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Sept 16 , 2016

The High Holiday season begins with the inception of the month of Elul. Forty days before the festival of Rosh Hashanah we begin our preparations. What makes the month of Elul so special?

In his Compendium of Jewish law (OH 581), the Tur explains that it was on the first day of Elul that Moses ascended the mountain to receive the second Luhot Haberit. Forty days earlier, on the 17th day of the month of Tammuz, Moses descended the mountain with the first Tablets. He was filled with excitement as he approached the nation, readying himself to give them G-d’s law. But everything came shattering down when, instead of finding an awe inspired nation waiting impatiently for the Tablets, he found them dancing in a frenzy around the Golden Calf. It was the ultimate moment of betrayal.

Forty days later on the first day of Elul, Moses once again ascended the mountain to receive the second Tablets of the Law. He would remain atop the mountain for another forty days, descending on Yom Kippur to give the nation the new Tablets. 

It is intriguing to imagine what was going on between Moses and G-d during those forty days from the first day of Elul to Yom Kippur. What could Moses say to G-d after such betrayal? Our Rabbis explain that he was steeped in prayer, relentlessly asking G-d to forgive the Jewish people. G-d’s wrath was great but Moses persevered, and finally prevailed at the end of the forty days on Yom Kippur. G-d forgave the Jewish nation and agreed to begin anew. 

The message for all of us is a great one. The month of Elul begins a new page in the relationship between G-d and the Jewish people. It is a time of love and compassion. It is a time of renewed trust. It teaches us that we can rebuild relationships even after they have been seriously challenged. It teaches us that there is a time to mend even when the pain runs deep. It teaches us that even after betrayal there can be love and reconciliation. It teaches us to never lose hope.

Our Rabbis in the Talmud (Rosh Hashanah 10b) explain that on the first day of Tishrei, on Rosh Hashanah, Joseph, the forsaken son of Jacob was freed from an Egyptian prison.He had been betrayed by his brothers, thrown into a pit filled with snakes and scorpions, sold into Egyptian slavery, and imprisoned for a crime he did not commit. Who would have blamed him had he later taken revenge against his brothers? Yet he chose to forgive,he chose to let go of the past and forge a new relationship of love and trust with his brothers. When he emerged from that pit on Rosh Hashanah, he resolved to put the past behind and find the inner strength and courage to forgive and start anew. Joseph becomes the model of what we must strive for during the month of Elul.

Dear friends, there is too much hatred and jealousy in our world. It is easy to live in anger and hang on to the slightest injustices. Elul and the High Holidays teach us that we must learn to forgive. The month of Elul, which ushers in the High Holiday season, teaches us that even when our relationships are seriously challenged we can rebuild them with trust, compassion, and love. 

Wishing you all a Shana Tova, 

Rabbi Yosef Benarroch

Adas Yeshurun Herzlia


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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

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