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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
We are limited by the very fact that we have human form. There is no freedom in following our whim, or even our most reasoned decisions. As a prisoner cannot undo his own shackles, so we remain enslaved to our own limited selves.
And so Moses was told, “When you take the people out from Egypt, you shall all serve the Infinite G‑d on this mountain.”
The Infinite G-d is the only one who is not compelled by any bounds. What makes us free? Simple deeds done each day, as agents of the One who is absolutely free.