Elul is the sixth calendar month of the biblical calendar year. It is also the last month of the civil year when counting from Tishrei. The name "Elul" is the Babylonian name of the month. The Bible also refers to this month as Elul, as in Nehemiah 6:15, "So the wall was finished on the twenty-fifth day of the month of Elul..."
Because of the approaching new year and the High Holy Days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the month of Elul is focused on repentance and reconciliation. Special prayers called Selichot (forgiveness) are recited during this month. These prayers focus especially upon the thirteen attributes of mercy revealed to Moses on Mount Sinai:
The LORD, The LORD God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth; who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin; yet He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished1 ... (Exodus 34:6-7).
Another custom during the month of Elul is the sounding of the shofar (ram's horn trumpet) at the end of the morning prayer service. The piercing, haunting sound of the shofar stirs our hearts to seek God and repent of sin in our lives. Its sound resembles the broken, sorrowful cry of our souls calling out to the Righteous Judge for mercy and grace.
This wordless, yet deeply meaningful sound is representative of yet another longing within us:
For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body. (Romans 8:22-23)
As well as thirsting for righteousness, our souls long for the day that our weary bodies are resurrected. Paul says that even "creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God" (Romans 8:19). The sound of the shofar is an expression of that yearning for the coming of our Messiah, Yeshua of Nazareth. With great anticipation we await the New Creation that will be heralded "with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the shofar of God" (1 Thessalonians 4:16).
So this Elul, let the call of the shofar pierce your heart and convict your soul. May we turn to Him in complete faith, and fall upon his abundant mercy. May we also yearn for the coming of Messiah as we approach a new year.
May you find wholeness and newness of life this Elul!
1. How is this last phrase an attribute of mercy? R' Eliyahu Kitov explains that God will clear those who repent, but will not clear those do not repent.