Question: I am interested both in the name Elul and that month’s unique position as the last month of the year. Yet it is connected with Tishrei, the month that follows, and its holidays, Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. I am also interested in the religious practices during the month of Elul.
Miami Beach, Fla.
Synopsis: Last week we established that Elul is the sixth month of the year, as the Torah counts the months from Nissan, when the Jewish nation was freed from slavery and was able to begin serving G-d exclusively. The Gemara explains that Rosh Hashana is when we are judged for the coming year, starting from Tishrei; therefore, this month is also considered a beginning of the year (Rosh Hashana 7a). Rosh Hashana is mentioned as the time for being judged and for blowing the shofar (Numbers 29:1).
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Answer: From our citation of the Bach (Orach Chayyim 581), we see that two verses, one in Song of Songs (6:3) and the other in Parashat Nitzavim (Deuteronomy 30:6), are clear references to the unique flavor of the month of Elul as a precursor to the Yamim Nora’im, the High Holy Days.
The Yamim Nora’im, a time of introspection and reflection when we await our annual judgment, are properly introduced by the month of Elul, which acts as a facilitator to the great task ahead.
Thus, each year, with the arrival of Elul, we start the process of teshuvah, repentance. This way we may approach the awesome days of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur.
One way we begin the intensified focus on teshuvah is with the sound of the shofar, the ram’s horn. The shofar, which we blow throughout Elul, is mentioned by the prophet Amos (Amos 3:6): “Im yitaka shofar be’ir ve’am lo yecheradu… – Is the shofar ever sounded in a city and the people do not tremble…?’’
Through this rhetorical question, the prophet Amos emphasizes the unique property of the shofar’s blasts – its piercing sound causes one to tremble. As this concept is a given in this prophecy, we will better understand the following:
Likkutei Maharich (folio 55b, Dinei U’minhagei Chodesh Elul) states: “It happens to be the custom in all the widespread Jewish communities to blow the shofar in the month of Elul.” He cites the Tur (Orach Chayyim 581), who gives the source for this practice as Pirkei DeRabbi Eliezer (Chapter 46). There we read: “…On Rosh Chodesh Elul, Moses went up on the mountain [Sinai] to receive the second set of Tablets [the Ten Commandments, to replace the broken first set]. They then sounded the shofar in the encampment [as Hashem had commanded that Moses was to come up on the mountain and sound the shofar in order to prevent the people from erring and committing idolatry]. Therefore, our Sages instituted that we blow the shofar starting on Rosh Chodesh Elul each and every year.”
Likkutei Maharich continues: “In Yitav Panim by the Sigheter Rav, Grand Rabbi Yekusiel Yehuda Teitelbaum, he quotes his grandfather, Grand Rabbi Moshe Teitelbaum, the author of Yismach Moshe, who provides a beautiful hint for the source of our custom, as found in the Beit Yosef [Tur Orach Chayyim 422, in the name of Shibbolei HaLeket] that we say Hallel on Rosh Chodesh because King David alluded to it when he composed his concluding Psalm (150): “…Hallelu Kel bekodsho,’’ where there are 12 words containing the syllables ha-lle-lu. [The Beit Yosef notes that in our Pesukei DeZimra we repeat the last verse because of the years that contain 13 months and the months where Rosh Chodesh is two days]. Yismach Moshe explains that the first word of the psalm, “Hallelukah,’’ corresponds to [Rosh Chodesh] Nissan, the first month, and the sixth of these 12 words, “Halleluhu [be’teka shofar] – Praise Him with the sound of the shofar’’ corresponds to [Rosh Chodesh] Elul, the sixth month.
Likkutei Maharich continues: “In Sefer Roke’ach (siman 208) we find that the original enactment was to sound the shofar from Rosh Chodesh Elul until Yom Kippur, just as they sounded the shofar all 40 days that Moses was on the mountain to receive the Tablets, but Sefer Roke’ach concludes that in ‘this country’ [i.e., the custom in his day], we sound the shofar only until Rosh Hashana.’’
The Maharshal (Shabbos 89a, in the back of our Vilna Shas) cites the dispute between Rashi and Tosafot (89a ad loc.) as to whether the day Moses went up on the mountain is considered part of the 40-day count. He cites Pirkei DeRabbi Eliezer as a proof to Tosafot’s statement that we count Moses’ going up on Rosh Chodesh as the first day of the count of 40 – which we arrive at if we include his going up on the first day of Rosh Chodesh, which is the 30th day of Av (Av is always a “full’’ month containing 30 days, whereas Elul is always “deficient,” containing only 29 days).
Thus, if we include the first day of Rosh Chodesh as the first of Moses’ 40 days, we arrive at 40 days on the mountain, in accord with Tosafot.
However, we find another Tosafot (Bava Kamma 82a s.v. “Kedei Shelo, etc.’’) stating that in the year Moses went up to receive the luchot, Elul was a “full’’ month, containing 30 days. Thus, he would have gone up on the first day of Elul (see Bach, Orach Chayyim 581).
The above dispute is relevant in the discussion as to whether we begin to sound the shofar on the first day or on the second day of Rosh Chodesh Elul.
Tosafot reason that in the year Moses went up on the mountain, Elul was a “full’’ month. Today, therefore, when Av is always a “full’’ month and Elul is “deficient,’’ we surely will not start to sound the shofar on the first day of Rosh Chodesh, which is now always the 30th of Av.
Indeed, our custom is to sound the shofar only starting on the second day of Rosh Chodesh, according to the Aruch HaShulchan (Orach Chayyim 581 ad loc.), up until and including Rosh Hashana, with the exception of Shabbatot, when we are prohibited to blow the shofar (just as we do not sound the shofar on Rosh Hashana when it falls on the Sabbath), and Erev Rosh Hashana, to differentiate between tekiyot reshut, the optional shofar blasts, and tekiyot chova, the biblically required shofar blasts of Rosh Hashana.
As for the fact that we only blow the shofar during a 30-day period, and not for the 40 days corresponding with Moses’ ascent on the mountain, Matteh Moshe (ad loc.) and Likkutei Maharich (loc. cit. quoting Minhagim) explain that there is a hint in the verse in Tehillim (81:4-5), “Tik’u bachodesh shofar bakesseh leyom chagenu – Blow the shofar at the moon’s renewal when [the moon] is covered on our festive day.” A month is generally considered to number 30 days. Thus, we have 28 days of Elul, from the second day of Rosh Chodesh; we do not include Erev Rosh Hashana, which is the 29th day of Elul, as we do not blow the shofar then. Thus, the two days of Rosh Hashana bring the total to 30 days.
(To be continued)