The month of Elul is a great gift of love from Hashem. The four Hebrew letters of the month of Elul (אלול) are used to provide us with an understanding of what this great month of opportunity is all about. Perhaps the most well-known one is “אני לדודי ודודי לי–Ani l’dodi v’dodi li (I am my beloved’s, and my beloved is mine).” The first letter of each of the four words together spell the letters in the word אלול (Elul).
Many write that the days of the month of Elul are days of “rachamim and ratzon” – days of compassion and favor. These days have been embedded with compassion, favor, love, and opportunity since Moshe Rabbeinu went up to the summit of Har Sinai for 40 days, starting with the beginning of Elul and culminating with Yom Kippur, when he brought down the second set of Luchos. At that time, Hashem accepted our t’shuvah and we were completely forgiven for the sin of the golden calf and were consequently reunited with Hashem.
These are days of closeness to Hashem. While the opportunity for t’shuvah is present year-round, the availability and opportunity are by far greatest in the 40 days starting with Rosh Chodesh Elul. HaRav Aharon Kotler zt”l writes:
ונפתחים שערי חסד ורחמים, ואפשר להשיג בין בתשובה ובין בתורה ועבודה במעט עמל מה שצריך עמל רב בזמן אחר…
…and the gates of chesed [loving-kindness] and rachamim [compassion] are opened, and it is possible to achieve in the areas of repentance, Torah, and service [to the Almighty] with minimal exertion as compared with other times when [this achievement] would require significant exertion. [quoted from Yerach l’Moadim, by HaRav Yerucham Olshin]
Certainly one of the greatest opportunities of these days lies in tefilah. The Tur, quoted by the Beis Yosef in the Shulchan Aruch, writes that it is a great merit for one to increase asking Hashem for compassion in this month. One of the primary purposes of tefilah is “the longing of the soul for Hashem” [Chovos HaL’vavos]. Clearly in this month of closeness to our beloved, it behooves us to step up our intensity, mindfulness, and heart in our tefilos and brachos.
Coming early to davening and spending even one minute of silence and contemplation before we start our tefilos can have a dramatic impact on our tefilos. HaRav Shimshon Dovid Pincus, in his sefer Gates of Prayer, quotes the Bach (siman 98), who references the pasuk in T’hilim (10:17): תַּאֲוַת עֲנָוִים שָׁמַעְתָּ ה’; תָּכִין לִבָּם, תַּקְשִׁיב אָזְנֶךָ (The desire of the humble You have heard, Hashem; guide their heart, let Your ear be attentive.)
We see from this pasuk that it is only if Hashem directs our minds and hearts, that we can daven with the mind and heart necessary to have Hashem be attentive to our tefilah. However, the Bach says that we need to do our part to merit Hashem’s assistance. “הבא לטהר מסייעין אותו – He who comes to purify, he is assisted.” We need to come, even one minute early, and sit quietly and reflectively, desiring to connect with Hashem in the upcoming tefilah. If we desire it and put in at least the minimal effort, then Hashem will assist us and be attentive to our tefilos. Preparation for tefilah is a crucial ingredient. HaRav Pincus writes that when we come early to think about what we are about to do, we are demonstrating to Hashem that we truly desire to daven with mind and heart. When Hashem sees that we really want it, then He brings us close to Him.
The opportunity is before us. Let us show Hashem that we truly desire His closeness, and let us take maximum advantage of the great gift of Elul that Hashem has bestowed upon us.
NOTE: B’ezras Hashem, for the next few weeks, we will focus on the 13 Midos that we recite so often, starting with S’lichos and culminating in N’ilah at the close of Yom Kippur. We will, b’ezras Hashem, present both the meaning of the words as well as what we should be working on, in order to implement these words in our lives.