Elul, the last month of the Jewish year, is a time to review the past and look at where you’ve come in life. It’s a preparation for the upcoming “Days of Awe”—Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur—when we resolve to do better this year than last.
The theme of Elul is return to your essential self—a.k.a. teshuvah—helped along by prayer and charity. “The King is in the field,” they say, meaning that the G‑dly spark within you is much more accessible, as long as you search for it.
Some key customs for the month of Elul:
- The shofar is a wake-up call to spiritually prepare for Rosh HashanahEach day (excepting Shabbat), a ram’s horn (called a shofar) is blown after the morning services. It's a wake-up call to spiritually prepare for Rosh Hashanah.
- When writing a letter, we sign off, “May you be inscribed and sealed for a good year.”
- We add Chapter 27 of Psalms to the morning and afternoon daily prayers.
- The Baal Shem Tov began a custom of saying three additional chapters of Psalms, sequentially, each day from the first of Elul until Yom Kippur—when the remainder of Psalms is completed.
- This is a good time to have your tefillin and mezuzot inspected by a scribe to ensure that they are still in good condition.
Selichot are prayers to G‑d that ask forgiveness. Sephardic Jews recite special selichot early every morning of Elul (except for Shabbat). Ashkenazic Jews begin these selichot shortly after midnight on the Sunday morning before Rosh Hashanah—unless this start date doesn’t allow for a minimum of four days of selichot, in which case, they start selichot on the Sunday morning before that. Selichot are then recited daily before the morning prayers (except on Shabbat) until Rosh Hashanah. Many continue reciting selichot until Yom Kippur.
Try to attend synagogue for selichot, since many of the prayers can be said only in a group.
Click here for more on Elul and selichot.