Balancing those scales before Rosh Hashana

Today and tomorrow mark Rosh Hodesh Elul, the new moon of the month of Elul, which means we are now one month away from Rosh Hashana.  As I wrote in one of my February posts, "We know that according to Jewish tradition different months have different qualities.  As we learn in the Gemara in Taanit 29a  'With the beginning of Adar we increase in joy,'  This is often sung as we prepare for the arrival of Purim in the song “Mi Shenichnas Adar.”  And on the same page we learn 'the astrological essence of Adar is healthy.'"  (To see the full post and a brief exploration of the Jewish view of astrology, click here to see my post entitled "Do the Black Eyed Peas know what Mazal Tov means?")  The month of Elul also has its own energy, which makes it an auspicious time for certain things, namely, teshuva (repentance).

"Elul" has been interpreted in both the Mishnah Berurah and the Shulchan Aruch as an acronym, with its Hebrew letters "Aleph," "Lamed," "Vav," "Lamed" representing the words "Ani L'Dodi V'Dodi Li" (Song of Songs: 6,3).   The translation of this verse is "I am my Beloved's and my Beloved is mine," where my "Beloved" is G-d, and "I" am the Jewish People.  This is why The Zodiac Sign of the month of Elul (Virgo, or "the virgin") makes sense.   The Jewish people is betrothed to God as a one and only lover.  This is further connected to the season of teshuva by the verse, "…Return, O Virgin of Israel, return to these cities of yours!" (Yirmiyahu 31:20)
Artwork is by Gabrielle Mizrachi-Mallin and says "Elul" and depicts astrological significance. 
See it at
Perhaps the most powerful teaching I have ever heard about Elul is a Hassidic teaching from the first Lubavitcher Rebbe, Shneur Zalman of Liadi:
The king's usual place is in the capital city, in the royal palace. Anyone wishing to approach the king must go through the appropriate channels in the palace bureaucracy and gain the approval of a succession of secretaries and ministers. He must journey to the capital and pass through the many gates, corridors and antechambers that lead to the throne room. His presentation must be meticulously prepared, and he must adhere to an exacting code of dress, speech and mannerism upon entering into the royal presence.  However, there are times when the king comes out to the fields outside the city. At such times, anyone can approach him; the king receives them all with a smiling face and a radiant countenance. The peasant behind his plow has access to the king in a manner unavailable to the highest ranking minister in the royal court when the king is in the palace. (
The symbolism is clear--although most of the year God is on a throne, during the month of Elul S/He is available to us in a much more intimate way.  Then, on Rosh Hashana S/He returns to the throne to be crowned for the new year and sit in judgment over us.  When does it make more sense to approach the king?  To me, the answer is, ideally, during Elul, when S/He is so close to us.  The astrological sign of the month of Tishrei, in which Rosh Hashana falls, is Libra, or the scales.  The scales symbolize our good deeds and bad deeds being measured, with our good deeds hopefully outweighing the bad ones.  During Elul we have the opportunity to connect with God as a lover and to prepare for that judgment.  We also have the opportunity to add as much to the "good" side of the scale as possible.

I feel God's love in many ways during Elul.  For example, just yesterday, a friend accepted my offer to drive him and his daughter to the airport to visit Israel.  I felt great about God having loved me enough to give me the opportunity to do this mitzvah and add one little grain of rice to my "good" side of the scale.  But it got even better.  After dropping off my friend and his daughter at the airport, and beginning the drive home, I received a phone call from him that he had forgotten one of his suitcases.  So I returned to the airport and essentially did the same trip a 2nd time.  We then were pulled over by the police at the airport for a "random" security check (there is no such thing as "random" or "coincidence" in my opinion), and this delayed us even more.  So a mitzvah sort of turned into a "super-mitzvah" after the stressful experience was over.  When telling this story to another friend, he said to me, "But you just got through telling me that you were not feeling well last night because you had a headache on top of everything else."  To this my response is from Pirke Avot:  "The greater the effort, the greater the reward."  (5:22)

So, call me crazy, but I really do think that God loves us and gives us gifts to help us tip those scales in our favor.  Once when I was a rabbi serving a pulpit in a small town, a (non-Jewish) beggar came to the synagogue asking for money the day before Rosh Hashanah.  Well for a rabbi, there is no busier day than the day before Rosh Hashanah, but rather than giving him money (which I was afraid he would spend on alcohol or drugs) I preferred to help him with what he claimed to need, which was a bus ticket to somewhere (I don't remember where).  I met him at the bus station, and purchased the ticket for him with a clean conscience, and the feeling that God had given me a tremendous gift with the opportunity to love Him/Her by doing a mitzvah on such a busy day.

My wish for all of us is that we can continue to keep our eyes open in this auspicious month for signs of God's love for us and those extra opportunities to help out, especially when it might be particularly inconvenient.  Hodesh Tov.