The 1st day of creation, on which G-d
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.
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).
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
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.
One time my kids outsmarted me. I had them in the van, and we pulled into a parking lot where a ferris wheel and other rides had been set up. But I had no time to take kids on merry-go-rounds on a hot summer day. I had work to do.
And then I heard from the back seat:
“Oh, thank you Daddy! You’re the best daddy in the whole world! You brought us for a surprise! Yay Daddy!”
Five minutes later, I was frying on the hot pavement, at the foot of a ferris wheel, waving to my kids.
It was then that I understood a teaching of the Rebbe:
Before we make any request, we praise the Master of the Universe.
We praise Him for the beauty of the world He has made.
We praise Him for rescuing the widow, the orphan and the oppressed.
We praise Him for the simple things, the lowly things, the everyday things that go unnoticed.
In that way, we are bringing Him into our world, and our prayers have an effect in this world.