Elul: How to Do Teshuvah & Change Your Life for the Better
Rosh Chodesh Elul
This week, we welcome the sixth Hebrew month of Elul (8/8/2021 after sundown). The sixth month is known as the month of teshuvah, repentance. It's the month that we get serious and make real change in preparation for the set-apart days to come.
New Year Prep
The fall marks the changing of the year. The agricultural season comes to a close as the last of the harvests come in, and the new season begins as the fields are prepped for the new plantings. One year is going out, and another one is coming in.
During this season, in the seventh month, we celebrate and observe Yom Teruah (Rosh Hashana), Yom Kippur, and Sukkot. These are extremely important observances that we can't miss out on. They ultimately determine what our upcoming year will look like.
So, this sixth month is the month of preparation. We want to make sure we observe the coming set-apart days properly so we can be blessed with a good year. Therefore, we use the sixth month to prepare ourselves. We use this time for reflection and planning.
What was last year like?
What do I want the coming year to be like?
If we want next year to be a good year, then we have to be judged favorably and be forgiven of all our sins from this past year. We confess our sins, ask for forgiveness, and stop doing them. Then, we commit to making positive changes to grow closer to YAHUAH.
This is teshuvah. This is our focus in the sixth month so we're ready for the Days of Judgment in the seventh month.
We do teshuvah (repent) all year long, but the sixth month is a special time of the year for teshuvah. The gates of Heaven are open wide, and the King comes out to meet us. YAHUAH is especially favorable to hearing and receiving our prayers for forgiveness.
We see from the Torah that the sixth month is a time when YAHUAH forgives. The sixth month corresponds to Moshe's third 40-day stay atop Mt. Sinai.
During his first 40 days, Moshe received the Torah on two tablets of stone. However, when he came down and saw Yisrael sinning with the golden calf, he threw the tablets to the ground and broke them.
Moshe went back up Sinai and spent a second 40 days pleading with YAHUAH and interceding on behalf of the people. He prayed for YAH to spare them and forgive them while the people below also prayed and repented.
YAHUAH told Moshe to make two new tablets of stone, and after hewing the stone, on the first of Elul (the sixth month), Mosheh ascended Sinai for the third time. During this third 40-day period, YAHUAH had compassion on His people and forgave them.
Forty days after he went up for the third time, Moshe returned on Yom Kippur with new tablets of the Covenant. YAHUAH had forgiven them and granted them atonement.
This is our time for repentance. This is the time YAHUAH is near to us to have compassion on us, to forgive us, and to help us do teshuvah. This is the time to make the change.
From the beginning of Elul to Yom Kippur is 40 days. These are 40 days in which we should seriously consider our lives and do sincere repentance. YAHUAH is ready and willing to forgive us.
How To Do Teshuvah:
The first thing to do when starting the path of teshuvah is to make a choice.
Do you want a good year or a bad year? A blessed year or a cursed year? A peaceful year or a stressful year?
Start by simply making a choice. Read The Most Important Choice You'll Ever Make.
If you decide you want a good year, then continue...
Next, focus on the following questions:
Reflection: What was the past year like? Was it a good year or a troublesome year? Did I grow spiritually? Did I make good choices? What mistakes did I make? Did I accomplish my goals? Did I change for the better? Did I improve my character traits? How did I manage sin and temptations? How well did I observe the mitzvot (commandments)? Did I keep my promises from last Rosh Hashanah?
Planning: What do I want the coming year to be like? What blessings do I need or want to happen? What do I want my life to look like a year from now? How do I want to improve myself? What goals do I want to accomplish? How will I improve my spiritual life? What will I do to prevent myself from sinning? How will I strengthen my observance of the mitzvot?
This is a lot to think about. Take some time to process the questions above. (Shabbat is a good time to think and reflect without distractions.)
Then, choose one thing from each side to bring to the forefront.
Choose one thing that you will STOP doing for the next 40 days.
Choose one thing you will START doing for the next 40 days.
THIS PART IS IMPORTANT! If we don't do this step, then we're not really changing and we're not doing real teshuvah. Real teshuvah is more than just a sinner's prayer. We have to make an actual change. Take away one bad thing, and replace it with one good thing.
If you're truly serious about doing real teshuvah (repentance) this month, then I recommend following Rabbi Alon Anava's 30-Day Elul Teshuva program. It's a daily video series guiding you through the process of doing real teshuvah, i.e. making real change.
It's simple: If we want our life to change, then WE have to change.
If we want big changes in our life, then we have to be willing to put in the work and make big changes in ourselves.
Let's get ready for a good year. YAHUAH is with you. You can do this.