The final month in the Jewish Calendar, Elul, is a time for introspection, a time to prepare one’s self for the coming year and the upcoming holiday of Rosh HaShana, a holiday on which we praise Hashem and his kingship. At this time of the year, one may ask “What am I supposed to do? What am I preparing for?” The answer to these questions can be better understood with the following illustration:
There was a person who, when it came to keeping a clean home, was meticulous. He made sure that the house was always as neat and clean as could be. On one occasion, the person had invited some friends to a party at his house. The person was not satisfied with the extent of his normal cleaning regimen. He wanted the house to be as spotless as his guests would expect, and therefore he stepped up his cleaning efforts before the party. On another occasion, he had business associates over at his house for an important meeting. Before they arrived, he engaged in even more extensive cleaning, assuring that every piece of silver and crystal gleamed and sparkled, to meet the standards of his guests. Were the president to enter his home, this person surely would have worked tirelessly to refurnish and redecorate his home to meet the high standards a president would expect.
The president’s entrance into the house is really just an illustration of what Rosh HaShana, the Day of Judgment, should mean to us. It is a day in which Hashem comes into the house (hearts) of each and every one of us. If throughout the year we are constantly aware of the forthcoming “visit,” the preparations immediately preceding the “visit” need not be so extensive, as we will try and keep things in tip-top shape all year round. If that is not the case, and we do not think about the “visit” year round, the task of accepting Hashem properly on Rosh HaShana as the King of Kings is nearly impossible. In either case, that is what the month of Elul is set aside for – preparation. It is a month long preparation in which we engage in refining our spiritual lives to try and meet the standards that Hashem knows we should meet, for both Him and ourselves. This “clean-up job” that we must start (if its not a continuation) is composed essentially of four different aspects which are all required for complete repentance toward Hashem.
The first step is “Azivas Ha’Chet” – “Leaving the sin.” A person must know which sins to depart from first. Some sins are relatively easy to refrain from while others take a tremendous amount of time and effort to overcome. Our Sages are helpful in pointing out that “The easier it is to refrain from doing a sin, and nonetheless it is done anyway – the larger the punishment is that one receives from Hashem for it.” We vividly see that the sins which are easier for the individual to refrain from should be worked on and “left” first.
The second step is “Charata,” regret and remorse for doing the sin. Rabbeinu Yona explains that “True repentance is… to feel that sorrow in one’s soul for the sins which he transgressed.” Refraining from transgressions without feeling bad about what one did is very far from repentance.
The third step is “Vidduy,” confessing one’s sins. Included in this step is actually verbalizing those sins which were performed.
The fourth and final step is “Kabala L’habo,” making a firm commitment not to do the sin again.
Although this process of repentance might seem long, tedious, and perhaps even impossible, our Sages tell us that “One who comes to purify himself, (G-d) aids him.” One only has to take that first step towards purifying himself alone. Afterwards, Hashem is there to assist, making the process of returning to Hashem faster and easier.
With all our effort and repentance this Elul, we should all merit to be written in the Book of Life for a happy and healthy year for us, our families, and the whole nation of Israel.