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Elul: Preparing for the High Holy Days

“These are My appointed feasts, the appointed feasts of the LORD, which you are to proclaim as sacred assemblies.”  (Leviticus 23:2)

The very special and holy time known as the High Holy Days—Rosh HaShanah (Jewish New Year) and Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement)—is just around the corner.

shofar-honey-apples-Jewish New Year

The shofar, apples and honey are perhaps the best known symbols of Rosh Hashanah, which is just around the corner!

These Biblical feasts and fasts, which are called moadim in Hebrew, are appointed times.

The Book of Leviticus in the Torah specifies the reason for each of them and how they are to be celebrated.

Although many people, including Christians, consider these holidays to be “Jewish holidays,” the moadim are in fact God’s Holy Days and festivals.

As such, they are entirely relevant to anyone who wants to know Him and have a better understanding of the New Covenant.  We invite you to share this special season with us!

“These are the LORD’s appointed feasts, the sacred assemblies you are to proclaim at their appointed times.”  (Leviticus 23:4)

Shofar-Tallit-Greater Kudu-Jewish New Year

This Jewish Israeli has his tallit (prayer shawl) over his head as he blows a shofar fashioned from a Greater Kudu horn.

Sounding the Shofar in Preparation of Rosh HaShanah

We are now in the final days of Elul, the Hebrew month that is set aside as a time to repent and begin the process of asking forgiveness in preparation for Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur.

Because of that, the shofar has been and is continuing to be sounded every morning except Shabbat in many Orthodox Jewish communities.

It’s piercing, haunting sound stirs our hearts to seek God and repent of the sin in our lives.

Blowing-hearing-shofar

Ram’s horn shofar: The call of the shofar is a call to teshuvah (repentance).

A well-known and greatly respected Jewish sage of the Middle Ages, Maimonides, likened the sound of the shofar to an alarm call that awakens us:

“Sleepers, arise from your slumber, and those who are dozing, awake from your lethargy.  Review your actions, repent from your sins, and remember your Creator!”  (Hilchot Teshuvah 3)

Likewise, the Brit Chadashah (New Testament) exhorts us to wake from our spiritual slumber and make the most of our time by loving and following God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, rather than following empty or frivolous pursuits.

“Wake up, O sleeper, rise from the dead, and Messiah will shine on you.  Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.”  (Ephesians 5:14–16)

Orthodox_Man_praying_at_the_Western_Wall

An Orthodox man earnestly petitions Elohim (God) at the Western Wall.

Selichot Confessions

As the new year approaches and the month of Elul draws to a close, the call to repentance is being felt all the more urgently throughout the Jewish community.

Since Rosh HaShanah begins on the evening of September 4, special penitential prayers called Selichot (pronounced s’lee-KHOT, meaning forgiveness) will be added to the daily morning prayer service this Sunday in Ashkenazi communities (Jews of France, Germany, and Eastern Europe and their descendants).

However, the Sephardic Jewish community (Jews of Spain, Portugal, North Africa and the Middle East and their descendants) has been saying these special prayers throughout the month of Elul.

And they are not short; they add an extra 45 minutes to the regular daily morning service.

They are often recited before the sun rises.

A central theme found throughout these prayers is the 13 Attributes of Mercy (Shelosh-Esreh Middot), which were revealed to Moses on Mount Sinai and enumerated in Exodus.

“The Lord, The Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion, and sin.  Yet He does not leave the leave the guilty unpunished.”  (Exodus 34:6–7)

Selichot-western-wailing-wall-Jerusalem-Kotel

Selichot is prayed before the morning prayers.

The Hebrew word selichot is related to slichah, which is the equivalent expression for excuse me, I’m sorry, and forgive me.

Although we strive to live a pure and holy life before God, all of us sin and fall short of the glory of God.

Each one of us needs to repent and ask forgiveness for the many errors we make that hurt ourselves and others.

“Let us examine our ways and test them, and let us return to the LORD.”  (Lamentations 3:40)

This is a special time in which we both request forgiveness from those we have wronged and extend forgiveness to those who have wronged us.

Jewish tradition, in fact, holds that God cannot forgive us for sins that we commit against another until we obtain forgiveness from the person we wronged.

Forgiveness and saying sorry can be life changing.

They are crucial to leaving the past behind and moving forward with God’s plan for our lives.

Asking for forgiveness is pivotal to repentance, a closer walk with God and to successful relationships with our family, friends and our fellowman.

women-kotel-prayer

Women pray in Jerusalem.

Yeshua (Jesus), however, also identified unforgiveness as a critical issue.

He said that it would keep us from receiving forgiveness from our Heavenly Father.

“For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.  But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”  (Matthew 6:14–15)

Since fallen human nature leads to sin and unforgiveness, God provided this special time to focus on repentance and forgiveness.

Western-Wall-Prayer

Praying at the Western (Wailing) Wall in Jerusalem.

This period of Selichot, repentance and forgiveness does not end on the last day of Elul, which is next Wednesday.

In most Jewish communities, Selichot will continue to be recited in prayer services right through the Days of Awe or Ten Days of Repentance, a special ten-day period that begins with Rosh HaShanah (the Jewish New Year) on September 4th and culminates with Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) on September 14th.

This ten-day period is an even more intensive time of introspection and 
self-examination.

It provides everyone the opportunity to survey the condition of their lives and hearts and get right with God.

Interestingly enough, the very name Israel (pronounced Yis-RA-el in Hebrew) can be taken to mean right with God, from two Hebrew words—Yashar (straight, right, or honest) and El (God)

Western_Wall_Telihim_Jerusalem_Orthodox_Man_Prays

An Orthodox man in Jerusalem meditates on the Tehillim (Psalms).

During these final days of Elul and throughout the High Holiday season, may we each be challenged to look inside ourselves, asking the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit) to reveal hidden sin in our hearts and lives.

Over the next three weeks, please join with the Jewish People worldwide and here in Israel, repeating the prayer of the Psalmist David:

“Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.  See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”  (Psalm 139:23-24)