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Sunday, September 18, 2022

Halachic Times (Zmanim)
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Jewish History

R. Yaakov Moelin, known as the Maharil, was recognized as the supreme halachic authority for Ashkenazi Jewry in his day. His customs, collected in Minhagei Maharil (and cited often by R. Moshe Isserles in his comments to the Code of Jewish Law), are the basis for the conduct of Ashkenazi Jewry in many areas of Jewish life, especially in matters relating to prayer and synagogue procedure.

Links: Rabbi Jacob Halevi (Maharil), The Origins of Tashlich (a custom documented by Maharil)

Laws and Customs

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 "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 64
Chapter 65
Chapter 66

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

Links: More on Elul

Daily Thought

The Torah tells a story about each one of us, a story in which one day we all eventually return home.

Some read it as an instruction. But it is best read as a promise:

And you will return to G‑d, your G‑d…you and your children, with all your heart and with all your soul. (Deut. 30:2)

Because, ironic as it may seem, returning home, to your true self, to your people and to your G‑d, and discovering your own essence that was somehow lost along the way is the most independent act a human being can do.

It means taking ownership of your life, shedding the harness of circumstance, overriding the whip of impulse, and saying, “It’s my life. I will be who I am. And I am one with my G‑d and with my people!”

Nobody can tell you to do that, not even G‑d. It’s the one thing that’s entirely up to you.

But He can write in His Torah that you eventually will come back home.

Because how could it be otherwise?