The Month of Elul

Every month in the year has its own significance for our lives. We associate some of them with vacations, the changing seasons, the points in time when the earth is closer to the sun, or farther away, and so forth.

The Biblical calendar is built on exactly the same principle. The Hebrew word for “month” (hodesh) comes from the root word for “new” (hadash). Thus, the first or “head” of each month (not coincidentally, heralded by the “new” moon) was a holiday in Bible times, when Israel would celebrate the opportunity to renew things, or even start over from the beginning.

The month of Elul in Jewish tradition marks a time when Heaven and earth draw near to each other. In one kind of imagery, “the King is nearby, in the field,” and we are trying to find Him. It’s a month in which the Creator of the world and mankind are both seeking a closer relationship.

It’s true that we can –and should – try to be closer to the Lord of the world every day of the year. But our human tendency is to get caught up in the business (or busy-ness) of everyday living, allowing worldly cares to drive our activities and set our priorities. The month of Elul comes to help us concentrate and enter into the Creator’s calendar.

This is what happened with Moses: On the first day of Elul, according to Jewish tradition, Hashem called to Moses and commanded him to come up into Mount Horeb, where they spoke together for forty days and nights – the same time period from the first of Elul until Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.

For this reason, the month of Elul is devoted to a thorough self-examination, in Hebrew called “heshbon nefesh” (literally, “an accounting of the soul”). We review the past year in terms of what we did, thought, and desired at the spiritual and emotional levels. We seek to discover what needs repentance and change in the coming year. And we present this “account sheet” to our King.

When Moses went up to the summit of the holy mountain, it was not just to receive the two tablets of the Covenant, or even to have an awesome one-time encounter with the Holy One. When Moses came back, he had a unique, intimate connection with the Creator, which continued on a daily basis:

“Whenever Moses entered the tent, the pillar of cloud would descend and stand at the entrance of the tent; and the LORD would speak with Moses. When all the people saw the pillar of cloud standing at the entrance of the tent, all the people would stand and worship, each at the entrance of his tent. So the LORD used to speak to Moses face to face, just as a man speaks to his friend.” (Exod. 33:9-11)

In the same way, drawing near to the God of Israel during this month of introspection is not a ritual that simply allows us to put a “check-mark” after fulfilling our yearly obligation. It’s supposed to be an encounter that pierces our hearts with love for our Beloved, where our every word is from the depths of our soul.

Dear friends, it’s important to remember that while Moses was building this amazing closeness with God, and receiving His framework that would enable the people of Israel to draw near to Him, those same people were building something else… a golden calf. And yet His Love was not withdrawn from them. He remained faithful to His Covenant. We can trust Him to remain faithful today as well!

What’s more, Moses shared Hashem’s own love for the people, even offering (Exod. 32:32) to give up his own life with Hashem if there was no hope of forgiveness for them. When we draw near to the Creator, we begin to think, act and love in the same ways that He does.

The work we do during the month of Elul relates to inspecting ourselves for sin. The Hebrew verbs for “sinning” and “missing a target” come from the same root, making it easier to see how wide the definition can be.

First, there are the needed “soul” repairs – and not just the negative things we need to stop doing, but the positive things we must start doing. And even those things that we’ve gotten right can always be improved: made better, deeper, clearer, and filled with more love. We can also reach out to others who feel far away from us and/or from the Creator, and bring them closer to the “target” of a right relationship.

The best-known purpose for introspection during Elul is to check our interpersonal relationships, as preparation for Yom Kippur when we receive atonement from the Holy One. Jewish and Christian teachings agree that if we have unresolved issues with others, our Father in Heaven expects us to fix those before asking Him to forgive us. We need to forgive those who have hurt us, and ask forgiveness from those whom we have hurt – and only then can we approach the Great King and Judge for His forgiveness.

When we do come to Him, we learn that we can have confidence in His goodness. “I have trusted in Your faithfulness; my heart shall rejoice in Your salvation. I will sing to the Lord, because He has looked after me.” (Ps. 13:5-6) This confidence comes when we show our sincere desire to draw near to our Creator: “Please stretch out Your hand and bring me close, because You know how to fix my faults.”

As we strive to do our part in removing sin and error from our deeds, we are filled with joy to find that He answers us with encouragement: “I have wiped out your wrongdoings like a thick cloud, and your sins like a heavy mist. Return to Me, for I have redeemed you!” (Isa. 44:22) There is hope for us, for a different future. We can someday truly say, “My Beloved is mine and I am His… and His desire is for me.” (Song of Songs 2:16, 7:11)

What a marvelous thing to realize that the Creator of the world desires intimacy with each of us. How can we not want to abandon those things that grieve Him, and do what pleases Him? (Ps. 34:13-14) His Love is what kindles our love, increasing our desire to be closer to Him, the Source of all Life and everything Good.

The distance to Him is shorter during this month when the call of repentance is stronger. The “target” is reachable if we want to reach it badly enough. “And you will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart.” (Jer. 29:13)

May we all move closer to our Father and to one another in Love. Amen.


The gifts of our friends make the work of the Sabra Fund possible.

No amount is too small – they all add up!

Subscribe to our newsletter

Sabra’s newsletters will provide you with insights on the weekly Torah portion, the Jewish holidays,
and other topics of interest to people who believe the holy Scriptures are the words of the Creator. 

Skip to content