles and a sense of anticipation in the air (at least in the eyes and lips of Parents…!) But will we see that same scene during the fifth week of school?!
Our Sages, while clearly giving credit to the consistent routine (as shown above) also stated (Yerushalmi, Tractate Megilla 4/1) that when hearing the semi-weekly Torah reading, one is forbidden to lean on the Bima, as; “…just like it was given with fear and awe, so we must act with fear and awe.” Did any of us feel this “fear and awe” during this week’s laining?
Continuing on the same theme, while many naturally “shuckle” while learning Torah, how many feel the verse, describing the feeling of the Jews at the tip of Mount-Sinai, where (Shemot 20/15)…” the people saw and trembled,” the source for swaying to and fro during study (see Baal HaTurim ibid, Machzor-Vitri 508) Is the movement of the body during the daily Daf-Yomi a reflection of a “trembling” sensation when trying to decipher the holy word of G-d? Or more logically a Jewish habit?