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What is the significance of having forty days – from Rosh Chodesh Elul to Yom Kippur – in which to repent?

It is written down in the Tezel Koton that if someone wishes to adopt a Minhag Tov, if he does that deed for forty consecutive days, it will become second nature to him.


Why forty days? Why not something to do with the number three, a chazaka, a presumptive status? Chazal explain to us that it takes forty days for the creation of an embryo in the mother’s womb. After the first forty days of pregnancy, it is futile, even forbidden, to pray with a preference in mind that the newborn will be either a boy or a girl. At that point, it is what it is.

To create a new being, a new teva takes forty days. In the forty days between Elul and Yom Kippur, we must break our bad habits. We must create a new teva within ourselves. Therefore, we need forty days. Moshe Rabbeinu needed to be on Har Sinai for forty days to absorb and understand all of the Torah. The mabul, which wiped out the world that existed and was the beginning of a new world, lasted forty days. Reb Tzodok fasted for forty years in order to save us from the churbon, but unfortunately his prayers and fasting were not enough. We were in the desert for forty years and a mikvah that transforms from tumah to purity is forty sa’ah of water.

We need these forty days in which to change ourselves. Let us not procrastinate! We think that the Aseres Yomei Teshuva is when we really have to work at it. But that is not so! In order to really change within, we need all the time given us. Of course it’s never too late! If we don’t start till Yom Kippur Hashem will gladly give us an extension of another 39 days to prove ourselves!

In his Sichos Mussar, Reb Michel Birnbaum, mashgiach of Mesivta Tiferes Yerushalayim, tells us that the major impediment to doing teshuva is self-love. Ahava m’kalkeles es hashurah. Love is definitely blind, especially when it comes to our ability to see ourselves. We are biased. We don’t see our own faults. We cannot analyze ourselves fully. We are also, you might say, hardened criminals. Every Elul we go over the same issues, to have more kavana, more patience, to speak no lashon hara. It becomes harder and harder every year. We make commitments but we don’t always live up to them.

Teshuva optimally should start at the beginning of Elul. We must make our cheshbonos as soon as possible. Rav Seigel of Manchester also teaches us that teshuva is really returning to Hashem. We must search our ways and return to Him.

The name “Elul” is the Babylonian name for the month. Why should we use a Babylonian name for such an important month? The word Elul, however, comes from the verb “to scout,” as the Targum states in the Parsha of the Meraglim. “V’yosuru es ha’aretz” is translated as “Vayisalelum es araah.” The same root is used here as in the word elul. Elul is the Aramaic word meaning to scout out. That is the job of Elul. We must scout out our actions and determine what needs to be corrected.

One of the greatest problems at this time of the year is that the Yetzer Hara tells us to put off doing teshuva. But we must act now, before the deadline. Our version of April 15 is approaching fast, and we must pay our due.

One piece of advice the Chachomim give us is “Asei l’cha rav,” meaning, “Go to someone you trust and would not be embarrassed to discuss things openly with.” Let him tell you what he sees are your faults.

Chazal tell us, “Eizehu chochom? Halomeid mikol adom – Who is the one that is smart? The one who learns from everyone.” Our children are a good example. Many times we see our faults in our own children. We might not notice them in ourselves, but when they appear in our offspring, we can trace them back to their root. Another thing Chazal tell us to do is learn mussar. The Mussar Seforim will help us come to grips with our faults and will help us to correct them. A great addition for this year’s high holy days is the ArtScroll translation of Mesillas Yeshorim one of the great Mussar works of all time!

Another obstacle we must be aware of, however, is what the Gemara in Yoma warns us about. “Chatoim m’tamteim es halev – Sins dull the heart.” When we sin, we lose our sensitivity. Even though we may want to do teshuva, our actions often don’t seem so bad because our hearts are dulled toward them. Learning mussar will help awaken our sensitivities again.

In his sefer, Lev Eliyahu, Rav Elya Lopian tells us that Ani L’Dodi V’Dodi Li works in direct proportions. Just as you are looking to Hashem, Hashem is looking to you.

As is brought down in the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch, we can learn about the things we must do during the month of Elul from the Megilah. Consider this posuk: U’mishloach manos ish l’rei’eihu u’matanos lo’evyonim. If we take the first letter of the last four words of the posuk, Ish L’rei’eihu U’matanos Lo’evyonim, we get the word Elul. And during Elul we must work on our relations with our fellow man, ish l’rei’eihu, and increase our matanos lo’evyonim, our tzedakah.

When Moshe was up in Shomayim, Hashem put on a talis and told him that “Kol z’man she’Yisroel chotim, ya’asu osom,” let them act the thirteen midos of Hashem and Hashem will forgive them. The word used is ya’asu, meaning do, and not yomru, to say. For saying the thirteen midos is not enough. If one acts with compassion, mercy, and graciousness, Hashem will see that, and forgive us.

Elul is the time for enhancing and improving our prayers to our beloved, L’dodi. The Kitzur tells us that prayer is our love song to our beloved Hashem. In the merit of our attempts at teshuva may Hashem bless us all with a kesiva vchasima tova!


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