The month of Elul is the month most auspicious for achieving forgiveness and atonement. It is for this reason that we all customarily repent during these days and utilize this time for prayers and supplication before Hashem. Indeed, Sephardic and Middle Eastern Jews customarily recite Selichot beginning from the day following Rosh Chodesh Elul.
It is well-known that during these days we are closer to Hashem and he hears our prayers more quickly than usual, as our Sages have expounded the verse, “Ani Le’Dodi Ve’Dodi Li” (“I am to my beloved and my beloved is to me”) which is an acronym for the word “Elul.” Similarly, the month of Elul is also hinted in the verse, “Uva Le’Zion Go’El Ul’shaveh Fesha Be’Yaakov.” Furthermore, Rabbeinu Yonah writes in his Sefer Ha’Yir’ah: “From the beginning of Elul until the conclusion of Yom Kippur, one should be filled with fear and trepidation over the Day of Judgment.”
In the merit of the repentance during these days, we shall one day be redeemed, as is hinted in the verses composed by King David, “A Psalm by David, Hashem is my light and salvation”: “My light” on Rosh Hashanah “and salvation” on Yom Kippur. King David ends this Psalm by saying, “Were it not that I believe that I should see the goodness of Hashem,” and our Sages explain (Berachot 4b) that King David feared that sins might impede the salvation and thus, the word “Luleh” (“Were it not,” also the same Hebrew letters as “Elul”) is dotted in the scripture in order to allude to the fact that in the merit of our repentance during the month of Elul, we shall be saved on the Day of Judgment.
Hagaon Harav David Amar zt”l writes in his Sefer Tefillah Le’David (Chapter 212) that during the month of Elul and the Ten Days of Repentance (the ten days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur), it is especially worthy to recite the blessing of “Hashivenu Avinu Le’Toratecha” (fifth blessing of the Amidah prayer which deals with repentance) with proper concentration and to mention the names of some individuals who have strayed from the proper path of Hashem and His Torah, especially if they are one’s relatives. Maran Rabbeinu Ovadia Yosef zt”l quotes this in his Chazon Ovadia-Yamim Nora’im (page 25). One should certainly pray that one merit repenting fully on his own and continue to ascend higher and higher in spirituality.
Indeed, if we stop and think for a moment, do we not all pray lengthily for our relatives who, G-d-forbid, are not in the best of health or have yet to find their marriage partners and the like? Certainly the pain one feels for an individual who does not follow the path of Hashem is much greater, for such an individual loses his share in the World to Come and misses out on countless merits in the Eternal World; anything a person can experience in this world pales greatly in comparison to life in the World to Come.
We remember that when Maran zt”l’s wife passed away, he would learn and pray a substantial amount in order to elevate her soul. He would mention what the Mekubalim say that one should imagine his deceased relative as though he is standing before him and begging him to save him from a raging inferno. One’s need for merits and good deeds in order to merit entry in the World to Come is infinitely greater than any physical need one may have in this lowly, fleeting world.
The aforementioned Hagaon Harav David Amar quotes in his work the correct text for one who wishes to insert names of relatives in the blessing of “Hashivenu.” After reciting “Hashivenu Avinu Le’Toratecha Ve’Karevenu Malkeinu La’Avodatecha Ve’Hachazirenu Bitshuva Shelema Lefanecha,” one inserts: “May it be Your will, Hashem our G-d and the G-d of our fathers, that You dig a tunnel under Your Holy Throne to accept the repentance of all of the sinners of Israel, and similarly may You cause so-and-so (insert name) son/daughter of so-and-so (insert mother’s name) to repent fully, for Your right hand is outstretched to accept those who are repentant,” then conclude the blessing, “Baruch Ata Hashem Ha’Rotzeh Bitshuva.” Here is the actual Hebrew text one should recite in the Amida:
יהי רצון מלפניך ה' אלקינו ואלקי אבותינו שתחתור חתירה מתחת כסא כבודך להחזיר בתשובה שלימה לכל פושעי ישראל, וכן תחזיר בתשובה שלימה את פלוני בן פלונית, כי ימינך פשוטה לקבל שבים.
It is correct that when one concludes this blessing upon reciting the name of Hashem one should have in mind that this name of Hashem is punctuated with the “Segol” mark, as is printed in precise Siddurim; one should concentrate on this name but not utter it.
May Hashem return all sinners of Israel to Him through complete repentance and may the land be filled with the knowledge of the Hashem like the waters that fill the sea.