The month of Elul is considered a particular time for repentance and reconciliation with God.
There are forty days between the first day of Elul and Yom Kippur. These correspond biblically with the forty days between the day (the first of Elul) that Moses saw the Israelites worshipping the Golden Calf and broke the first set of tablets carrying the Ten Words or Commandments of God and, after ascending Mount Sinai to intercede and plead for God’s Divine pardon, the day (the tenth of Tishrei) that he returned with the second set of tablets. In response to Moses’ heartbroken and persistent intercession, God forgave the sin of idolatry and the gift of His Word was evidence of His forgiveness.
This manifestation of Divine pardon has marked these forty days as a time for self-examination and repentance, and forgiving and receiving forgiveness.
The name of the month is a reminder that this season of repentance (teshuvah) and spiritual reflection is not to be a time of morbid introspection or conducted with heaviness. E-L-U-L (aleph, lamed, vav, lamed) is an acronym for the Hebrew verse, Song of Songs 6:3, I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine (Ani le’dodi ve‘dodi li).
The month affords a special opportunity to turn one’s heart to God in love. We are reminded that teshuvah, repentance, is a loving gift from our faithful Father. It is, in fact, a supernatural gift – a process that is above the forces of nature. The Creator set the laws of nature in place, day follows night, time marches on, death follows life and penalty follows sin. Teshuvah/repentance, however, demonstrates that the same Creator is able to counteract His laws of nature. As Jewish author Avraham Finkel describes: "Time is reversible, the past can be undone, a wasted life can be restored; 'God is close to all who call to Him – to all who call Him with sincerity.'" (Psalm 145:18)
Teshuvah enables the light of God’s Presence to enter any areas of darkness in our hearts, to allow purification and illumination. Israel's Sages use a beautiful analogy to explain the concept of repentance. When you enter a dark room carrying a burning lamp, the darkness vanishes without leaving a trace. So too one who repents and turns to God and His Word—even though until now he lived in the total darkness of sin—when the light begins to shine in his soul, all the darkness is gone.
Teshuvah is always linked with tzedakah, charity. In this respect, Bnei Yissaschar says: “Behold, Elul corresponds with the tribe of Gad.” The Sages record that the letter of Gad’s name – gimmel, dalet – stand for gemol dalim, which translates as, bestow kindness upon the poor.
As God blesses and prospers us, we need always remember to give and to share what we have with those less fortunate.
Psalm 27 is read every day during Elul. Orthodox Jews recite it morning and evening through both Elul and Tishrei, until the close of Sukkot (the Feast of Tabernacles). It is a worthwhile exercise to write it out in your own hand, also in Hebrew if you are able, and keep it available for easy access.
The psalm reminds us, in view of the approaching Day of Repentance, Rosh HaShanah, that the Lord is our Light. When we repent, His light dispels any darkness in our lives and the light of His Truth guides our feet into and through the coming year.
As we look towards Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, we proclaim that God is our Redeemer and in Messiah Yeshua is our salvation. And we know, as enacted on Sukkot, that He literally hides us in the tent, or tabernacle, of His Presence (yitzfeneini b’sukka). He protects us from all harm and, as we allow the powerful truths of this season to infuse our innermost beings, He leads us forward and will guide our steps through the coming year (b’orach yishor), on a straight path of integrity.
What joy to realize, as David proclaims, that one can “…dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life!”
The weekly Torah portion of Nitzavim – ‘We are Standing’ (Deuteronomy 29:9 – 30:20) is always read during the month of Elul, specifically on the Shabbat before Rosh HaShanah. The opening verse is a clear, resonant reminder of the central theme of Elul and the Days of Awe: “Today you are all standing before God your LORD."
In the authority of Messiah Yeshua, our great High Priest who is constantly interceding on our behalf, we have the guarantee that we can approach the Throne of God in full and free forgiveness. He is our Redeemer, the powerful “right hand” of God stretched out in grace and mercy to receive all who repent and, in the mighty love of the Father, to draw them into the Kingdom of God in full standing as His beloved children.
Nitzavim also carries a Divine promise of the joyful time when the hearts of all Israel will return to God and will yield to His will in loving obedience: “You will do everything that I am commanding you today; you and your children will repent with all your heart and with all your soul” (30:2).
On that day the great Shofar of God will sound with a triumphant blast to announce the arrival of the King of kings before whom every individual will stand to give an account of his life. The shofar is thus sounded at the morning and evening services every day through Elul in the hope that its stirring blasts will awaken those who are “asleep” in the stupor of sin. The clarion call moves us to repent and turn again to the Almighty; to receive the power to break any negative patterns of the past and walk forward in new hope and inspiration.
This Hebrew month of Elul (09 August – 06 September, 2021) let us take the opportunity to draw aside spiritually and press in to the Presence of our Beloved. We can rejoice and rest in the knowledge that we are forgiven and can stand confidently before the “Judge of all flesh” when the shofar resounds on Rosh haShanah, the Day of Trumpets, and on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 23:24;27).
We then can eagerly anticipate another year of devoted service in joyful worship of our God and King.
Keren Hannah, an Israeli citizen originally from South Africa, is the widow of Dwight A. Pryor (of blessed memory), with whom she shared a life of international ministry based on Jewish-Christian relations and interconnection. She currently resides in Jerusalem, where she continues writing and maintaining her online teaching ministry via her website: His-Israel.com. She also teaches classes on subjects related to the Hebraic heritage at the Bram Center for Messianic Jewish Learning.
Read more of her excellent work at His-Israel.com.