Preparing for the New Year

Elul — The Month Before Rosh Hashana

1. Teshuva- Repentance

2. Customs of Elul

Teshuva – Repentance

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:

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.

Customs of Elul

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 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.

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).