This Sunday should be a special time; but for much of the world, it will just be an ordinary day. As I publish this, today is Thursday, August 9, 2018. More importantly, it is 28 Av 5778. This Sunday – actually, Saturday evening at the close of the weekly Sabbath – will begin the month of Elul, the sixth Biblical month.
Last year, you may remember that the month of Elul was announced in a big way in the United States. A total eclipse of the sun was visible from the northwest coast to the southeast coast and we could “see” the lunar conjunction, something normally not visible to the eye. It was a big deal, and I can remember laying out in a lounge chair with my special glasses on watching as, from my location, the sun was partially blocked by the moon and the sky became an eerie gray.
This year a solar eclipse will also bring in the month of Elul, but we aren’t hearing much about it – at least, not where I live in the U.S. This will be a partial eclipse on Saturday, August 11, visible from Greenland in the North Atlantic, then in northern Europe and Russia.
Are you thinking Biblically when you think about time? With the beginning of Elul, the sixth month, we are just one month away from Yom Teruah (Rosh Hashanah), the day of blowing trumpets commencing the Ten Days of Awe, which will culminate in Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. We are only a month and a half from celebrating the Season of our Joy, Sukkot – the Feast of Tabernacles.
Traditions of Elul
It has been suggested that the name of the month, אֱלוּל, (aleph-lamed-vav-lamed) is an acronym for the phrase ani l’dodi v’dodi li, a passage from Song of Songs 6:3, “I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine.”
According to tradition, Moses ascended Mount Sinai the second time on the first day of Elul. This was following the golden calf incident when he shattered the tablets containing the Ten Commandments (Exodus 32:19). Moses stayed on the mountain again for 40 days, descending on the tenth day of the seventh month, Yom Kippur.
It was at the beginning of his second time on the mountain that we read:
The LORD came down in a cloud, stood with him there, and proclaimed His name Yahweh. Then the LORD passed in front of him and proclaimed: Yahweh–Yahweh is a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger and rich in faithful love and truth, maintaining faithful love to a thousand generations, forgiving wrongdoing, rebellion, and sin. But He will not leave the guilty unpunished, bringing the consequences of the fathers’ wrongdoing on the children and grandchildren to the third and fourth generation. Moses immediately bowed down to the ground and worshiped (Exodus 34:5-8 HCSB).
This passage is the source of what Jewish sages have identified as the “Thirteen Attributes of Mercy.”
Yahweh – compassion before a person sins;
Yahweh – compassion after a person has sinned;
Rachum – merciful, that humankind may not be distressed;
v’Chanun – and gracious if humankind is already in distress;
Erech Appayim – slow to anger;
v’Rav Chesed – and plenteous in kindness;
v’Emet – and truth;
Notzer Chesed la’Alafim – keeping kindness unto thousands;
Noseh Avon – forgiving iniquity;
va’Feshah – and transgression;
v’Chata’ah – and sin;
v’Nakeh – and pardoning.
Thus the month of Elul is a time of introspection and repentance. It is also a time to ask forgiveness both of the Lord and of others. Seeking the forgiveness of those we have wronged is a critical step, as Yeshua himself stated in his Sermon on the Mount.
Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering (Matthew 5:23-24).
Yeshua also told us we must forgive those who have wronged us.
For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions (Matthew 6:14-15).
It is also traditional during Elul to sound the shofar and read Psalm 27 every day. According to the sages, this Psalm speaks of the upcoming holidays.
The LORD is my light and my salvation … He will conceal me in His tabernacle (Psalm 27:1,6).
“My light” is said to be representative of Yom Teruah (Rosh Hashanah) and “My salvation” of Yom Kippur. “Conceal me in His tabernacle” reminds us of Sukkot.
When we are thinking Biblically about time, the Feasts of the Lord flow naturally. If you are looking at our regular Gregorian calendar, the dates of the feasts are difficult to predict. In the past, you may have experienced this with Easter (a Christian holiday that somewhat follows a lunar cycle). Even with the Biblical celebrations, we hear comments like, “it’s a late Passover” when it falls in mid-April, or “it’s an early Sukkot” if it falls in September. But on the Hebrew (Biblical) calendar, each feast falls on the same date every year as described in Leviticus 23.
Many of us have become accustomed to using a Hebrew calendar superimposed on a Gregorian calendar. This is only somewhat helpful – you can see the days of Biblical months and appointed times, but the basis is still the Gregorian calendar system. Of course, to live in our modern society you need a Gregorian calendar, but I encourage you to also use a separate Hebrew calendar, one that begins each month on the first day of the Hebrew month. You could do this pretty easily with a perpetual wall calendar or a dry-erase calendar.
I have also provided one here at Messianic Torah Portion.
I encourage you, as we look forward to these upcoming Feasts, to think Biblically about your reckoning of time. Use this month of Elul to prepare your heart, to repent, and to both seek and extend forgiveness as the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit) brings these things to your mind.
Unless marked otherwise, Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible (NASB) © The Lockman Foundation