Shofar Blasts in Month of Elul

August 27, 2012 | by Yerachmiel Fried

I recently heard a lecture where the speaker, discussing recent events in Israel and the Middle East, mentioned in passing that these events are befitting the Jewish month of Elul. Although many listeners nodded in understanding, I was not sure what he was referring to; what does a Jewish month have to do with events in Israel?

The Aish Rabbi Replies

The Jewish month of Elul is the month which precedes Rosh Hashanah. Traditionally, Jews have assigned tremendous significance to this month. The father of the Mussar Movement, Rabbi Yisrael Salanter (19th Century), writes that he remembers in his youth how the entire congregation would literally tremble when the reader announced the upcoming month of Elul. This trembling stemmed from the very palpable belief that Rosh Hashanah is the Day of Judgment when all matters, from monetary to life-and-death, are judged and decided.

Rabbi Salanter writes that this "trembling" bore fruit, as each person used that announcement as a wake-up call to seriously reflect upon, and improve, their thoughts and deeds. He laments how, in his old age, that "trembling" has been largely lost among the Jewish people. (What would he say of our times?)

The converse theme of Elul is one of deepening and enhancing our love relationship with the Almighty. The word "Elul" is spelled Aleph-Lamed-Vav-Lamed, which forms an acronym for the words of the verse "Ani Ledodi Vedodi Li" – "I am to my Beloved and my Beloved is to me" (Song of Songs 6:3). "My Beloved" is referring to God. The verse is saying that to the extent we reach out and extend our love to God, in turn He reaches back and extends His love to me. The month in which God reaches out more than any other is Elul, when the Heavenly gates of love are opened, beseeching us all to enter and reconnect with the Almighty as never before.

Since the beginning of Jewish history, Elul has been the month where God expresses his love and mercy to the Jews. After the sin of the Golden Calf and the smashing of the first set of tablets, the Jews repented and God invited Moses to return to Mount Sinai. This day was the first day of Elul. Moses remained there for 40 days and nights, culminating in God's forgiveness on the 40th day, the first Yom Kippur.

The morning Moses returned to the mountain, the first day of Elul, the shofar was blasted throughout the camp to remind the Jews not to return to their mistaken ways of the Calf. In commemoration of that, and to serve as a wakeup call to all Jews to improve their ways, it is customary in synagogues throughout the world to blow the shofar every morning of Elul after the morning service, till the day before Rosh Hashanah. This serves as a double reminder: the Day of Judgment is coming, improve our deeds! Also, make the most of this special time to forge a stronger, more meaningful love relationship with God. (These two messages are really two sides of the same coin.)

Perhaps the speaker you mention was referring to the events in and around Israel as a type of shofar, a wake-up call for all Jews to introspection. The Land of Israel is surrounded by unprecedented levels of danger: well-equipped terrorist enemies from all sides, a crumbling peace treaty with Egypt, the specter of a nuclear Iran. This is all given extra strength by a radically anti-Israeli Europe, which, according to the Wiesenthal Center, is expressing levels of anti-Semitism that rival the late 1930s. If all this isn't a "shofar" blasting loud and clear, I don't know what is.

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