n Europe when the plums were purple and ripe and the pears were ready for picking, the Jews knew it was Elul. They called it the time of the "Flaumen un die Beren" (the plums and pears) In Yiddish these two words have another meaning. "Flaumen" means flames, and "Beren" means to burn. It was a sign that is was time to serve Hashem with a flame and with burning desire.
I remember some years ago, when I lived in California, when the month of Elul came around, the old men in the Shul became very emotional during the prayers. There was one man I remember; Izzy. I'll never forget Izzy. He was a welder; not just a welder, but an artisan. Izzy often lead the prayers during the month of Elul. During the repetition of the Amidah, when he started to repeat the blessing of "Return in mercy to your city Jerusalem", he began to weep profusely. Everybody waited for him to regain his composure, nobody dared to call out "Nu!" with the impatience that was reserved for the rest of the year. The truth is, Izzy was not the only one weeping.
In Jerusalem a car with a loudspeaker on its roof winds its way through the religious neighborhoods announcing the yearly three day prayer event which take place in the Mea Shearim community Shul. For three days, 24 hours a day there is a continuous prayer event of earsplitting intensity with Psalms and special prayers of forgiveness being said. Some participants come for an hour. Some don't leave the Shul for 36 hours; food is brought to them in the Shul and they catnap on the benches. Many will fast on the final day.
By Erev Rosh Chodesh, the poster boards on the streets are plastered with placards announcing that transportation is available from Jerusalem and Bnei Brak to the Rachel's Tomb and the Cave of the Patriarchs. There is fierce competition for passengers. When one company offered the round trip for 18 NIS, the next company responded with an offer of 14 NIS. It is not only their price war they want us to notice. The companies advertise busses with bulletproof glass.
When the three days of preparation conclude. . .it is Rosh Chodesh Elul, the first of the month which is dedicated to Torah learning, good deeds and Teshuva (repentance).
Even though this is appropriate for every month of the year, Elul is special, it is the time when the preparation for the Days of Awe takes place.
The days of Elul are called the days of "Divine forgivenss and kindness". This is embodied in the word Elul. It is written in the Song of Songs (6:3) Ani l'dodi v'dodi li. . . (I am for my beloved and my beloved is for me. . .). The acrostic of the first letters of this phrase spells Elul. The last letters of the words of the phrase are all "Yud". The numerical value of "Yud" is 10. 4x10=40, the number of days that Moshe spent on Mt. Sinai the when he received the second set of the Ten Commandments. He went up on Rosh Chodesh Elul, as Hashem pardoned the people for the event of the Golden Calf. When he came down forty days later it was Yom Kippur, the day of ultimate expression of the reunification of Hashem and His people. These days of Elul are therefore the beginning of a special time of favor and conciliation.
The Baal ShemTov called the days of Elul the days when the King is in the field. He explained with a parable. Normally, in order to gain an audience with the King, one must go through a lengthy procedure. He must travel to the capitol city, arrange an appointment, and then get permission to enter the palace. Even when permission is granted is may be days or weeks before he is finally allowed to enter. When he does finally get to see the King, the audience is likely to be short and very formal. The citizen, not used to the royal surroundings doubtlessly feels out of place, and maybe even regrets his decision to see the King. From his great fear and uneasiness, he may forget to put his request before the King.
Once a year, the King leaves his capitol to visit the various regions of his Kingdom. Now a King can't just enter a city unannounced. When he reaches the outskirts of the city he is to visit, his entourage sets up a camp while a special delegation goes ahead to the city to make preparations. for the King's visit.
In the meantime, the King is in the field; relaxed and enjoying the early fall weather. He doesn't stand on the same formality that he does when in the palace. The common folk are allowed to come out to greet the King and receive his blessing.
During Chodesh Elul, the King is in the field and he is easily accessible. We need only make the effort to go out and greet Him.
The customs of Elul are meant to help us tune into the spirit of the times. and to attune ourselves. Click below on the custom you would like to learn more about.
A K'siva U'Chasima Tova to all!
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