To help us tune in to the special energy of this month and prepare for the Days of Awe ahead, our Sages established specific customs.
· It is customary to check one’s tefilin and mezuzot in Elul to make sure that the writing has not deteriorated.
· Beginning from the 1st of Elul we blow the shofar every day. Its blast serves as a spiritual alarm clock: “Awaken you sleepers from your slumber!”
· We recite chapter 27 of Psalms daily from the 1st of Elul to the 21st of the next month, Tishrei.
· We say special pre-dawn prayers of supplication called selichos. Sephardim begin to say these from the 1st of Elul, Ashkenazim and Lubavitchers begin the Sunday before Rosh Hashanah.
· We increase in Torah study, prayer, and acts of kindness
The 27th Psalm begins with two statements of confidence and faith: “The L-rd is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The L-RD is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?” On the one hand, these words challenge, with our bold fearlessness, yet the unstated answer whispers of One we should fear. Rabbi Yisrael Baal Shem Tov recalls his father’s deathbed words: “Fear no one but G-d.”
The past month has provided ample fodder for fears of all sorts, from the economic (the U.S. debt crisis and the pursuant lowering of its credit rating), to the geopolitical (terror in Israel, violent clashes in Syria and Egypt, attempted overthrow of the government in Libya, riots in England) to the natural (earthquake in Virginia, Hurricane Irene, famine in East Africa).
At times like these, it’s good to remember that G-d is our light and our salvation. His light nurtures our soul, His salvation protects our bodies from harm. When we stand in awe of His majesty, when we completely submit ourselves to the Hand of the Universal Conductor, we understand that we have nothing to fear.
Dawn prayers at the Western Wall