This "Essence" is taken from the Sourcebook for Leaders, written by Rabbi Rachel Gartner and Barbara Berley Melits, for Rosh Hodesh: It's a Girl Thing! This experiential program was created by Kolot: The Center for Jewish Women's and Gender Studies to strengthen the Jewish identity and self-esteem of adolescent girls through monthly celebrations of the New Moon festival. The program is now available through Moving Traditions.
Elul is the sixth of the twelve months in the Jewish Calendar.
Elul comes at the same time as the secular months of August/September.
The mazal (constellation) for Elul is Virgo (betulah) a young, independent woman.
It is taught that the Hebrew letters ELUL (aleph, lamed, vav, lamed) are an acronym for the verse from Shir HaShirim (Song of Songs), Ani L'Dodi V'Dodi Li - I am my beloved's and my beloved is mine. In Elul we celebrate women's ability to maintain our independence, individuality, and uniqueness at the same time that we enter into relationships and recommit ourselves to those we love.
Elul is a time of intense spiritual preparation for the coming year and the upcoming High Holy Days (in Tishrei).
In Aramaic (the language spoken by Jews living at the time that the months were given names), the word "Elul" means "search." Elul is a time to search our hearts.
It is customary to:
Blow the shofar every morning (except on Shabbat) from Rosh Hodesh Elul until the day before Rosh HaShanah. The blasts are meant to awaken our spirits and inspire us to begin the soul searching which prepares us for the High Holy Days. As part of this preparation, Elul is the time to begin the sometimes-difficult process of granting and asking for forgiveness.
According to tradition, Moshe went up to Mount Sinai on Rosh Hodesh Elul to receive the second set of tablets upon which the Ten Commandments were inscribed. Moses then spent the next 40 days on the mountain, returning to the people on Yom Kippur. The first time Moshe went up to the mountain the people worshipped the Golden Calf because they miscalculated the 40 day period after which they expected Moshe to return. When Moshe did not come down at the appointed time, the people created the Golden Calf to lead them in his stead. Tradition teaches that when Moshe went up to the mountain the second time, a shofar was sounded throughout the encampment, so everyone would know exactly from when to begin counting the 40 days until his return.
Recite psalm 27 every day from Rosh Hodesh Elul through the middle of Sukkot (in Tishrei). Psalm 27 begins with the words "God is my light and my helper, whom shall I fear?" The challenging spiritual work of Elul is made easier when we feel that God is with us as we strive to bring out the best in ourselves.
Recite selichot – special penitential prayers – either every morning just before sunrise during the week before Rosh HaShanah (Ashkenazic tradition) or every morning during the entire month of Elul (Sephardic tradition). Ashkenazi Jews begin the recitation of selichot with a special service held at midnight on the Saturday before Rosh HaShanah.
Visit the graves of loved ones throughout the month in order to remember and honor those people in our past who inspire us to live more fully in the future.
Begin all letters written during the month of Elul with wishes that the recipient have a good year. Others write that expressing these wishes can be done at the end of the letter as well. The standard blessing is K'tiva V'Chatima Tova (a good writing and sealing), meaning that the person should be written and sealed in the Book of Life.
In Europe, Elul arrived when the plums were purple and ripe and the pears were ready for picking. Jews called Elul the time of the "Flaumen un die Beren" (the plums and pears). In Yiddish these two words have additional meanings: "Flaumen" means flames, and "Beren" means to burn. Thus Elul is a time to search our hearts, and to seek God with fiery, burning intensity. Enjoy plums and pears as you do so!