Dear B’nai Shalom members, families, and friends:
As you read this month’s bulletin, we will be preparing to enter the Hebrew month of Elul. Many people may recognize the name “Elul” as the month that precedes Rosh Hashanah and all the “high holidays.” That is correct. There is actually more to this simple and apparently insignificant, random placing of Elul before the holiest time on the Jewish calendar. One may recall that in reviewing the order of the Hebrew calendar, instruction has led us to believe that there is only one Hebrew month bereft of holidays, festivals, fast days, or anything noteworthy; that month is Cheshvan. Cheshvan has been given the extra title of “Mar,” which generally precedes its name, making the entire identification for this month “Mar Cheshvan.” Depending on the explanation that one prefers, one may believe that Cheshvan is called this because it “feels bad,” having no important days in it, and therefore the month is bitter, or “mar,” in Hebrew. (You will recall the bitter herbs we eat at the Passover Seder are called in Hebrew “maror,” containing the Hebrew word for bitter, “mar,” in it). The other explanation for the title “Mar” (which I prefer) is since the month has no actual holidays or significance of its own, in order to not leave Cheshvan barren and desolate, we artificially attach the title of respect, “Mar” (meaning Mister or Sir, in Hebrew), which unto itself connotes a status of importance.
Having said all this, it leaves unanswered the puzzling question of why so much time is spent ensuring that the month of Cheshvan does not have its “feelings hurt,” while Elul, upon close examination, is clear in not having any holidays, festivals, fast days, or anything significant about it as well. Why is this? And why do we not then afford Elul some of the same enhancements that we apply to Cheshvan?
It is actually very simple. While it is true that Elul does not have any holidays, festivals, or fast days in it, it has its own importance. As the forerunner of the month of Tishrei, in which Rosh Hashanah is found on the first two days, we undertake much in the way of symbolism to prepare ourselves for the Jewish new year. First of all, the shofar is sounded every non-Shabbat morning of Elul, except the last day. Also, the prayer “L’Dovid Hashem Ori” is added to our prayer services starting in Elul. Furthermore, we begin the recitation of “Selichot” prayers later in the month, and in general, we undertake the process of doing “teshuvah” (repentance) in the month of Elul. These additions to the month, while not specific holidays, are major changes and adornments to the month, lifting it to a level of importance that does not need artificial promotion or highlighting.
There is one more interesting significance to Elul. While on the secular calendar, the month of June seems to be the month most desired for weddings, (there appears to be a serious attraction for women to become June brides), Elul is the Hebrew month for young people to come together under the Chupah (the Jewish wedding canopy). The four Hebrew letters comprising the name Elul — aleph, lamed, vav, and lamed — are also the letters indicating the well-known verse from Shir HaShirim (The Song of Songs), “Ani L’Dodi V’dodi Li” (I am to my beloved, and my beloved is to me). Is there a better time to get married?
This same joining of loving parties is part of the symbolism of the month of Elul that our sages teach us that also applies to the commitment and relationship between G-d and the Jewish people. One way or another, this is a lot of love! It is my hope and prayer that as we enter the month of Elul, we will all be able to move into a mindset that permits us to do the best we can in the area of teshuvah (repentance), and that G-d will recognize that sincere contrition and inscribe us all for a good, healthy, happy, sweet New Year.
With Torah blessings,
Rabbi Dr. Yaacov Dvorin