Elul: An Exciting Outlook by Rabbi Yosef Tropper

It is well known that in previous generations, when the month of Elul was announced on Shabbos Mivarchim, it would elicit an emotional reaction. I have heard from numerous older people that members of their shul would shudder and faint upon hearing the words “Rosh Chodesh Elul”.

Nowadays we are not so far from the shuddering and fear! Many people get nervous as they recall the extra prayers, Shofer, selichos, long davening, self-improvement and the fast days that Elul welcomes. You can feel the tension in the air!

I believe that we can gain insight and inspiration from understanding how the previous generations approached the Avodah, personal growth, that one can work at during this great time of the year.

Many people think of Elul as a time to develop in Bein Adam L’Makom, our service of Hashem. The fact that Elul is an acronym for “Ani L’Dodi V’Dodi Li, I am dedicated to Hashem (my Beloved) and He is to me”, testifies to this very eloquently. However, it is really deeper than this. The Seforim bring down that Elul is also an acronym for, “Ish L’Ray’a’hu U’Matanos L’Evyonim, (give gifts) each man to his friend and donations to the poor”. These words from Megillas Esther (9:22) proclaim the day of Purim to be one of celebration and a day of sharing gifts and donations with our friends and those in need. Elul thus stands for a time of developing our relationship Bein Adam L’Chavayro, between ourselves and others.

Hence, Elul is shown to embody two different aspects. One of closeness to Hashem and one of friendship between man and his fellow people. Are they really two different things?

In truth it is one unified goal. Hashem put us in this world to serve Him. Our job is to break our ego and to willfully accept His Kingship upon ourselves. However, we humans, by nature, are very selfish creatures. We must work hard to break our self-focus. We must train ourselves to do what is right despite our human desires. Hashem thus set up a world in which we can interact with others and see that other people exist outside of ourselves. This allows us the opportunity to connect and share with them. We can develop sensitivity and perform Chessed, kindness, for them. This helps us become more giving and caring people.

In fact, it is even deeper. The development of our relationship with Hashem and the goal of caring for others is the true path of a proper Jew. If one says that he wants to involve himself with only one of them, he is not complete. If one says he will only serve Hashem, but neglect how he treats others, he is lacking in his perfection. The great people of our nation have always been appreciated for their dedication to Hashem and for their love and respect of people. If one only treats others respectfully, but does not involve Hashem in his life, his service is lacking as well.

Elul comes to help us redefine our pursuit of perfection in these two domains. There is nothing more pleasurable than the feeling of accomplishment we experience through our service of Hashem and our caring for others. This is what it’s all about.

With this understanding, Elul is no longer seen as a burden. Rather, every day becomes another opportunity for us to make our lives and those of the people we know more filled with happiness and joy. It is a time to gain closeness and connect with Hashem and our friends and family.

Years ago, people would faint when they heard Elul was coming. They had spent the entire year pursuing closeness to Hashem and perfecting their treatment of others. To them, they were overcome with emotion and awe when Elul arrived. They saw Elul as an even larger than usual opportunity. They were in tune with themselves and thus they felt the awesome time in a very deep way.

King David (Tehillim 27) requests from Hashem that He grant him closeness and guidance. He also begs Hashem to inspire him to act properly with others (“Orach Mishur, the considerate path”). It is thus well understood why we add this Psalm to our daily prayer in honor of this time of the year. It so passionately summarizes what we are longing for at this time.

May Hashem grant each and every one of us the inspiration and strength to bring out our individual capabilities and to taste the sweetness and greatness of living a life of Chessed and growth.