Elul: A Month of RepentanceThe Jewish month of Elul has begun; in Jerusalem, repentance is in the air. Religious Jews are attending lectures on repentance, and uttering special prayers every day for forgiveness. Some even attend nightly prayers at synagogue, every night. In schools, children start the year with a cycle of classes on the importance of prayer and atonement for sins.
Elul is the month leading up to Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. During the two-day holiday of Rosh Hashanah, Jews believe that they are judged by God for their sins, and their fate for the upcoming year is decided. Some envision a courtroom in heaven, where God judges each Jew inpidually, as well as the Jewish people as a nation.
The decision that is reached in God’s courtroom on Rosh Hashanah is sealed ten days later on the solemn holiday of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. The entire day of Yom Kippur consists of fasting and fervent prayer for forgiveness.
The ten days that begin with Rosh Hashanah and conclude with Yom Kippur are known as the Ten Days of Repentance, and the holidays themselves are considered the High Holy Days of the Jewish calendar. Even Jews who usually do not observe religious practices regard the day of Yom Kippur with particular respect and even may participate in the day’s prayers.
Since the population of Jerusalem is predominantly Jewish and religious, the month of Elul pervades the atmosphere of the city. Repentance is now a paramount concern, as religious Jews strive to prepare for Rosh Hashanah by contemplating their actions in the past year.
Soul-Searching for Complete Repentance
An important aspect of repentance from the Jewish perspective is self-awareness and the admission that one has done wrong. Once repentance has been carried out, the slate is wiped clean. For this reason, Yom Kippur, in all its solemnity, is considered a joyful day—it is a day when one who has sinned can be redeemed and is considered a new person with a new destiny. The past is no longer relevant—all that matters is the future.
The idea that self-awareness and admission of wrongdoing can lead to redemption is not only applicable in a religious setting. Psychologists have long agreed that self-awareness is key to personal change. The purpose of Elul is to ensure that at least once a year, people look within themselves and see the truth.
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