In the Europe of yesteryear, when the plums and pears ripened, everyone knew -- it was the month of Elul. They dubbed it the time of "Flaumen un Beren" (plums and pears) – a pun – flames and burning; time to throw oneself into serving G-d with burning passion. Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, the previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, memorably describes Elul’s arrival in the town of Lubavitch:
On the Sabbath before Elul, although it was still summer, the atmosphere changed. The scent of Elul was already felt and a Teshuvah-wind began to blow. Every Jew became more deliberate, more preoccupied with his thoughts, beginning to forget mundane matters. Everyone from scholars to simple people began to prepare for the upcoming holiday, involving their entire beings and bodies…With great anticipation they looked forward to reciting the Psalm “The L-rd is my light and my salvation,” and the voice of the shofar, that first blast which announced that the gates of the Month of Mercy were open.
This Elul urgency is not something the rabbis initiated to get us in the mood for the the High Holidays – no – its an actual reflection of a spiritual reality, a sudden gush of G-dly revelation that emerges on the first of Elul. This revelation takes the form of the King in the field, the King as Beloved – a time when G-d is seeking us out on our own turf. There is awe and trembling as we think of the Day of Judgment approaching, but there is also a unique closeness and attachment to G-d, Who seeks us out down here in this world. It’s a time for each of us to focus on our private audience with The Creator.
What is the story of the month of Elul, and why does it compel with such urgency and power?