Elul - Returning to the Source

How a Jewish Soul Finds it's Roots

Elul__the month when the sound of the Shofar, arouses us toward Teshuva is upon us. Teshuva is often translated as repentance, however, a more accurate understanding is "return". So now, when everyone is looking over the last year, considering their actions, trying to meditate on their relationship with Hashem, where does Teshuva fit in? Return of what, and to what, you might ask? The return to our source, to our roots, to where we actually belong. Let's take a closer look...

Often in exploring complex subjects in Judaism, the mystical sources lead us to a deep understanding of what the Torah wants from us. When it comes to Teshuva, return, the Zohar tells us there are two types: higher teshuva (teshuva ila'a), and lower teshuva (teshuva tata). What the Zohar HaKodesh is telling us there is more than one way to relate to our actions: Elul is the monthe in which we contemplate our behaviour and actions of the past year, considering what we did or did not do this year, what we should or should not have done.

When we say about ourselves that we were "bad", put a value judgement on ourselves, and hopefully decide to do the right thing next year, this the Zohar refers to as "lower" teshuva. There is a natural impulse within us to right any wrongs we feel we did in the past year. This lower teshuva has the effect of purifying us, like going to the mikve before davening. The mikve cleanses us, preparing us for the elevation of davening.

The Zohar goes on to tell us that there is a teshuva that goes further, a teshuva that serves to uplift us. It's the teshuva (here eshuva means return) of a soul longng to unite with its source, wanting to return to the state of purity from which it came. It's the natural tendency of the Jewish soul to wan to cleave to G_d, like a candle which strives ever higher, to return to its source. This is what the Zohar calls "higher" teshuva. On this level, transgressions are forgiven not only because we regret them and ask for forgiveness, but because we not longer wish to engage in such activities. From our new position of spiritual understanding, te transgression was an act of spiritual immaturity.


Ani L'Dodi Ve Dodi Li

Another of the central themes of Elul is love. The constellation of the month is the Virgin: Elul is known as an auspicious time for finding one's soulmate. And the particular avoda (approach to serving G_d) is alluded to in the verse Ani l'dodi ve dodi li (I am to me beloved and my beloved is to me) found in Shir ha Shirim (Song Of Songs). The roshei tevot (acronym) in this verse spells the name of the month Elul in Hebrew. This tells us that in Elul there is a deep connection between finding one's soulmate and teshuva tata, working on oneself teshuva starts from us. The avoda comes from below to above this month. We initiate the lower teshuva by examining our lives in minute detail, looking for what we need to correct and perfect. Ultimately this brings us to the higher form of teshuva next month in Tishrei, the month of return to the source and re-creation.

Mystical Meditations

Elul and Tishrei

Some pointers about the next two months from Sefer Yetzirah and other sources


Elul's letter is the yud. The yud is the tiny original point which is the source and beginning of all letters. It is so small that it seems like nothing, yet it gives rise to the entire rest of the alef-bet. Yud represents the highest of the ten sephirot - chochma (wisdom) or bittul (self nullification): In order to work on yourself you have to nullify yourself in order to see what it is you need to perfect. Only by making ourselves small, like a yud, can we ultimately become our true selves and do the avoda which is required of us in Elul.

Tishrei's letter is the lamed, the teacher. After we the lower teshuva in Elul, we are ready to receive new levels of spiritual energy from above. Until now the avoda was from below to above and now we are ready to be taught what Hashem has to teach us in the new year.


The tribe of Elul is Gad. Gad lived outside of Israel proper, because he wanted to be close to where Moses was buried. (He wanted to stay close to the King in the field). The tribe of Tishrei is Ephraim, he was the product of Yosef in the house of the Egyptian, Pharaoh, representing the King in the palace.


The part of the body which corresponds to Elul is the left hand, about which the sages said that it uplifts: the "left hand" of G_d is that which awakens us to do teshuva and return to our source, while His right hand embraces us (Gemara, Ketuvot, p.50). the organ of Tishrei is the sexual reproductive organ, through the avoda of Elul, we reach the total unity of soul with G_d during Tishrei.

There is a relationship between Elul and Tishrei which corresponds to that between Pesach and Shavuout. From Pesach (going out of Egypt) until Shavuout (receiving the Torah) we count 49 days (the seven emotions each with seven more within them). And from the beginning of Elul until the end of the holidays of Tishrei (actually just until Hoshana Raba) we also find 49 days. In Elul, the count stars from the beginning of the month, since the teshuva is from below to above. Pesach on the other hand starts from a revelation from above (G_d revealed himself to the jews in order to take them out), therefore the count starts from the middle of the month when the moon is full. In both cases the counting represents the work we d on ourselves in order to take something from a state of transcendent G_dliness to a state of immanent spirituality.

The Thirteen Petals of the Rose

From the inner dimensions of Torah (the Zohar, Kabbalah and ultimately Chassidut), we learn that during the month of Elul there is a unique mystical theme. The Zohar calls it the "thirteen petals of the rose", Kabbalah calls it the "thirteen strands of the beard," and from Chassidut we learn that it is the "thirteen aspects of mercy." Why thirteen and what does it represent?

First of all, thirteen is the numerical value of the word Echad, meaning one. This one is composed of the thirteen sefirot (three of keter and the ten from chocma down to malchut). Taken all together , these thirteen represent a unity, a wholeness, which is "one". If this one, tough, is made specially available to us through prayer and teshuva during the month of Elul, why do we then need the following month of Tishre, and indeed, any other month?

The answer lies in the dichotomy which is known as transcendent G_dliness versus immanent spirituality. We all know that there are things in life which are beyond us, we know they exist (in our case, that He, D_d, exists), but we cannot grasp them. This is referred to in Chassidut as Or sovev, or transcendent G_dliness. On the other hand, there are those things in the spiritual realm which we can readily grasp: sometimes they require more effort and sometimes less, but they are within reach. This is referred to in Chassidut as Or memalleh, or immanent spirituality. Things which we initially perceive as beyond us, can often (through a process of growth and understanding) be grasped and internalized. Thus, with the passage of time, transcendent G_dliness can become immanent spirituality

This is the relationship between Elul and Tishrei. In Elul, we complete the avodah (service) of the past year (there being either twelve of thirteen months in the year), bringing us to a higher level. Initially we feel that higher level as transcendent G_dliness. The completion of the previous year is felt, but not yet internalized. The internalization has to wait for the avoda of Tishrei. Then also the revelation of the new year becomes available to us. Tishrei is the month in which the preceding year's avodah becomes fixed within us and a new, higher level of transcendent G_dliness reveals itself. This is also the meaning of the parable of the King in the field. Since we don't yet grasp the spirituality which we have been exposed to in Elul, we go "out to the field" to look for the King. The "field" is the open expanse where no boundaries hamper our spiritual search, we are free to look for Him without interference. We have faith that He will appear. Thus the sages described emunah (faith) as something which must be cultivated or in their words, "pastured". And pasturing, of course, takes place in the field..

The Rebbe's Voice

Rabbi M.M. Schneerson, ztz'l

The previous Rebbe mentioned two saying from the elder Chassidim: Chai Elul (the 18th day of Elul, which was the birthday of the Ba'al Shem Tov and the Ba'al HaTanya is the day which brought and brings life into the month of Elul, and, Chai Elul adds energy to the service of "I am to my beloved and He is for me"

<>The difference between the two sayings is not only in style but in content. The first saying emphasizes time_Chai Elul isn't just any day, but the day which brings life. The second saying, does not mention the day specifically, but rather emphasizes the significance of the day. According to the first saying, it is Chai Elul, the day itself, which draws life into the month: the second statement cmes to day that the content of Chai Elul is that enlivens the month.


At first glance there seems to be a contradiction regarding our avoda in Elul. On the other hand, the avoda of the month is initiated below, by us, and rises above to G_d. the Alter Rebbe (the Ba'al a Tanya) however, stated that Elul is a time of favorable response from above, in Elul the thirteen attributes of mercy shine down upon us.

Elul is one of several times during the year which G_d chooses as auspicious, whether or not we choose to take advantage of it. As much as we try to elevate ourselves from below, we also need help from above.

If this is true of the entire month of Elul, it is specially true of the day Chai Elul. The Ba'al Ha Shem Tov and the Alter rebbe, were born in Chai Elul, making it an auspicious day to bring and inject life force into the month. The content of this lofe force our own service from below to above_ is the message which is iven and delivered on this day. Thus, both sayings of the elder Chassidim are true: the day itself injects life, while the content of the day arouses us to improve our service from below.

Adapted from the Rebbe's sichos(volume 29, p. 161)

Chassidic Insights

Rabbi M.M. Schneerson, ztz�l

When you go out to war against your enemies and G_d gives them to you,�and you see a beautiful captive woman and desire her and marry her�� (Deuteronomy, 21:10)

A possible interpretation: �when you go out to war and your enemies��as soon as you experience teshuva and go out to war against your yetzer hara (evil inclination), then certainly G_d will give it into your hands, as the sages said, �open for me the space of a needle and I will open to you like a tremendous hall.� (Pirkei Avot)

��and when you see a beautiful captive woman�, this is also a promise that G_d will enable you to conquer the evil inclination, and then you will become aware of how the Shechina (G_d�s presence manifest in this world) is, so to speak, in a state of captivity. Then you will desire her for the purpose of taking her out of captivity, and marrying her.

Degel Machane Ephraim,
Reb Moshe Chaim Ephraim, from Sadilkov, grandson of the Baal Shem Tov

During these days of Elul, we must separate and distance ourselves as much as possible from the things of the world, in order to actualize that which the verse hints at when it says, � I am for my beloved (G_d)�� And by doing so, we fulfill the second part of the verse in the month of Tishrei, ��and my beloved is to me��And this is then becomes a blessing of life and bounty for the entire year.

Sfas Emet,
Reb Yehuda Aryeh Leib of Gur

The month of Elul brings about a arousal from below describes by the verse, �I am to my beloved��This lasts until Tishrei. We know that during Elul there is a revelation of the love which is called the �thirteen Aspects of Mercy�. If there is such a high level of revelation, we must understand why these days are not holidays. This is understood through a parable:

As the King approaches the city of his dwelling, the townspeople go out to greet him, meeting his entourage in the field. There, in the field, the King receives his subjects pleasantly, is accessible to them and receptive to their requests. As he enters the city they follow him. However, once he enters his palace, no one may enter without permission, and then only selected officials and unique individuals are granted an audience with the King.

So it is during the month of Elul, we go out to the field to find the King, Hashem�s, countenance�It isn�t necessary to make yomim tovim and holidays in order to apprehend G_d during Elul. He is accessible to all. During this month He is in the field, returning from the �battles� of the year, from having helped us do our job and fulfill our purpose in the world.

Likutei Torah, Parshat Re�eh,
Reb Shneur Zalman of Liadi, the Ba�al Ha Tanya