Photo Credit: Jewish Press

Elul is when we take stock of our spiritual life. For centuries, this task aroused a dark mood in many of those who took it seriously. If teshuvah is solely about repenting for misdeeds, one will focus on the negative side of one’s personality and behavior, which is depressing.

Chassidus offers a refreshing approach. Although it takes the soul-searching of Elul very seriously, it emphasizes positivity. As the Lubavitcher Rebbe often pointed out, we are obligated to perform every mitzvah joyfully. Surely, then, we are obligated to be joyous in fulfilling the mitzvah of teshuvah. After all, teshuvah is all about remedying our damaged relationship with Hashem. What could be more joyous than that?


Also, the Arizal writes that during Elul there shines from Above an extraordinarily high spiritual emanation – the “13 attributes of Divine compassion” – which otherwise only shines regularly on Yom Kippur. Indeed, considering this emanation, the Alter Rebbe asks: Why are the days of Elul not yamim tovim similar to Yom Kippur?

He answers with a beautiful parable: All year round, kings sit in their palaces, where only special people can enter by observing many ceremonial protocols. At certain times, however, kings travel to the countryside to meet their ordinary subjects. As they pass through the fields, everyone, even if dressed in working clothes, is entitled to approach them without ceremony and submit personal requests. The kings, in turn, greet everyone smilingly and benevolently.

Likewise, all year long, approaching Hashem requires special preparations and halachic formalities. During Elul, however, Hashem comes out “into the fields,” so to speak, descending to our level, so that everyone can approach Him without ceremony and make requests. By Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, however, the Divine King has already returned to His “palace,” where entry is granted only to those who have properly prepared themselves and observe the appropriate “protocols” – i.e., they carefully observe the Torah’s laws.

In any event, since Elul is when the Divine King is “in the fields” – approachable to every one of us, regardless of our spiritual level – Elul is not a time to wallow in depression. On the contrary, it is a time for boundless joy. However low we may have sunk during the year, Hashem is now “smiling” at us, eagerly giving us the opportunity to do teshuvah, to return to Him and approach Him with our requests.

He generously gives us an entire month to make amends and, like a father looking forward to his children’s sincere gestures of reconciliation for past disrespect, is ready to view our teshuvah with favor.

Positivity inspires joy and enthusiasm, which are far more effective in changing a person than negativity. Knowing that “the King is in the field” – that he is with us here on our terms – is deeply inspiring. The more we think about the details of this parable, the more we are inspired to advance to where Hashem wants us to be.

May our efforts during this month bring a good and sweet year to all our people.


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Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman is director of the Lubavitch Youth Organization. He can be reached at