Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim – Associate Rosh Yeshiva – Passaic Torah Institute – Parsha Shoftim And Elul – Giving Us A Chance

Elul…It was a word spoken in hushed tones in the streets of pre-war Europe, such was the awe it evoked. It’s different today, but Elul still brings on many feelings and emotions in Jews everywhere- fear, hope, regret, change…Elul is our path to Rosh Hashanah.

To gain some additional insight into Elul, let’s look at some of the allusions to the month of Elul which are comprised of Roshei Teivos, where the first letter of each word spells the word Elul (aleph, lamed, vav, lamed).  Some of them are: Eesh L’re’eihu Umatanos L’evyonim (Megillas Esther); Ena L’yodo V’samti Lecha (Mishpatim); Es Levavcha V’es L’vav (Netzavim), and Ani L’dodi V’dodi Li (Shir Hashirim).

Why are all these allusions in the form of Roshei Teivos, where the first letters of each word form an intended new word? This is the same as the concept of “Muat Machzik Hamerubah”, something small contains a great deal.

In Rosh Hashanah we create the master plan for the New Year and our Sages teach us that every minute of Rosh Hashanah correlates to the days of the coming year. This same concept is illustrated in the usage of Roshei Teivos. The significance of these Roshei Teivos spelling out Elul, is that Elul also has this inclusive property- the days in the month of Elul have ramifications for the entire year.

Let’s take a closer look at one of the hints to Elul mentioned above, for it has a lot to teach us.  Let’s explain the allusion of Ena L’yodo Vesamti Lecha – Hashem allowed it to happen to him and made a place for him to flee (Mishpatim 21:13). This topic is discussed at length in Parshas Shoftim, which is read at the beginning of Elul.

The Torah teaches us that when someone accidently kills another person, the relatives of the deceased have a license to avenge the blood of their relative by killing the murderer, except in “cities of refuge,” which are havens of security. The allusion to Elul teaches us that the month of Elul is also a haven of security. It’s a safe time period when assuming we have erred, which we all do, we can receive “protection”- we have the opportunity to mend our ways. The cities of refuge were not just asylums but were places where the murderer would be able to refine himself and return back to society rehabilitated.

The custom of blowing the Shofar from the first day in Elul through Rosh Hashanah is based on the Chazal which states that Hashem ordered a shofar blown on Rosh Chodesh Elul when Moshe was ascending the mountain for another forty day period to receive the second set of Luchos.  This helped the Jewish people keep track of the 40-day absence of their beloved leader. This is quite puzzling. Why is this a reason for us to blow the shofar every year? Based on the concept that the days in the month of Elul have ramifications for the entire year, we can explain that we do our marking with the shofar, to signify that we are in a new, rehabilitative time period- the time period of Elul. We mark this defined period of time by reminding ourselves with the blowing of the shofar that each day is an opportunity, and each day is getting that much closer to Rosh Hashanah and our master plan for the new year.

It’s a big challenge. So many of us look at ourselves and say, “Wasn’t I here last year, facing the same challenges, the same weaknesses?  How can this year be different?”  The daily shofar blast is there to wake us up, to let us know that yes, it can be different… if we want it to be… if we try.

Remember your engagement period?  Your first weeks of marriage? It was so fresh, so full of promise and possibilities. Creating the love and solid bonds early on leads to a lifetime relationship.  Elul is Hashem’s gift to us- a time period in which we can create an entirely new relationship without all the baggage of the past years. We can turn back the clock and becomec hasson and kallah again.  Elul is that time.

It can be a challenging process for us, even if the chance to renew our relationship with Hashem after past failures is very appealing. We might think we’ve caused too much pain or become too hardened to return to that pristine state. But Hashem gives us the greatest gift of Teshuvah – which means return- the ability to return to Hashem and to be regarded favorably by Hashem. In Elul, Hashem is offering us an entirely new, fresh relationship without all the pain and scars. Let us all take advantage of this wonderful opportunity!