by: Ilse Strauss, News Bureau Chief
Life’s special occasions call for extra preparation. We make the effort to study for the important test, train for the marathon, dress up for the big anniversary and bring out the good china when special guests come for dinner. The more extraordinary the event, the bigger the effort and the more intense the preparations. An appointment with royalty is certainly considered an extraordinary event—all the more so if the royal in question is the King of kings and Lord of lords. In Jewish thinking, Rosh HaShanah (Jewish New Year) is such an appointment, a set time when the hearts and actions of humanity come before the King for judgment. The magnitude of an occasion like that begs the question: how does a mere mortal whose “days are like grass” (Ps. 103:15) prepare for such a meeting with the Almighty King? Thankfully, the Almighty King doesn’t expect humanity to forge its own means of preparation. Instead, He has lovingly implemented His avenue for man to walk in. That avenue is called Elul.
Leviticus 23:24 calls Rosh HaShanah “a memorial of blowing of trumpets.” According to Moshe Kempinski, it is considered vital that every Jew hears the sound of the shofar (ram’s horn) during this two-day feast. Kempinski, an Orthodox Jew, has significant experience explaining Jewish principles to Christian audiences. His biblical gift store, Shorashim, offers a haven in the Old City both for those looking for the perfect souvenir from Jerusalem and for Christians seeking the roots of their faith. On Rosh HaShanah, he says, “we declare God as the King of the universe. In biblical days, the sound of the shofar signaled the coronation of a king. This feast is thus a time of coronation.”
The declaration—and coronation—establishes an important mindset. “We acknowledge and affirm God as the King of the universe—not me or my own will—but Him alone. In the coronation of God we simply say: ‘I’m not the master of my destiny. There is a God, and I want to be in compliance and unison with His will.’”
Yet Rosh Hashanah, which literally translates to the head or the first of the year, is also a crucial memorial: the birthday of the universe, the day on which God made man, Kempinski holds. “We believe this, the New Year, is the day the world was created, that the world’s calendar begins at the creation of Adam.”
In Jewish thought, the anniversary of creation is also set aside as the annual Yom Hadin, or Day of Judgment, when all of humanity stands before God and He presides over the hearts and actions of man as the King of the universe. Kempinski is quick to point out, however, that judgment in Judaism does not hold a connotation of punishment, but rather an examination to gauge where you have strayed from the path—and instructions on how to return.
Regardless, the idea of standing before the King of the Universe can be overwhelming, frightening even, Kempinski concedes. “We think to ourselves, ‘Who am I to do that?’ But the Almighty King is also our Father, and because He is our Father, He has already created the way for us to appear before Him without any of the pretenses, the things that keep us from Him and the failures we feel within ourselves.”
Elul, the last month in the biblical calendar and the final month before Rosh Hashanah, marks the beginning of a pivotal cycle on the almanac. It is a period of heart preparation, introspection and personal stocktaking spent in repentance and prayer, seeking mercy and forgiveness with a humble heart to identify the transgressions of the past year so they will not be repeated in the year ahead. It is a time dedicated to prepare for a meeting with the King.
As on Rosh HaShanah, the piercing sound of the shofar marks every Elul weekday morning, a call to stir complacent hearts to repentance. God promises in Malachi 3:7 that He will return to those who return to Him, Kempinski explains, but it is up to man to take that step. Psalm 27 is also recited daily during Elul, a proclamation that “God is our light, salvation and strength”—and the One who leads us back into the King’s palace through our relationship with the Father.
Ultimately, Kempinski says, the traditions, customs, introspection, stocktaking and repentance during Elul is about the restoration of that relationship, a process that speaks of romance and intimacy. The Hebrew letters of Elul—aleph, lamed, vav, lamed (אלוּלֹ)—form an acronym for Song of Solomon 6:3: “I am my beloved’s, and my beloved is mine.” Kempinski points out a common misunderstanding in this verse. The Hebrew does not say “I am my beloved’s,” implying possession and belonging, but rather “I am towards my beloved and my beloved is towards me,” implying relationship, turning to one another and movement. And the King, he explains, is the One who initiates that movement.
Jewish sages teach that during Elul, the King is in the field. What does that mean? During the days of Elul, ahead of Rosh HaShanah, the day humanity appears before God’s throne for judgment, the King leaves His palace to meet with His people outside the royal residence. “It is like God saying to us: ‘You may think you cannot come into My palace, cannot enter My throne room. Don’t worry. I’ll come to you. I’ll meet you in your field. Just look around you. I’m right where you are, where you work, where you study, where you live. I’m there because I want to invite you to My palace. Because not only am I your King; I’m also your Father. And as your Father, I’m inviting you to sit with Me as the King.’”
Jewish and Christian beliefs vary on a number of issues. As an organization that blesses and stands with Israel, we want to provide you with a glimpse into Jewish thinking to enable understanding and foster mutual respect.
At Bridges for Peace, we have found in the days of Elul a special time to humble ourselves in prayer and repentance, seeking the face of God our Father and Creator. We invite you to join us and the Jewish community during this important period. Our daily devotional Repent the Day before You Die will take you on an introspective journey with God that will impact your relationship with Him and those around you. Click here to purchase through our online shop.
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