A Few Thoughts on Elul and Shoftim

In a recent Family Circus cartoon strip, concerning the month of August, Billy, the seven-year-old eldest child explains to three-year-old Jeffery that “This is the best month for a vacation ‘cause August doesn’t come with and holidays. You hafta make your own.” (https://www.arcamax.com/thefunnies/familycircus/s-2547043) 

Billy’s statement is just as true for the month of Elul, which began August 9 and ends September 6, as   it is for the month of August; there are no “holidays” in the month of Elul. Even though there are no holidays in Elul, there are a few things that bring special attention to this month. 

First, Elul (אלול in Hebrew) is traditionally recognized as representing the acrostic אני לדודי ודודי לי, ani le’dodi ve’dodi li, “I am my beloved’s, and my beloved is mine,” from Song of Songs 6:3. This verse has long exemplified the love relationship between Israel and HaShem and between HaShem and Israel. A second aspect of the month of Elul is that in many synagogues the shofar or ram’s horn is sounded every day after Shacharit (morning prayers) in preparation of hearing the shofar on Rosh Hashana (biblically Yom Teruah, the Day of the Trumpet Sounding),

“Speak to Bnei-Yisrael, saying: In the seventh month, on the first day of the month, you are to have a Shabbat rest, a memorial of blowing (shofarot), a holy convocation.

Leviticus 23:24

Though we are not told exactly the reason for the shofar blowing, there are a number of suggestions. From the Psalmist we read, “With trumpets and sound of the shofar blast a sound before the King, ADONAI” (Psalm 98:6). Traditionally, within Judaism, Rosh Hashana commemorates the coronation of the Creator and King of the Universe, thus this is a time of great joy. Then from Numbers 10:9 we see that the sound of the shofar is a call to battle, “Whenever you go to war in your own land against the enemy who is hostile to you, you are to sound short blasts of alarm. Then you will be remembered before ADONAI your God and be delivered from your enemies.” Another important aspect of hearing the shofar is suggested by Maimonides in Hilchot Teshuvah 3:4,

“Although the sounding of the shofar on the New Year is a decree of the Written Law, it hints at a deeper meaning, as if saying, “Awake O sleeper, from your sleep; O slumberers, arouse yourselves from your slumbers; examine your deeds, return in teshuvah, and remember your Creator. You who forget the truth for the ephemerality of time, and go astray the whole year in futility and emptiness which is neither effective nor salvific–look to your souls; improve your ways and works. Abandon, every one of you, your wayward course and your harmful thoughts.”

https://www.jewishspirituality.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/08/Week-1-Video-Transcript-Questions.pdf   

While Maimonides may have been thinking of passages like Isaiah 52:1, “Awake, awake, put on your strength, O Zion!” … as well as Isaiah 60:1, “Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you.” Rav Shaul already linked the passages with the coming of Messiah and the need to be awake and ready for his appearing.

“Wake up, O sleeper! Rise from the dead, and Messiah will shine on you.”

Ephesians 5:14

Thus, the daily blowing of the shofar during the month of Elul is to awaken our hearts to the need to be prepared and ready not only for King of the Universe but equally ready for Messiah Yeshua. Therefore, the holiday-lite month of Elul is in fact a very important month in our yearly cycle as it: (1) reminds us of our covenantal relationship with HaShem; (2) directs us to prepare ourselves for the memorial of the coronation of the King of the Universe; (3) and probably most importantly, challenges each of us to awaken and examine ourselves to ensure we are ready for our coming Messiah. 

In the middle of this week’s Torah reading, Shoftim, Deuteronomy 16:18 – 21:9, Moses challenges by Bnei Israel (Deuteronomy 18:13).

You must be wholehearted with the LORD your God. (JPS)

You are to be blameless before ADONAI your God. (TLV)

You must remain completely loyal to the LORD your God. (NRSV)

As can be clearly seen from the three different translations of the same verse, Moses is challenging, possibly even pleading, with Bnei Israel to remain wholehearted, blameless, and completely loyal to HaShem, the one who delivered them from Egyptian oppression and bondage and then led them and cared for them throughout the decades of wandering in the wilderness. Every step of the way HaShem affirmed his desire to bless and care for his covenant people, even when he had to discipline them. Earlier in Deuteronomy, Moses reminds Bnei Israel,

So now, O Israel, what does ADONAI your God require of you, but to fear ADONAI your God, to walk in all His ways and love Him, and to serve ADONAI your God with all your heart and with all your soul, to keep the mitzvot of ADONAI and His statutes that I am commanding you today, for your own good?

Deuteronomy 10:12-13

This challenge is for all of Israel, natural born or grafted in. Let’s take the opportunity afforded to us in the month to refocus our hearts and lives on things of God. There is definitely much wrong in and with our world today, and for many of us there is very little we can do about the “big picture.” However, we can attune our hearts and minds to the things of God, we can make restitutions and restore relationships that have become strained or non-existent – whether by our own actions or the actions of others. We can remember and effectuate the words of the prophet Micah, who paraphrased Moses’ words mentioned above, 

He [HaShem] has told you, humanity, what is good, and what ADONAI is seeking from you: only to practice justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.

Micah 6:8

* Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references are from the Tree of Life (TLV) Translation of the Bible. Copyright © 2015 by The Messianic Jewish Family Bible Society.

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