Preparing for the New Year
Elul — The Month Before Rosh Hashana
What is Teshuva?
Teshuva is translated as repentance, but it is actually a process of self-evaluation and self-improvement. The Hebrew month of Elul is the time to look over our weaknesses, see where we have transgressed, and do Teshuva. The Rambam (Rabbi Moses ben Maimon, Maimonides 1135 – 1204) enumerates four primary steps to Teshuva:
- Recognize and discontinue the action, which may be something as drastic as stealing or as common as losing one’s temper.
- Verbally confess the action, thus giving the action a concrete existence in one’s own mind.
- Regret the action. Evaluate the negative effects this action may have had on oneself or on others.
- Determine not to do the action again. Picture yourself in the same situation and create a positive way to handle it.
Teshuva for a sin between a person and G-d:
When one has transgressed a mitzvah that does not affect another person, the Teshuva is purely between the person and G-d; and the four steps listed above are necessary for the repentance process.
Teshuva for a sin between fellow human beings
When one has caused harm to another person, whether by stealing from them, by embarrassing them or anything else, then Teshuva requires that restitution and reconciliation be arranged between those involved. Before G-d can forgive the perpetrator, the victim must express forgiveness. It is customary during the month of Elul for people to seek out those they may have harmed, intentionally or unintentionally, and ask for mechilah, forgiveness.
- One must be sincere in their process of repentance and seek to repair the damage done the person, or at least attempt to do so.
- A person is obligated to ask for forgiveness three times. After three refusals, the person is no longer held accountable for that action as (s)he has proven true regret. The person who will not accept a sincere apology, however, is guilty of bearing a grudge. There are even those who say the transgression transfers to the person who refused to grant forgiveness
The Blowing of the Shofar
At the conclusion of morning services, starting on the second day of Elul, the month proceeding Rosh Hashana, it is customary for four “notes” to be sounded on the Shofar each morning.
- The Shofar is not blown on Shabbat.
- The Shofar is not blown on the day before Rosh Hashana
The blowing of the Shofar during the month of Elul is like a wake-up call to alert everyone that the Days of Judgment are approaching.
Selichot, special penitential prayers, are recited.
Selichot are recited just before dawn, except for the first night of selichot, when they are usually said just after midnight. The time to start saying selichot varies from community to community.
- Sephardim generally begin saying selichot on the second day of Elul
- Ashkenazim begin saying selichot on the Saturday night of the Shabbat that immediately proceeds Rosh Hashana. If there are fewer than four days between Shabbat and Rosh Hashana, selichot are begun on the Saturday night of the previous week.
Selichot may be said when praying alone, however, the Thirteen Attributes of G-d, which conclude the Selichot, are only said with a minyan.
Psalm 27 is added to the daily prayer service from the second day of Elul until Shemini Atzeret, the end of Sukkot. (This is an Ashkenazic custom) – It is generally added at the end of Shacharit (morning service) and Maariv (evening service), although some recite it after Shacharit (morning service) and Mincha (afternoon service).