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Elul: The King Is In The Field

Updated: Mar 22, 2023

What is Elul?

Before any major performance, whether a presentation at work or the Olympic games, we prepare. We know that preparation is the key to success in everything. What if I told you that on a certain day, you were going to be judged for the coming year and that everything- your relationships, your finances, your opportunities, your challenges, your life, would be decided on that day. How much more would you prepare?

The Hebrew month of Elul, which is the last month of the Jewish year, is the “prep” month for Rosh Hashanah (lit. “The Head of the Year”). On Rosh Hashanah, G-d will judge us for the coming year and on Yom Kippur that judgment will be sealed.[1]

A common question asked is, why are we judged on Rosh Hashanah and then apologizing for our sins on Yom Kippur? Shouldn’t it be the other way around? One answer is that when we are judged, we are forced to examine our deeds; only then can we repent. This is why we have the Ten Days of Teshuvah (repentance) in between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, and then Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, as our last chance to atone for our sins in the past year. Yet by doing the work of teshuvah in Elul, we can show up to shul on Rosh Hashanah as our best selves and merit the best possible judgment for the coming year.

In Elul, which is an acronym for the famous verse “I am my Beloved’s and my Beloved is mine,” the Jewish people is “I” and G-d is our “Beloved.”[2] During Elul, the Jewish people are meant to come closer to G-d, which causes G-d to come closer to the Jewish people during Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.[3]

To make it easier for us to come closer, G-d comes down to us, so to speak, during Elul. This is why we say in Elul, “the King is in the field.” The Lubavitcher Rebbe explains that during Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, G-d is in His palace. He is on His heavenly throne and we stand in shul with awe. During Elul, however, G-d is amongst us, and “everyone has the license and the capacity to greet him.”[4]

In simple terms, during Elul, G-d makes it easier to come close to Him and to do teshuvah. Sara Yoheved Rigler says that G-d helps us with any small effort we make to do teshuvah.[5] The Lubavitcher Rebbe goes even further to say that one who wants to do teshuvah, but is trapped within his bad desires and habits, will be able to overcome his obstacles during Elul by simply wanting to do teshuvah![6]

What Is Teshuvah?

That voice within you saying “I want to be better,” “I want good,” and even “Maybe I shouldn’t do this,” is the piece of your soul that is connected to G-d.[7]That is the voice of teshuvah.

It doesn’t matter how far you may feel from G-d or from Torah. Every Jew has the “Pintele Yid,” the spark of the Jewish soul, that is connected to G-d. Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller explains that our souls are like a flame. She teaches that every bad thing we do (“bad” being defined as that which moves us further away from our true selves and from G-d) is like a garment around our souls. The garments may dim the flame, but it can never be extinguished. The “Pintele Yid” is eternal.

On Elul, G-d helps us to unwrap those garments so that our best self can shine through.[8]

How do we do teshuvah? Although there are various opinions on the exact order, Rabbi Yaacov Hillel, a master of Torah and Kabbalah in Israel, presents the three essential steps involved:

  1. We must first admit to ourselves the mistakes we have made and honestly regret them.

  2. We must commit to not repeating those mistakes, which includes taking the proper precautions to prevent them from happening again.

  3. We must confess our sins to Hashem (G-d).[9]

Your Elul Plan

Set aside some time this month and think about this past year: what went well and what didn’t? What did you do that you feel bad about? Do teshuvah on those actions by following the three steps above. Is there anyone who you should call and ask forgiveness from? Now is the time to do it. (One of my teachers taught me, if you value the relationship more than your ego, then apologize, even if you think you are right.)

Next, think about the year ahead. Spiritual growth teacher Rabbi Nivin suggests making a “presume,” a resume where you presume everything you will accomplish in the next year. To make this easier, he suggests categorizing your goals: relationships, health, religion, career, etc. While setting your goals for next year and doing teshuvah on mistakes you made, think about what your biggest challenges are in achieving your future goals. Make a plan for how to work on one or two of them.

Rabbi Yaacov Hillel advises us, “To avoid becoming overwhelmed by all we have to correct in ourselves, it’s best to pick one small point on which to work. Once we have made a sincere resolution, it is considered as if done, and we can face Rosh Hashanah. Then Hashem will treat us as true penitents, and He will reward us by helping us bring our resolution to fruition.”[10]

I bless us all that we make the time for ourselves this Elul and that we be written and inscribed in the book of Life for all revealed blessing this year!

Resource Suggestion (all levels): Elul & The High Holidays

Book Suggestion (advanced): Moadei Hashanah- Elul and Rosh Hashanah

[1] How Is It Possible that G-d Can Decide Everything Yet We Still Have Free Will? While Divine Providence and free will seem to contradict each other logically (only because we perceive G-d’s infinite, transcendent knowledge as similar to human finite, limited knowledge), the Torah teaches that both principles exist in the world. As discussed in my article on control, G-d sets our stage by orchestrating our life circumstances. We write our life’s script in the moral decisions we make within those predetermined circumstances. See Rabbi Akiva Tatz, Will, Freedom & Destiny for a deeper discussion on the subject.

[2] Shir HaShirim 6:3

[3] The Lubavitcher Rebbe, Ani LedDodi 5726, Sections 1 & 2, available here.

[4] Id. at Section 3.

[5] Rabbi Tatz explains that the Jewish calendar is “charged with the energy to help us achieve what we need to achieve at that moment.” Rabbi Akiva Tatz, Living Inspired, p. 130. In Elul, this means that G-d helps us with any effort we make toward teshuvah.

[6] The Lubavitcher Rebbe, Ani LedDodi 5726, Section 4.

[7] Id. at Section 7. “Since the inner desire of the Jewish people for G-dliness comes as a result of their existence being rooted in G-d’s Essence…”

[8] See my article about G-d calling on the Jews to return to ourselves, for ourselves.

[9] Rabbi Yaacov Hillel, Ascending Jacob’s Ladder, p. 17.

[10] Id. at  p. 43.

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