Elul and the Days of Awe:
The Season of Judgment, Mercy, Repentance, and the Return of Yeshua
“Return to the Lord your God, you and your children, and obey His voice in all that I command you today, with all your heart and with all your soul.” (Deuteronomy 30:2)
“This is what the LORD Almighty says: ‘Give careful thought to your ways.’” (Haggai 1:7)
Today is the third day of Elul, the last month of the Jewish civil calendar that ends on Erev Rosh Hashanah, Jewish New Year’s Eve (September 24, 2014).
The Hebrew month of Elul begins the season of blowing the shofar (ram’s horn) and seeking God in sincere repentance.
As the last month of the calendar, it commences the critical liturgical season of return and repentance.
The Hebrew word for repentance or returning to the Lord is teshuvah. This is a word that indicates a turning back (shuv) to God. We see this word used in Genesis 3:19 when the Lord tells Adam “and to dust you will return (va-el afar tashuv).”
Teshuvah indicates both a turning away from evil as well as a turning toward what is good. In turning toward God, one dedicates his entire soul to serving Him.
“Return, faithless Israel, declares Adonai I will not look on you in anger, for I am merciful, declares Adonai. I will not be angry forever.” (Jeremiah 3:12)
Judgment and Mercy in Elul and the Days of Awe
Elul leads up to the Yamim Noraim (Days of Awe), a time of intensely focusing on repentance and forgiveness. The Days of Awe begin with Erev Rosh Hashanah on September 24 and end with the close of Yom Kippur on the night of October 4 (1–10 Tishrei).
As such, it is traditionally considered to be a time of introspection, taking stock of one’s life, evaluating one’s actions, and contemplating what one has accomplished during the previous year both materially and spiritually.
The very word Elul (which is an ancient Akkadian word meaning harvest) is similar to the Aramaic root verb meaning search. Elul is followed by the month of Tishrei, which commences with Rosh Hashanah, a period of reconciliation.
According to rabbinic tradition, Moses returned to Mount Sinai during the month of Elul, remaining there for 40 days following the incident of the Golden Calf (Exodus 32; 34:27–28). This would have been the time between the new moon or Rosh Chodesh of Elul and the holy day of Yom Kippur, which is the 10th of Tishrei, a period of 40 days in which he prayed to God to forgive the Hebrew people for the sin of the Golden Calf.
According to the book of rabbinic teachings, the Talmud (Bava Bathra 121a), his returning with a second set of tablets is considered as evidence of God’s mercy.
Elul: Wisdom and Understanding, Mercy and Forgiveness
Because Hebrew letters are also numbers, a mystical belief or tradition has arisen in Judaism regarding deciphering the meaning of words by evaluating their numeric value.
The letters that make up the word Elul have a number value of 67, so it is associated with another Hebrew word that shares the same numeric value: the word binah (בינה), which is Hebrew for wisdom or understanding.
From this, it is supposed that the month of Elul is the time given to us by God to grow in wisdom, a time for reflecting on where one stands within the overall framework of God’s mercy and justice.
While the preceding month, the Hebrew month of Av, with its many catastrophes, may suggest a moving away from God, Elul becomes the time to grow in binah (wisdom) and to begin to make things right with Him—the time for teshuva or repentance.
It is also possible to read 67 as 6+7, resulting in the number 13.
For this reason, Elul is also associated with The Thirteen Attributes of Divine Mercy that are based on God’s words to Moses when He passed by him on Mount Sinai:
“Then the Lord passed by in front of him and proclaimed, ‘The Lord, the Lord God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth; who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin; yet He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished, visiting the iniquity of fathers on the children and on the grandchildren to the third and fourth generations.’” (Exodus 34:6–7)
The Exodus passage above reveals God’s divine mercy toward the Israelites who sinned, and so it is read as part of the Selichot (forgiveness) prayers that are recited daily during this 40-day period of Elul plus the Ten Days of Awe. These days are a time of spiritual cleansing culminating with Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.
Thus, Elul is also referred to as the month of mercy and forgiveness (Hodesh haRahamin vehaSelichot). It is the time to renew one’s efforts in prayer, Torah study and charity and to ask forgiveness from others that you may have harmed.
It is a Jewish tradition that God cannot forgive us for sins committed against another person until we first go to the person we have wronged and obtain forgiveness.
Daniel 2:21 – And he changes the times and the seasons: he removes kings, and appoints kings: He gives wisdom to the wise, and knowledge to them that know understanding: It is God who in His great mercy appoints times and seasons throughout the Jewish year. In the Messiah and because of His atoning sacrifice, our sins have been blotted out as far as the east is from the west. But we are still prone to missing the mark (sin). Our yes is not always yes. And so, in great wisdom,, HaShem has extended an annual season for us to reflect, to do a spiritual stock-taking as it were, and to go and be reconciled to others.
Embrace this season in the understanding that it is the goodness of God that leads to repentence.