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Thursday, September 2, 2021

Halachic Times (Zmanim)
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Jewish History

The 1st day of creation, on which G-d created existence, time, matter, darkness and light, was the 25th of Elul. (Rosh Hashanah, on which we mark "the beginning of Your works", is actually the 6th day of creation, on which the world attained the potential for the realization of its purpose, with the creation of the first man and woman, Adam and Eve. Rosh Hashanah is therefore the day from which the Jewish calendar begins to count the years of history; the 1st day of creation thus occurred on the 25th of Elul of what is termed -1 from creation.

Links: Parshah Bereishit (Genesis 1:1-6:8) with commentary

The rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem -- which had been in ruins since the destruction of the First Temple by the Babylonians 88 years earlier -- was completed by Nehemia on Elul 25 of the year 3426 from creation (335 BCE) as related in the Book of Nehemia (ch. 6).

Passing of the Talmudic sage Rabbi Elazar, son of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai.

Passing of Rabbi Yechiel Michel of Zlotchov (1721?-1786), disciple of the Baal Shem Tov.

Laws and Customs

The Selichot ("supplication") prayers are recited in the early morning hours, before the morning prayers, in preparation for the "Days of Awe" of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

Links: More on Selichot

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 73 Chapter 74 Chapter 75

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

So it will be, on the heels of you listening to these judgments of Mine and doing them…that G‑d will love you, bless you, increase your numbers, bless the fruits of your womb and the fruits of your land, your grain, your wine, and your oil, the offspring of your animals and your wealth of sheep… (Deut. 7:12-13)

All mitzvahs can be distributed over a wide spectrum between two poles:

There are mitzvahs that we judge to be of practical utility, such as the prohibitions against theft and violence.

Torah calls these mishpatim —judgments —because they engage the discretionary judgment of our minds and hearts.

And then there are mitzvahs whose reasoning is entirely beyond us, even contradictory to our understanding. At this end of the spectrum, you’ll find laws of ritual impurity, most of the laws of forbidden foods, as well as many of the details of otherwise reasonable halachah.

Torah calls these chukim—from the word chakak, meaning “engraved in stone.” We do them as though they are simply built into our hardware, wired into the tough, desensitized skin of our heels.

There’s a beauty to chukim. They allow us to feel connected to something far beyond ourselves, an infinite G‑d who has brought us into His own unfathomable view of His creation and its purpose.

And there’s a hazard to mishpatim. When everything makes sense to us and serves us well, we easily become captives of our tiny reality-bubble and lose connection with the mystery and wonder beyond ourselves.

So Moses tells us to listen with our heels, to connect our minds to our inner hardware, to do mishpatim as chukim.

Because, in truth, every mitzvah, even a simple rule that we would have figured out on our own, is part of a covenant and connection that entirely transcends our limited reality.

And when we make that connection, wiring the most ultimately transcendental into our minds and our hearts and all the way to the tough skin of our heels, the universe follows in concert:

Infinite, divine love expresses itself not only in spiritual forms, but all the way down to the quantifiable physical world—in children, health and material wellbeing.