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Foundation: What is Elul?

During Elul, the Hebrew month leading up to Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year) and Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement), we feel the spiritual energy shift. We begin engaging in some serious introspection, hoping to change ourselves for the better. This transformative process is done with love. Embedded in the name of this month, Elul, is an acronym of a verse from Shir HaShirim, Song of Songs: “Ani l’dodi v’dodi li,” “I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine.” The rabbis understand the epic love poem of Shir HaShirim as an allegory of the Jewish people’s loving relationship with God. This verse in particular reflects the spiritual connection between God and the Jewish people.

Throughout Elul, we blow the shofar every morning except Shabbat as a call to awaken and prepare for this season of repentance. We also read Psalm 27 asking God to support us in our journey to become our best selves.

In English, we call Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur the “High Holy Days.” In Hebrew, we refer to them as “Yamim Nora’im,” the Days of Awe. We use the process of Heshbon Nefesh, self reflection and accountability, to enable us to reach new spiritual heights and experience the profound awe of this season.


Elul guides us in being honest with ourselves in ways that do not encourage guilt, shame or harsh judgment. It shows us how to reflect on where we have been and what we created and experienced truthfully, with compassion.  

It is by exploring with compassion and love, the tradition teaches, that we discover how to make amends, repair relationships and return to what we most value and cherish.

The practices of Elul deliver us to the threshold of the New Year with the willingness to say “Hineni, here I am, beautiful and broken, flawed and perfect, and ready to step forward and live fully the gifts of a new beginning.”

—Rabbi Yael Levy

graphic representation of the hebrew letters "elul"
Illustration by Rabbi Elyssa Joy Austerklein

The Hebrew month of Elul leading into the High Holy Day season is an acronym for “I am my beloved and my beloved is mine.” It is a time of drawing close to God and repairing human relationships. These are the large letters that span the crown of glory. There is a third eye on the forehead which signifies the inner and outer vision working together during this period to uncover truths. The words Yamim Noraim, “Days of Awe” are written across the forehead, like a mantra. The three prongs of the crown on the right are related to Rosh Hashanah, while the three on the left are transitioning into and related to Yom Kippur (it is your job to determine the symbolism on these six!). The prong in the middle again emphasizes God’s place as Compassionate King during this period, and the opportunity for human choice—both in the symbol of the broken and whole heart, as well as the sheep which pass under staff, except one, which runs in the opposite direction.

Rabbi Elyssa Joy Austerklein