Each year, many of us engage in the task of entering the Jewish holidays into our civil calendars (today, there are even apps to help us do this with ease). The dates of the Jewish holidays do not exactly change from year to year, but our civil calendar is based upon a solar year and the Jewish calendar follows the lunar cycle.
The lunar month begins on Rosh Chodesh, Head of the Month, when a sliver of moon once again appears in the sky. The new month is traditionally a holiday celebrated as a woman’s holiday - an honor given to women by G-d after they refused to participate in the building of the Golden Calf.
Rosh Chodesh Elul (the beginning of the month of Elul) takes place the month prior to Rosh Hashanah, and the holiday kicks off a month of introspection and repentance. This date in history was the day that Moses ascended Mount Sinai for the third time in order to receive the second set of tablets from G-d (the first having been broken when Moses descended from the mountain to discover the Golden Calf created while he was gone).
Unlike the other months, Rosh Chodesh Elul lasts for two days. It begins on the last day of the month of Av and continues on to the first day of the month of Elul. We are given a gift of time to truly recognize and embrace what lies before us in the month of Elul. As we prepare for the High Holidays, we spend an entire month considering our actions of the past year and the ways in which we can improve upon ourselves.
On the second day of Rosh Chodesh Elul, we begin to blow the shofar. It is blown every day (aside from Shabbat) prior to Erev Rosh Hashanah. As on the High Holidays, the sound of the shofar is a piercing wake-up call. The tradition dates back to when we were at Sinai. When Moses went up the mountain that last time, the shofar was blown to keep the people attuned to their connection with G-d. Human weakness was kept in check with the daily wake-up calls, reminding them of what was to come in the days ahead.
Rosh Chodesh Elul is the perfect time to consider our humanness – the tendency to wander, to get consumed with life and to stop paying attention. It carries a message of our ability to return, to reconnect, and to find ways to thrive spiritually in our physical world. The sound of the shofar penetrates our souls, drives us to action, and inspires us to do more.
This is a time for self-examination and renewed inspiration. It is a time to remember when we were at Sinai and our minds wandered from our relationship with G-d – right there in the midst of the whole Torah giving experience! The shofar was a tool then – as it is now - to keep us connected, to remind us to pay attention, and to engage us in a worthy life.
Rosh Chodesh Elul is a special time. We have time to get back on the right path, to assess where we’ve been in the past year, and to set the course for the upcoming year. Rosh Chodesh Elul is an entire month dedicated to coming closer to G-d. Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi says Elul is when “the king is in the field”, and we are all permitted to go and greet Him. So, go – run and greet the king – and embrace the month of Elul.