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ב"ה
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Sunday, August 8, 2021

Halachic Times (Zmanim)
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Rosh Chodesh Elul
Jewish History

On the last day of Av of the year 2448 from creation (1313 BCE), Moses carved, by G-d's command, two stone tablets -- each a cube measuring 6x6x3 tefachim (a tefach, "handbreadth", is approximately 3.2 inches) -- to replace the two divinely-made tablets, on which G-d had inscribed the Ten Commandments, which Moses had smashed 42 days earlier upon witnessing Israel's worship of the Golden Calf.

Links: The 120-Day Version of the Human Story

Laws and Customs

Today is the first of the two days of Rosh Chodesh (“Head of the Month”) 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 Veyavo 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). Tachanun (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; What Is Rosh Chodesh?

Some of the special Elul practices (see entries and links for tomorrow, Elul 1) begin today. The psalm L'David Hashem Ori (Psalm 27) is recited at the end of the morning and afternoon prayers; this special addition is recited throughout the month of Elul and the High Holiday season, until Hoshanah Rabbah (Tishrei 21) -- a total of 50 days. And although the daily shofar sounding of Elul officially begins on the 2nd Rosh Chodesh, it is customary to practice sounding the shofar (ram's horn) on the 1st Rosh Chodesh, introducing the Elul atmosphere of soul-searching and repentance.

Links: About the shofar; Psalm 27, The High Holiday Anthem

Daily Thought

Standing there, looking down from Mount Sinai, Moses had to make a decision.

In his hands, he held two tablets, the work of G-d, engraved by G-d with His own words. No objects more precious than these two stone tablets had ever materialized in this universe.

Below, he beheld his people in the debauchery of their sin, worshipping a golden calf only forty days after hearing from G-d Himself, “You shall have no other gods.”

If Moses would hold onto the tablets, he would have to deliver them, and then, he knew, none of those who had any involvement with the golden calf would have a chance of survival. He was their leader, their shepherd.

Yet it was to receive the Torah that he had liberated the people from Egypt and brought them here. It was to receive the Torah that he had ascended the mountain and lived as a heavenly being, without food, water or sleep, for 40 days and 40 nights. For Moses, these two tablets lay at the very essence of his being.

And now, Moses had to decide: Are the people here to keep the Torah, or is the Torah here to liberate the souls of the people?

So he shattered the tablets. And he saved the people.

And with that, Moses established forever the relationship between the Torah and the people.

Likutei Sichot vol. 34, pp. 217-224. See also ibid vol. 21, pp. 173-180.