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Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Halachic Times (Zmanim)
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Rosh Chodesh Elul
Jewish History

On the early morning of the 1st of Elul of the year 2448 from creation (1313 BCE) Moses ascended Mount Sinai, taking with him the stone tablets he had hewn by divine command (see "Today in Jewish History" for yesterday, Av 30), for G-d to re-inscribe the Ten Commandments. On the mountain, G-d allowed Moses to "see My back, but not My face" (which Maimonides interprets as a perception of G-d's reality but not His essence) -- the closest any human being ever came to knowing G-d -- and taught him the secret of His "Thirteen Attributes of Mercy" (Exodus 33:18-34:8).

Moses remained on the mountain for 40 days, until the 10th of Tishrei (Yom Kippur), during which time He obtained G-d's whole-hearted forgiveness and reconciliation with the people of Israel following their betrayal of the covenant between them with their worship of the Golden Calf. This was the third of Moses' three 40-day periods on Mount Sinai in connection with the Giving of the Torah. Ever since, the month of Elul serves as the "month of Divine mercy and forgiveness."

Links: The 120-Day Version of the Human Story

Laws and Customs

Today is the second of the two Rosh Chodesh ("Head of the Month") days for the month of Elul (when a month has 30 days, both the last day of the month and the first day of the following month serve as the following month's Rosh Chodesh).

Special portions are added to the daily prayers: Hallel (Psalms 113-118) is recited -- in its "partial" form -- following the Shacharit morning prayer, and the Yaaleh V'yavo prayer is added to the Amidah and to Grace After Meals; the additional Musaf prayer is said (when Rosh Chodesh is Shabbat, special additions are made to the Shabbat Musaf). Tachnun (confession of sins) and similar prayers are omitted.

Many have the custom to mark Rosh Chodesh with a festive meal and reduced work activity. The latter custom is prevalent amongst women, who have a special affinity with Rosh Chodesh -- the month being the feminine aspect of the Jewish Calendar.

Links: The 29th Day; The Lunar Files

As the last month of the Jewish year, Elul is traditionally 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 1 Chapter 2 Chapter 3

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

Links: More on Elul

From the beginning of Elul and throughout the High Holiday season, we include the blessing "May you be inscribed and sealed for a good year" (Leshanah tovah tikateiv veteichateim) in letters and greetings to one another.

Links: Bless You!

Daily Thought

Our souls are the finishing tools for His handiwork.

They are the plows He applies to the harsh earth so it will absorb the rains from heaven, the sandpaper to grind away the coarse surfaces of life, the polishing cloth so that it will glimmer in the light from above.

That friction that wears us down, those sparks that fly—it is the resistance to this refining process.

And if you should ask, how could it be that G‑d’s own creation should present resistance to His infinitely powerful breath?

In truth, it cannot. But He condenses that breath into a soul, He tightly focuses her power, until the harshness of this world can seem real to her, and then she will struggle, and in that struggle she will make the world shine.