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Shabbat, August 31, 2013

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Halachic Times (Zmanim)
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Jewish History

The 1st day of creation, on which G-d created existence, time, matter, darkness and light, was the 25th of Elul. (Rosh Hashanah, on which we mark "the beginning of Your works", is actually the 6th day of creation, on which the world attained the potential for the realization of its purpose, with the creation of the first man and woman, Adam and Eve. Rosh Hashanah is therefore the day from which the Jewish calendar begins to count the years of history; the 1st day of creation thus occurred on the 25th of Elul of what is termed -1 from creation.

Links: Parshah Bereishit (Genesis 1:1-6:8) with commentary

The rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem -- which had been in ruins since the destruction of the First Temple by the Babylonians 88 years earlier -- was completed by Nehemia on Elul 25 of the year 3426 from creation (335 BCE) as related in the Book of Nehemia (ch. 6).

Passing of the Talmudic sage Rabbi Elazar, son of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai.

Passing of Rabbi Yechiel Michel of Zlotchov (1721?-1786), disciple of the Baal Shem Tov.

Laws and Customs

Each month, on the Shabbat before Rosh Chodesh, we bless the upcoming new month with a special blessing recited in the synagogue. The one exception is this Shabbat: although it proceeds Rosh Hashanah -- which is also the first day of the month of Tishrei -- we do not recite the special "blessing for the month," just as all other Rosh Chodesh elements are absent from the Rosh Hashanah prayers and observances. According to the Baal Shem, "G-d Himself blesses the month of Tishrei, and it is with the power of this blessing that the people of Israel bless the other months of the year."

Although the formal blessing is not recited, we fulfill the other customs of Shabbat Mevarchim Hachodesh ("the Shabbat that blesses the new month"), reciting the Book of Psalms before morning prayers and conducting farbrengens.

Link: On the Significance of Shabbat Mevarchim

During the summer months, from the Shabbat after Passover until the Shabbat before Rosh Hashahah, we study a portion of the Talmud's Ethics of the Fathers ("Avot") each Shabbat afternoon. This week, we complete this year's cycle with the study of Chapters Five and Six.

Link: Ethics of the Fathers, Chapter 5 and Chapter 6

The series of Selichot ("supplication") prayers recited in preparation for the "Days of Awe" of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur begin this Saturday night, after midnight (after the Ashkenazic custom; the Sephardic community begins on the 1st of Elul). On subsequent days, the custom is to recite the Selichot in the early morning hours, before the morning prayers, each morning up to and including Elul 29, the eve of Rosh Hashanah.

Links: More on Selichot

As the last month of the Jewish year, Elul is traditionaly a time of introspection and stocktaking -- a time to review one's deeds and spiritual progress over the past year and prepare for the upcoming "Days of Awe" of Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur.

As the month of Divine Mercy and Forgiveness (see "Today in Jewish History" for Elul 1) it is a most opportune time for teshuvah ("return" to G-d), prayer, charity, and increased Ahavat Yisrael (love for a fellow Jew) in the quest for self-improvement and coming closer to G-d. Chassidic master Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi likens the month of Elul to a time when "the king is in the field" and, in contrast to when he is in the royal palace, "everyone who so desires is permitted to meet him, and he receives them all with a cheerful countenance and shows a smiling face to them all."

Specific Elul customs include the daily sounding of the shofar (ram's horn) as a call to repentance. The Baal Shem Tov instituted the custom of reciting three additional chapters of Psalms each day, from the 1st of Elul until Yom Kippur (on Yom Kippur the remaining 36 chapters are recited, thereby completing the entire book of Psalms). Click below to view today's Psalms.

Chapter 73 Chapter 74 Chapter 75

Elul is also the time to have one's tefillin and mezuzot checked by an accredited scribe to ensure that they are in good condition and fit for use.

Links: More on Elul

Daily Thought

Rosh Hashanah is the beginning—not only of this new year, but of all years previous.

How could that be? Because on that day you are empowered to reach back into time and adjust the meaning of all that has passed.

True, He is the Author. But He has assigned us as editors. We adapt the storyline, transform the plot. By transforming who we are today, we rewrite our own past and author a whole new world.