Elul Thoughts


Various thoughts from Reb Zalman for this season as compiled by Gabbai Seth Fishman, BLOG Editor:

1. From A Guide for Starting Your New Incarnation, 2001, ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal, p. 1:

You Have Wanted Holiness in your life.  This depends a great deal on taking responsibility for the maintenance of your consciousness and conscience.

“The maintenance of one’s awareness was once part and parcel of the social life of the shtetl / small Jewish town of Europe.

“Professor Abraham Joshua Heschel, in The Earth is the Lord’s, speaks about how the landscape once was Jewish.  One would speak about the falling leaves of the Fall season as if the trees were trembling before the Day of Judgement.

“In our situation today, this is not the case…  While the eastern communities of Jews began s’lichot / prayers of forgiveness at the beginning of Elul / the last month of the Jewish year along with the daily shofar / blowing of the Ram’s horn, we Ashkenazim leave s’lichot for the week or ten days before Rosh HaShannah.  Even if we do not begin to recite s’lichot until the end of Elul, it is still necessary to begin the inner work earlier, at the beginning of Elul.”

2. In our prayer services from Elul through Sukkot, we add Psalm 27.  Click the following link to hear a niggun composed and sung by Reb Zalman with words excerpted from the Psalm:

L’cha Amar Libi  (<< Click here to hear)

NOTE:  For the full text of Psalm 27 with Reb Zalman’s davvening translation, please scroll to the end of this post.)

3. Again, from  A Guide for Starting Your New Incarnation:

“God says to Moses that if you need to get to Me, there is one way to get through:  Chant the thirteen attributes of God (Ex 34:5-9), Hashem Hashem keyl rachoom v-chanoon, / God of Mercy and grace, etc.  So Moses says it is a failsafe moment, there is a sure way to override a message from God as destroyer.

“This message of mercy for Israel delivered from God to Moses was to have happened on the first of Elul:

There were 40 days from Shavuot to the 17th of Tammuz with the first set of tablets, the Golden Calf and their smashing

There were a second set of 40 days with God angry and Moses in supplication lasting until the 1st of Elul, when the message of the thirteen was to have come down.

Then a final set of 40 days with the receiving of a second set of tablets and a descent on Yom Kippur.

“With the message of the Thirteen Attributes, one can create changes and make a break with bad Karma from the past.

“They say that all the lights that shine on all the special days are somehow less than the light of the thirteen attributes of mercy.  So Reb Shneur Zalman asks the following question:  If the light of the thirteen is available throughout Elul, why isn’t Elul on the level of a holiday?

“He illustrates the answer with a story:

‘Once a king was making his way back to his palace.  At the same time, many people were also making their ways to the palace, seeking appointments with the king.

‘These people had written months ago but were told they would have wait until now since the king’s schedule was already full with the dukes and duchesses the counts and countesses and other courtiers.

‘So the time had come and people began on the journey to the castle.  And the king was also traveling.

‘However, while the king traveled, it turned out that everybody who met him on the road, who brought him some water, who walked with him…  These people could talk to him:  He was accessible.’

“It’s on us to make sure the palace God will occupy is well prepared.  We have to provide for God during this season.  At the same time, God is accessible; but it’s not yomtov / a holiday.

“So there are two times when the thirteen attributes are shining:  Once during Elul and again on Yom Kippur.  In the former, God’s dressed in overalls; later, God puts on the garments of splendor.”

4. When we attend a service on Rosh Hashannah and Yom Kippur, our Rabbis and Cantors are our appointed emissaries, a big responsibility.  They are creating an opportunity for our prayers to be elevated, for our teshuvah and tefillah and tzedakah to be heard, considered and accepted.  It is being done by them on our behalf and we have a vested interest that they do a good job for all of us.

So try to remember to help them by praying for them too.  Pray that they can reach into those places in their souls to which they need to reach, and that they can find words speaking to our conditions too.

They will be able to feel this if this is in your prayers.

5. On Rosh Hashannah, we are asking for the King to be crowned on our behalf.  There’s also a big Yom HaDin / judgment day of sorts looming in November 2008, when we will elect a new president for four years.

In contrast to the male model, Rosh Hashanah is also known through the feminine metaphor of the day when the earth was birthed / yom harat olam.  Our teshuvah / repentance is from the place of Binah which is known as mother.  Our prayers are for the planet’s need of nurturing and for our need of nurturing. Additionally the Ari hakodesh, Rabbi Yitzchak Lurie has shown us that in Elul the way the days are passed leading up to Rosh Hashanah, are like a pregnant one.  On Rosh Hashanah it’s like one in labor continuing through Yom Kippur.  On Sukkos, it’s like the celebration of the child and the dance of it.

So we have the investiture of the king on the one hand, and the mother aspects and teshuvah on the other.

Then there’s another aspect which in Kabbalah is spoken of as Nessirah / the sawing apart.  The masculine and feminine are seen as back to back and the Nessirah can be seen as the cutting of the umbilical cord.

6. What must happen on Rosh Hashannah and Yom Kippur requires time and attention beginning during the month of Elul.  The whole issue of what needs to happen needs all of Elul to be allocated toward the intent of the Yamim Noraim.  If we don’t get in touch with the spiritual dimensions of that vibratory place, if we don’t do preparations, then the Rosh Hashannah and Yom Kippur services will not have been properly prepared.

So the month of Elul with the additions to the liturgy will bring the external reminders and waker-uppers so that we ourselves will have a greater, an easier access, of the levels of vibration where we have to be on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

7. The basic intention of the High Holiday cards that we used to send out was to ask forgiveness from the people we may have wronged during the year.

It’s gotten to be now like Valentine cards which is somehow a shame. 

This needs to be made real – perhaps with a personal encounter to apologize or at a minimum a phone call. 

8. There is also the question of the time between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.  If you have a group in the same city as you, have some evening activities organized during that time, when people can come and do some exercises that take them through cheshbon hanefesh / soul accounting.  Then taking on action directives that would make sense for them for the coming year, mah tov umah na’aim / how good and how nice it would be.



3 Responses to “Elul Thoughts”

  1. shulamit sofia Says:

    this psalm 27 translation is another incredible gift from Reb Zalman as his legacy to us. Thank You, Shana Tova Shulamit

  2. Chaplain Gloria Krasno Says:

    So for 49 days
    I climb the Tree
    from Malchut up to Chesed
    Stopping for each week’s new messages
    to come sailing down to my page
    like the Autumn leaves of this Elul season

    May your soulful reflections climb up to the source
    and Yah’s gracious caligraphy
    inscribe your name in this year’s Book of Life.

    with thanks for Reb Zaide’s messages . . .Gal-or-Ya

  3. devorah Leah K. Says:

    Blessings and Love to REb Zalman and all.

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