On several occasions (in Exodus 21, Numbers 35 and Deuteronomy 19) the Torah discusses the establishment of "Cities of Refuge" in the Holy Land. The purpose of these cities was to shelter the "inadvertent murderer"--someone who killed another person unintentionally. The city of refuge protected this person from the vengeance of his victim's relatives, and his exile there atoned for his sin.
Every law in Torah has a deeper, soul-related meaning. The chassidic masters explain that any transgression against the will of G‑d is a subtle form of "inadvertent murder": "murder" because one has violated the essence and raison d'être of one's own life, and "inadvertent" because man is inherently and intrinsically good, and all evil deeds result only from a lapse of awareness of one's own true will. In the words of our sages, "A person does not sin unless a spirit of insanity has entered into him."
There are cities of refuge in space, and there is a city of refuge in time. And while the spatial cities of refuge await the coming of Moshiach and the restoration of Torah law in the Holy Land to be reinstated, the haven in time which G‑d has established is there for us at all times, under all conditions.
This haven in time is the month of Elul -- the last month of the Jewish year and the month which leads to the "Days of Awe" that commence the new year. This is alluded to in one of the verses which discuss the law of the
cities of refuge -- "And for one who did not lie in wait [to kill
premeditatedly], but G‑d has caused it to happen to him, I shall establish for you a place to which he can flee" (Exodus 21:13). Master Kabbalist Rabbi Isaac Luria points out that the first letters of the central words in this verse, enah le'yado vesamti l'cha, spell the word "Elul."
The twenty-nine days of Elul offer an isle in time, a sanctum for
introspection and self-assessment, for atonement and rehabilitation. It is a place to which we might flee from our subjugation to the struggles and entanglements of material life to audit our spiritual accounts and restore the sovereignty of our true will over our lives. It is a month in which to resolve that, henceforth, no accidental iniquity will mar the quintessential goodness of our soul.