The month of Elul is the final month of the Jewish year. It is the month that connects the past year with the upcoming year and the first month of Tishrei, when the Jews celebrate the High Holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Elul is the time to reflect back on our past and look into the future. We ask ourselves what we can do to improve ourselves and our lives in order to move closer to Hashem.
The name of the month is spelled "Alef-Lamed-Vav-Lamed" and is believed to be an acronym for "Ani Ledodi Vedodi Li" which means "I am for my Beloved and my Beloved is for me." It is the time to search within our souls to become better people within and to those around us; a time to say sorry to the ones we have hurt and to G-d for any sins we may have committed over the past year and hope to learn from mistakes.
Elul is called the "Month of Repentance", the "Month of Mercy" and the "Month of Forgiveness" because we busy ourselves in focusing on Teshuva, Tefillah and Tzedakah- which reach the apex during the 10 days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur when the final verdict of our lives are sealed. The somber mood builds up as the month goes along and culminates in the saying of Selichot before Rosh Hashanah as well as the actual High Holidays when Hashem passes judgment on us and seals our fate during the closing prayer of Yom Kippur.
From the 2nd day of Elul to the 28th day the shofar is blown after morning prayer services every weekday to wake us up to start performing the 3 T's!
Repentance in Hebrew is actually translated as "Charatah" and not "Teshuvah". Charatah implies a great feeling of remorse and guilt about the past and the intention to behave completely different in the future. Teshuva; however, means the total opposite- it means returning to the old, to one's original nature".
But how can we return to our original nature when sins have been committed? What is meant by original nature is that every Jew, in essence, is good and sins steer him/her off the track from staying true to the essence. The bad is not part of and does not affect the true nature if responsibility is taken and we dismiss the past, start anew and return to our roots in G-d and expose them as our true nature and characters.
This is why the righteous and the wicked can do Teshuvah in the hope of doing more and more good and getting even closer to Hashem. The righteous do not need to repent for sins but they can constantly strive to return to their innermost essence. The wicked are far away from Hashem so this is the opportunity to do Teshuvah and get closer to G-'d by rediscovering the good within them.
Prayer in Hebrew is not only "Tefillah" but also translated as "Bakashah-requests". Bakashah means to pray, request and beseech while Tefillah implies to attach oneself.
Bakashah is prayer only said when we need something from Hashem and becomes useless when we feel like we have everything we need. Tefillah is the concept of man reaching from below towards G-d. We can constantly reach towards Hashem to get closer to him and in turn, closer to our essence. The Jewish soul has a bond with Hashem and it is vital to nurture and nourish it through constant Tefillah. Even we when do not need anything from G-d or do not need to even thank Him for anything, we can constantly talk to and reach out to Him no matter what, for He is the source of Life.
Tzedakah-Charity & Kindness
The Hebrew for charity is not only "Tzedakah" but also "Chessed".
"Chessed" implies that the recipient has no right to the gift and that the donor is under no obligation to give it. He gives it gratuitously, from the goodness of his heart. His act is a virtue rather than a duty.
Tzedakah means righteousness or justice. The implication is that the donor gives because it is his duty. For, firstly, everything in the world belongs ultimately to G-d. A man's possessions are not his by right. Rather, they are entrusted to him by G-d, and one of the conditions of that trust is that he should give to those who are in need.
Secondly, a man has a duty to act towards others as he asks G-d to act towards him. And as we ask G-d for His blessings though He owes us nothing and is under no obligation, so we are bound in justice to give to those who ask us, even though we are in no way in their debt. In this way we are rewarded: Measure for measure. Because we give freely, G-d gives freely to us.
This applies in particular to the Tzedakah which is given to support the institutions of Torah learning. For everyone who is educated in these institutions is a future foundation of a house in Israel, and a future guide to the coming generation. This will be the product of his Tzedakah – and his act is the measure of his reward.
These are the three paths lead to a year "written and sealed" for good and sweet New Year.
By returning to one's innermost self (Teshuvah), by attaching oneself to G-d (Tefillah) and by distributing one's possessions with righteousness (Tzedakah), one turns the promise of Rosh Hashanah into the abundant fulfillment of Yom Kippur: A year of sweetness and plenty.
Our repentance culminates when we recite Selichot from the Sunday before Rosh Hashanah until Yom Kippur. The Sephardic tradition recites Selichot throughout the month of Elul. We recite Selichot in the morning and they consist of the "Thirteen Attributes"- a list of Hashem's 13 attributes of mercy that was revealed to Moses after the sin of the golden calf.