At the onset of Elul, Rav Itzele Blazer, the great baal mussar, would go up to the aron kodesh, open the paroches, and publicly say thank you to Hashem for the great gift of Elul. Elul is not as a scary time; it’s a time of great opportunity.
In Elul, the period of “Ani l’dodi v’dodi li – I am to my Beloved [Hashem] as my Beloved is to me,” we’re given the ultimate “matching” program. Hashem says, “In direct proportion to how you reach out to Me this month, I will be there for you.”
The special power of this season was created thousands of years ago when Moshe Rabbeinu went up to Hashem on Rosh Chodesh Elul to ask Him to forgive Bnei Yisrael for the sin of the golden calf. He successfully descended 40 days later on Yom Kippur with the happy news: “Vayomer Hashem, ‘Salachti ki’dvarecha’ – And Hashem said, ‘I have forgiven you as you requested.’”
Ever since, the 40 days from Elul to Yom Kippur have been a time that is m’sugal for selichah and kaporah. Thus, Elul is when we should make a cheshbon hanefesh to determine which sins we need to take extra care to avoid and which mitzvos we need to take extra care to better fulfill.
But there is another aspect of Elul we should bear in mind. We know that our commitments to improve often begin to fade once Yom Kippur and Hoshanah Rabbah are behind us. So the Torah tells us that Hashem looks at the year “mei’reishis hashanah ad achris hashanah,” from beginning to end. The venerable Satmar Rebbe wittily translated “hein ga’alti eschem archaris k’reishis” (which we say in Kedushah on Shabbos) as “I will redeem you when the end of the year is like the beginning of the year.”
Elul, as the last month of the year, is a time to show Hashem that we are ending the year with the same hopes and aspirations we had in the beginning of the year, putting our best foot forward before the Day of Judgment. Chazal tell us, “Hakol holeich achar ha’chasom – Everything goes after the finale.” The year 5780 was truly difficult and challenging, but we can give it a strong and fruitful conclusion.
One more idea: Everybody approaches Elul as a time of promise for the future. But it’s also an opportunity to look back at the past year and give thanks to Hashem. In the first selichos of the season, we say “Lishmoa el harina v’el ha’tefillah – To hear the song and the petition,” meaning that before our petitions for the future, we should sing about the past.
The Nitra Rav, shlit”a, says that anyone over 60 who survived the coronavirus scourge should bentch gomel. If everyone is healthy, you’re able to pay your bills, and you have peace of mind, the first thing you should do is sing to Hashem in gratitude. Being appreciative is a very good way to connect with our Beloved.
In the merit of our Elul preparations, may Hashem give us a sweet, healthy, and wonderful new year.