During the days preceding Rosh Hashanah, every single member of the Jewish nation must contemplate his/her actions and perform some sort of self-introspection in order to ascertain how one can improve one’s actions and Mitzvah observance so as to guarantee one’s self powerful defenders on the Day of Judgment.
The Meaning of the Word “Elul”
Maran Rabbeinu Ovadia Yosef zt”l writes that the word “Elul” is similar to the Aramaic word “Ve’Alilu,” which is the Aramaic translation of the verse which is said regarding the spies sent to the Land of Israel, “And they spied the land.” This means that “Elul” connotes searching through and probing one’s actions. During the month of Elul, it is the custom of the holy Jewish nation to probe their deeds, for these days are auspicious for atonement of sin, attaining full repentance, and reaching loftier levels of spirituality and service of Hashem.
Prayer During the Month of Elul
Certainly, praying copiously and repenting for one’s sins are extremely beneficial for every individual and these things will defend an individual during the upcoming Days of Judgment of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. These will be one’s guarantors that one will be inscribed in the books of life, wealth, satisfaction, and the fulfillment of all of one’s requests.
One must awaken himself from the slumber which comes along with one’s daily routine throughout life; one should stop and think how much we invest on increasing the quality of our physical lives by purchasing new cars or homes, focusing on obtaining only the finest culinary delights, and going on all sorts of trips and vacations. All of this is nonsense compared to the Heavenly key to advancing one’s physical and spiritual status as one through deep and heartfelt prayer to Hashem during these Days of Awe. Similarly, Hagaon Chazon Ish writes that a person can improve his situation much more through prayer than through any other natural means that he believes may assist him.
Repentance, Prayer, and Charity
Our Sages teach us in the Talmud Yerushalmi (Ta’anit, Chapter 2), “Rabbi Elazar says, three things nullify harsh decrees: Prayer, charity, and repentance.” He continues to bring proofs to this idea from the scriptures. Thus, one should practice these three things, i.e. prayer, charity, and repentance, profusely during these days, as the hymnist writes, “Repentance, prayer, and charity shall annul the harshness of the decree.” The source for this is the aforementioned Talmud Yerushalmi. Maran zt”l writes that although in previous generations, people would fast many times during these days in the spirit of “repentance,” nevertheless, in our times when it is difficult for people to fast, one should increase one’s donation of charity instead. Indeed, it is better to give more charity in our times than to fast, for by fasting, one decreases his service of Heaven (for fasting weakens the body).
We have already mentioned several times that one should take care to pass along charity funds to responsible individuals so that they will in turn dispense these funds to truly needy people and one should not rely on every individual regarding such matters, even if one seemingly comes with the recommendation of the generation’s leading Torah leaders.