JWR Outlook

Jewish World Review August 17, 2001 / 28 Menachem-Av, 5761

As the Jewish year
draws to a close

By Rabbi Berel Wein

http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- THE final month of the Jewish calendar is almost upon us. The month of Elul, the last month of the year, serves as a bookend month. It allows us to review the events of the year now ending and helps point us in the correct direction for meeting the challenges of the new year just coming.

In many respects therefore, Elul is seen in Jewish tradition as being the most crucial time of the calendar year. It is the time that our annual "earnings report," so to speak, is to be delivered. As such, Elul requires honesty, realism, and an unalterable standard of values by which to judge ourselves and our actions.

But, Elul can also be a painful time, for honesty and realism oftentimes create a less than sanguine picture of ourselves and our world.

One of the customs associated with the month of Elul is the sounding of the shofar -- ram's horn -- in the synagogue on all weekday mornings after the conclusion of the Shacharis morning prayer service. This is in line with the words of the prophet, "Will the shofar be sounded in the city without causing the populace to fear?" In ancient Israel, the shofar served as the equivalent of our current dreaded air-raid siren. It warned the populace of the possibility of impending danger, it stirred the heart, it focused the mind.

Maimonidies, the philosopher, in one of his most famous passages in Mishna Torah, stated that the purpose of sounding the shofar was literally to give Jews a wakeup call. The mundane events of our every day life lull us into a slumber as to our true purpose for life in this world --- which is to serve G-d and man and to obey the Torah and spread its light amongst all.

The sound of the shofar in the month of Elul serves as a sharp reminder of time passed, goals forgotten or unachieved, of our mortality and of our G-dly responsibilities and duties. The shofar provides the proper background mood for Elul introspection and self-analysis.

In Lithuania, the seat of the nineteenth century ethical movement of Mussar, which encouraged constant self-introspection and spiritual renewal, Jews would say that even the fish in the river would tremble when the advent of the month of Elul was proclaimed in the synagogue. Well, there is precious little trembling of anyone or anything in our current society. Yet, deep down, there is a terrible feeling of unease that afflicts us. The ongoing crisis regarding the State of Israel, the undisguised enmity and bias of so much of the world against Jews and Judaism, the uncertainty of our fortunes, our health, of life itself, all gnaw at our sense of well-being.

Because of this situation of outer bravado and inner confusion, the shofar sound of Elul is ever more important to us and our lives. It raises the crucial questions in our lives --- what shall we truly leave to our children, what value system do we subscribe to, what is the true puropse of our lives. We may avoid these questions on a day to day basis during most of the year. But Elul affords us such a luxury no longer.

Elul is also the time of the reaffirmation of the bond of love and affection between the Jewish people and G-d. The name of the month of Elul is itself the acronym of the words in Song of Songs "I am to my beloved and my beloved is to me." No matter how harsh our Elul judgment of ourselves may be, there is always room to return to G-d and improve ourselves. Jewish tradition tells us that Moses ascended Sinai on the first day of Elul to intercede with G-d on behalf of the Jewish people, who had recently just built the Golden Calf. The second set of tablets of the Ten Commandments were then fashioned on Sinai and Moses brought them down to the camp of Israel on the first Yom Kippur in Jewish history. The power of this lesson of return, true remorse for past errors and of G-dly forgiveness thus became an eternal part of the Jewish soul and psyche.

During Elul we emulate Moses' ascent on Sinai by our own efforts at return and remorse so that we too may merit heavenly love and forgiveness. The effort that we make during Elul to improve and be more Jewishly aware will in a great measure influence the G-dly judgment of our forgiveness on Yom Kippur. The month of Elul should therefore be exploited by us to the fullest.

JWR contributor Rabbi Berel Wein is one of Jewry's foremost historians and founder of the Destiny Foundation. He has authored over 650 tapes, books and videos which you can purchase at RabbiWein.com. You may contact Rabbi Wein by clicking here or calling 1-800-499-WEIN (9346).


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© 2000, Rabbi Berel Wein