The Kabbalah Of The Jewish Calendar
The month of Cheshvan, also known as Marcheshvan, is the first "ordinary" month in the Jewish calendar, following Tishrei, the month of the High Holidays and festivals. Thus, it functions as a bridge between the high inspirations of Tishrei and the ordinary days of the rest of the year. Spiritually, the challenge of Marcheshvan is to sustain the joy, high spirits, vitality and vigor we experienced in Tishrei, and incorporate them into our daily life. Marcheshvan may seem to be a dull month, but looking deeper, one sees the huge potential this month has for special regeneration through the powers of the soul.
This month is especially associated with the element of water, symbolizing vitality and regeneration. The month's zodiac sign is Scorpio, expressing the world's thirst for water during this month, like the scorpion living in the desert, constantly thirsty for fresh water.
The name Marcheshvan comes from mar, Aramaic for raindrops (the names of the months of the Jewish calendar were given in Babylonia, where the spoken language was Aramaic). In the Biblical description of the construction of the Holy Temple by King Solomon, in the Book of Kings, this month is called "Bul." One of the explanations for this name refers to the great flood (mabul) in the days of Noah, in the year 1656 from the creation of the world, which began, according to Genesis, on the 17th of Marcheshvan.
The Kabbalah teaches us that the flood that swept the world with water was intended to purify the world from its degenerate state. And indeed, the Zohar as well as earlier commentaries explain that upon leaving his Ark after the flood, Noah saw a "new world."
According to the Kabbalah, during Marcheshvan we have a special ability to connect with the soul's powers of vitality and regeneration, and to purify the "garments" of our soul: thought, speech and action.
As told in Kings, the First Temple was completed in the month of Marheshvan. However, the inauguration was delayed until Tishrei in the following year. Early commentaries present the ancient traditional view that Marcheshvan will be "compensated" – the inauguration of the Third Temple will be held during this month.
The ancient book of Kabbalah, Sefer Yetzira, explains that the month of Marheshvan is linked to the sense of smell, and other writings associate it with the tribe of Menashe (each month is associated with one of the 12 tribes of Israel). The sense of smell is the special sense that delights and pleases the soul, and the Hebrew spelling of neshama – meaning "soul," shares the same letters with Menashe. The powers of purification, regeneration and vitality bestowed upon us during the month of Marcheshvan also affect our sense of smell, the most spiritual of the five senses, which acts as a "pipeline," infusing our minds, spirits and souls with positive influences.
The month of Kislev is known as the month of light, because of the Chanukah miracle that took place on the 25th of Kislev, which is especially connected to the unique virtues and qualities of light, which illuminate the deepest forces of darkness. That is why it is customary to place the Chanukah Menorah in the window or at the entrance to the house, to symbolize the inner light that can illuminate the darkness outside, until it too shines, as well.
The Zodiac sign of the month is 'Sagittarius', symbolized by the bow. This can be likened to the rainbow, as this month includes many days in which the rain and sun appear together, creating a rainbow.
The first rainbow, as mentioned in the Bible, appeared after the big Flood, in the month of Kislev. This emphasizes the special relationship between the supreme light, which is white – the purest and simplest of the seven colors of the rainbow (or in Kabbalah terms 'the Infinite Light'), and the contracted divine light that illuminates the universe and is divided into 'seven frequencies' of light, parallel to the seven sefirot (spheres): kindness, strength, beauty, victory, splendor, foundation and kingship.
According to Kabbalah, the name of the month of Kislev is divided into two parts: kes and lev (lamed-vav). This hints at the special ability we have during this month, to bring down the light of the upper spheres, implied in the number 36 (lamed-vav) to influence our lives in terms of 'settlement' (kes) and remaining for a long time. In this context, we recommend the book Tomer Devorah by the Tzfat Kabbalah scholar, Rabbi Moshe Cordovero of the 16th century, which explains how to "bring down" the light of the spheres into daily life. Rabbi Cordovero's explanations are simple, inspiring and easy to implement.
The ancient Kabbalah book Sefer Yetsirah associates the energy of the month of Kislev with the letter samech, which denotes ordination, support and security. The bow, symbolizing divine protection over living beings, also gives us a sense of security.
The month of Tevet, referred to in the Bible in the Book of Esther as "The 10th Month," is the coldest month of the year. The Talmud explains that this is the "Month in which the body enjoys the body." Because of the fierce cold of the month of Tevet, the human body enjoys warm contact with another, and that is why Esther was taken to the king's palace during this month.
The Kabbalah teaches us that the inner meaning of "the body enjoys the body" is that the good deeds we perform with our body arouse and inspire supreme joy and pleasure in the essence of the Infinite light above the universe.
The month of Tevet begins with the day on which we light the seventh candle of Chanukah, and therefore we see the strong positive influence of the Chanukah candles in lighting and warming, even the cold and darkness of the month of Tevet.
The zodiac sign of this month is Capricorn – during this month the herds are taken to pasture, after the blessed rain that fell in the earlier months of Cheshvan and Kislev.
According to 'Sefer Yetsira', the month of Tevet is associated with the quality of anger and fury and with the Hebrew letter ayin (ע). The Kabbalah teaches that the way to overcome anger is by the work of the eyes (ayin in Hebrew) - observing the divine providence over all of the universe, believing, knowing and understanding that all that happens to people and to the world is for a good purpose. The quality of anger, like that of pride, derives from the 'element of fire' in the human soul. By rational, quiet and inner observation, we increase the 'element of water' in the soul, which cools the source of the anger in the element of fire. In other words, anger derives from our demand that the world operate according to our own "stage direction", and when the world behaves otherwise (according to the G-dly plan), we get angry. The Kabbalah guides us in overcoming the sense of anger that comes from frustration, teaching us instead to see the good – be it visible or concealed – in every event. Even when people suffer economic or spiritual damage, they should know that the experience has great potential to serve as a springboard for growth, in ways and directions never thought of before.
The tenth day of the month of Tevet is a day of fasting in memory of the destruction of the First Temple. This marks the beginning of the siege of the Babylonians on Jerusalem, which ended with the destruction of the Temple on the 9th of Av. The Kabbalah teaches us that this is the 100th day of the year, symbolizing a special completion. Indeed, this is such a special day that if it falls on the Sabbath, we would still need to fast just as in the case of a Yom Kippur that occurs on Shabbat. The Kabbalah teaches us that the inner essence of the fast is good and desirable, as it cuts people off from their material aspect, emphasizing the spiritual, and enabling them to connect to that which transcends the material. As the fast of the 10th of Tevet is the origin of all the other fasts on the Jewish calendar, it holds the potential of being a guide in all aspects of the power of spirituality over materialism, in a way that illuminates the path to balanced spiritual growth.
The month of Shvat is the eleventh month in the Hebrew calendar, when counting Nissan as the first month. In the Kabbalah, the number 11 symbolizes ability and power beyond the limits of worldly nature. The world was created by the '10 Divine Utterances (the expression 'G-d said' appears ten times in the biblical story of Genesis), parallel to the ten sefirot in the Kabbalah. The number 11, which is higher than 10, symbolizes supreme power above that of the universe. Thus, according to Kabbalah, in the month of Shvat we have special ability to grow and develop beyond our usual nature.
In the parallel relationships of the 12 months to the 12 tribes of Israel, the month of Shvat corresponds with Joseph, the eleventh son of Jacob our forefather. The name Joseph in Hebrew means addition and growth, just as the month of Shvat is related to the world of plants, trees and fruit.
The zodiac sign of the month is Aquarius. In Shvat, most of the year’s rain has already fallen, the cisterns are full, the well-water rises, the buckets draw water from the top of the well and not its depths, and when they are lifted out, their rims are still dripping. In the literature of the Kabbalah, water is likened to wisdom and a high level of consciousness. The sign of Aquarius, which implies abundance of water, indicates the advantageous qualities of the month for learning and gaining wisdom.
On the 1st day of Shvat of the last year that the Israelites were in the desert, before entering the Land of Israel, Moses translated the Torah into 70 languages and taught the Israelites the meaning of the Torah in each of these languages. The Kabbalah teachings tell us that the translation of the Torah by Moses is what enables the different civilizations and cultures of the world today to study and understand the wisdom of the inner dimension of the Torah and the Kabbalah in different languages.
In the middle of the month we celebrate 'Tu Beshvat' (15th of Shvat), the new year of the trees in Jewish tradition. The sixteenth-century Tzfat kabbalists established the custom of the 'Tu Beshvat Seder', a ceremony in which it is customary to eat many different fruits of the Land of Israel, and to say many blessings of praise for the Land of Israel. During the 'Tu Beshvat Seder' it is customary to drink four glasses of wine, parallel to the four spiritual worlds in the teachings of the Kabbalah – atzilut (emanation), beriya (creation), yetsira (formation) and asiya (action) – and to eat fruits that correspond to the qualities of each of these worlds.
In Jewish tradition, the month of Shvat is especially associated with the fruits of trees. Like the complex structure of the tree – roots, trunk, branches, leaves, flowers, sap, etc. – which is meant to produce fruit for the pleasure of humans, so too humans should aspire to bring joy to people around by doing good and enlightening deeds.
Adar, the month of fortune and blessings, is the twelfth and last month in the Hebrew year, which begins with Nissan, 'the head of all the months'. Adar follows the month of Shvat, which symbolizes a time of growth and the attainment of new spiritual heights, given the fact that the new year for trees and other vegetation – "Tu B'shvat" - falls within it. The main idea of Adar is to bring lofty spiritual revelations, inspirations and insights into the physical world.
This idea is reflected in the Hebrew letters of Adar's name, the "Aleph" (א), "Dalet & Reish" (דר). Kabbalah teaches that the letter 'Aleph' symbolizes the "alufo" – Master of the Universe – which refers to the Creator, as well as the ability to learn and investigate deeply: "Aleph", from the Hebrew words "ulpan" and "limud" [intensive study & learning]. During Adar we receive special powers for implementing the deep and important insights that we have achieved.
The power to accomplish the important spiritual mission of realizing our highest inspirations and insights is acquired through happiness. The ability to draw down the 'shechina' – the Divine presence, into the world – is accomplished through joy and happiness, as noted by our Sages: “The Divine spirit can only have impact through happiness”.
Therefore, the common custom is “when Adar begins, we increase and expand joy and happiness”: We heighten and amplify all good and positive things in a joyful manner. Therefore, during the month of Adar, it is customary to do even more joyful things than usual in every sphere of life.
When there is a leap year, with two months of Adar: Adar I and Adar II, we have 60 days of Adar; 60 days of unbridled joy, which can remedy and eliminate any and all possibilities of sadness. Anything that does not make us happy is simply nullified.
One of the interpretations of the name of the holiday of Purim is that it's derived from the Hebrew term 'Periya' which means being “fruitful and multiply” – which implies adding and multiplying in joy and happiness.
In the “Book of Creation”, an early Kabbalistic work whose authorship is attributed to the first Patriarch, Abraham, the month of Adar is compared to the sense of laughter. This work predates the holiday of Purim by hundreds of years, and explains why it is so appropriate for Adar to be considered the happiest of all months, and why it was chosen to ‘host’ the holiday of Purim.
It has been said that Adar’s fortune is healthy and resolute, and that a person’s luck improves during this month. In Kabbalistic literature it is written that anyone born during Adar cannot be controlled by witchcraft.
The Midrash explains that the Jewish People’s luck improves during this month, thanks to the fact that Moses’ birthday is the 7th of Adar. In the “Zohar”, the seminal and central book of Kabbalah, it says that Moses’ soul was all-inclusive, with all of Israel’s souls embodied within him. Kabbalah teaches that a person’s luck improves on his or her birthday, and since Moses’ soul is interconnected with the entire Jewish People, then his special luck positively influences everyone.
In the Zodiac, Adar’s sign is Pisces (fish). Kabbalah teaches that fish symbolize blessing because the Evil Eye cannot harm them. This is due to the fact that they are always covered with water, which is their blessed source of life that protects them.
Kabbalah teaches us many things about the inner meaning of all the Jewish holy days. Many Kabbalistic texts explain the inner dimension of Pesach (Passover). During Passover, also known as the Festival of Freedom, we celebrate our liberation from slavery in Egypt. The teachings of the Kabbalah tell us that the word mitzrayim (Hebrew for Egypt) means boundaries and restrictions. According to Jewish mysticism, the Exodus from Egypt symbolizes release from the boundaries and restrictions of consciousness to the realm of experience and merging with eternity. The Kabbalah teaches us the spiritual technique for realizing the experience of the Exodus from Egypt every day. As the Passover Haggadah says, "In every generation (and every day) a person must regard himself as if he had just come out of Egypt." This experience, built up throughout the Jewish month of Nissan – the month of spring – reaches its peak during Passover.
Pesach means skipping and passing over. While throughout most of the year an intent conscious effort and concentration are required to achieve the spiritual height of exceeding natural restrictions (thus requiring intense contemplation on the sephirot of the higher worlds), during Pesach all people are given supreme powers, so that they can leap over the hurdles and imagined obstacles that act on our consciousness and prevent us from progressing towards our spiritual goals.
The essence of the 'Seder' feast at the nighf of Passover is the story of the Exodus from Egypt. As we progress in reading the Haggadah, we discover more and more magnificent revelations of this night, which recur each and every year, every time in a more exalted manner. The climax of the connection with the lofty frequency and the special energy of the festival of freedom and perception and internalization of the sense of freedom and liberty are achieved by the eating of Matza (unleavened bread)d and the drinking of the four glasses of wine.
In the Zohar (the primary text of the Kabbalah), Matza is called 'the food of faith' and 'the food of medicine'. The Zohar explains that by eating Matza at the Seder, faith is drawn to the soul and good health to the body, which have a positive influence over the body and the soul throughout the entire year. For that reason, Passover is also known as the Festival of Spring. The Kabbalah teaches that aviv (Hebrew for spring) contains the word av (Hebrew for father) and yod-beit (the number 12), denoting its seminal influence on all 12 months.
All the months of the year, which symbolize the renewal of natural forces (hodesh – Hebrew for month – is the root for the word hithadshut – renewal), are affected and derive their power to regenerate from the Festival of Spring, Passover. The ability of revitalization, renewed sprouting, creation and high inspiration are all found in the special potential of Passover and it is from this holiday that we draw positive and creative forces for the entire year. Hence, this is the most suitable time, according to the Kabbalah, to go outdoors and observe the renewal of the powers of nature, the cycle of life that stems from infinite divine power, and to connect to the supernatural within us.
In ancient texts, three names are used for the month of Iyar:
Iyar – explained by Kabbalah as an acronym: alef-yud-resh: I am G-d Your healer.
The second month – this reference appears in the Torah, as Iyar follows the month Nissan, the first month.
Ziv – representing the outstanding light and glow of this month, when the buds flower.
These names tell us about the inner essence of the month, which is composed of two main aspects:
a. its position as the second month, immediately following Nissan
b. its role as a month of spiritual and physical flowering
The Kabbalah teachings elucidate the inner structure of the calendar, indicating the month of Nissan as the month in which the loftiest spiritual radiance appears, as a gift from “the heavens.” The month of Iyar retains some of the radiance of Nissan, but its role is to absorb the great light and internalize it, on the personal spiritual level and on the cosmic level of repairing the world.
The role of the month of Iyar is to create a connection to, and the right balance between, the supreme spiritual radiance given in the month of Nissan and the physical, material environment. For this reason, the inauguration of the Temple in the time of King Solomon took place in the month of Iyar: the inner essence of Iyar, which symbolizes the connection between spiritual and physical is best suited to construction of the Temple, which is a physical structure that contains divine spiritual radiance.
This work of connecting the spiritual and physical is done entirely by man: the spiritual work in the month of Iyar is focusing on lower levels of the soul, and the human being tries to refine and purify the spiritual forces referred to in Kabbalah as the “seven attributes” (the Midot). This is the inner essence of the commandment to count the Omer, which falls mostly in the month of Iyar. We count 49 days – 7 times 7, representing the seven attributes (mercy, judgment, beauty, victory, splendor, foundation, kingship) and their incorporation in one another. The word “sephira” (counting) originates in even sapir (sapphire): each and every attribute shines like a bright, glowing sapphire each and every day.
This process of internalizing the spiritual light in physical vessels is also described as a healing process, as the detachment of the spiritual and physical dimensions is actually an irregular condition – an illness. This is the meaning of the acronym Iyar, derived from the passage “I am G-d your healer” – divine healing that connects the physical and spiritual levels.
The sign of the month of Iyar is Taurus, and the Sephirah uses the letter vav to symbolize this month. Taurus (the bull) symbolizes the refinement of the beastly and natural sprit within us, and the shape of the letter vav symbolizes the pipe that connects the higher worlds with the physical, material world.
One of the prominent dates in the month of Iyar is Lag Ba’omer that falls on the 18th of Iyar - the anniversary of the death of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yohai (Rashbi), author of the Book of Zohar. Before his death, Rashbi revealed the deepest secrets of the Kabbalah, making this a day of celebration of the Kabbalah. On Lag Ba’omer, hundreds of thousands visit the grave of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yohai in Mount Meron near Tzfat, and use this special day for studying Kabbalah and for festivity and dancing into the wee hours …
The month of Tammuz, the fourth of the summer months that begin with Nissan, is the warmest month of the year. The zodiac sign of the month is Cancer (the Crab). Because of the intense heat, the crabs in the lakes and rivers multiply especially during this month.
The Kabbalah teaches us that everything in the material world has a spiritual origin in the supreme worlds, and hence the explanation of the intense heat of the month of Tammuz. In the Book of Psalms we find the expression “for the Lord G-d is a sun and a shield.” The name of the Creator, the Lord (Y-H-V-H), is parallel to the sun that illuminates the word and the name G-d (E-L-O-H-I-M) is parallel to the“shield” – closure of the sun, which protects us from its great heat.
The Kabbalah explains that the great heat of Tammuz derives from the strong illumination of the divine presence in creation, expressed in the name of the Lord, called “the special name.” The month of Tammuz is a time of revelation of the supreme illumination, comparable to the sun, in all the spiritual worlds.
The most prominent characteristic of the sun, compared with the moon is the lack of change. While the size of the moon varies daily, the size and the power of the sun are unchanged. This derives from the supreme level of the divine of 'lack of change', as written by the prophet Malachi, “I the Lord change not.” The Kabbalah explains that here the prophet refers especially to the fact that the Creator is so great and infinite that the entire creation of the world does not and cannot cause any change in Him. In the month of Tammuz the name of the Lord (Y-H-V-H), which represents a level of G-dliness which is far above and beyond nature, shines in greater intensity in all the worlds than any other time of the year, and thus the great heat during this month.
The name 'Tammuz' is mentioned in the Torah in reference to an idol, a god: “there sat the women weeping for Tammuz” (Ezekiel 8:14). The question is how the name of an idol becomes the name of a month in the Jewish calendar? The ancient sages explain the mention of idolatry in the Torah – its very mention teaches us that it was nullified. In other words, the negative force in the word Tammuz has already been cancelled out, and the inner essence of the month of Tammuz has long been known, making it possible to eliminate undesirable aspects. Indeed, the divine illumination, the “sun of the Lord” in the month of Tammuz not only eliminates undesirable things, but actually transforms them into good, positive and enlightening forces.
In the month of Tammuz we are given the special ability to make substantial changes and significant transformation in many aspects of our lives, to turn negative things into positive ones. This is also seen in the weekly Torah portions (parashot hashavua) read during the month of Tammuz, which emphasize the conversion of negative things into good, beneficial ones.
Parashat Korach – Korach’s claim against the priesthood led to increased supremacy of the High Priest and his positive influence on the Israelites.
Parashat Chukat (the red cow) - The red cow symbolizes the ability to purify and cleanse the soul even in the lowest of times.
Parashat Balak – Belam wanted to curse the Israelites and instead the words he uttered were transformed into lofty blessings.
The power of the month of Tammuz helps us see the potential good in every situation in our lives, and to turn every problematic and negative situation into good, beneficial and enlightening one for us, and the entire world.
In the month of Av the spiritual process that begins in Tammuz, reaches a climax. This is a process of the revelation of the powers that enable a transformation from bad to good. Kabbalah explains that Av is the month in which the energy of love is felt strongly in all the levels of the soul.
The points of connection between the months Tammuz and Av pass through the period of “the three weeks” between the 17th of Tammuz and the 9th of Av, known as yamei bein hameitzarim – the days of distress and mourning. Today this period symbolizes the sorrow of the destruction of the First and Second Temples, negative events. However, the literature of Jewish law and Kabbalah emphasize that at the time of the redemption, these will become days of festivity and great happiness. A process involving the special power of turning bad into good reaches its climax on the 9th of Av (Tisha B’av). That day, on which the two Temples were destroyed, is noted in the ancient sources as the day of birth of the Messiah, who will bring redemption to the entire world and build the third Temple in Jerusalem. For this reason the month is known as Menahem-Av (comforter of Av), emphasizing the comfort over the sorrow of the exile.
The zodiac sign of the month is Leo. As the ancient Talmudic literature tell us: “The lion (Nebudchadnezzer, King of Babylon) rose in the sign of Leo and destroyed Ariel (the Temple) so that the lion (the Lord) would rise in the sign of Leo and Ariel would be built.” The Temple is called Ariel (Lion of G-d) in the Torah because of its lion-like shape when viewed from above. The altar and the eternal flame above the altar are also shaped like lions. In the Book of Zohar, the altar is described as a lion devouring sacrifices, and the Kabbalah teachings explain that the sacrifices feeds the Angels who are called “sacred animals” described in the prophet Ezekial’s “vision of the chariot.”
The word aryeh (lion, Leo) is an acronym in Hebrew for Elul, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Hoshana Rabbah. This teaches us that in the month of Av we have the ability to observe and see ahead – to anticipate from a distance and plan for the lofty days of the months of Elul and Tishrei. For this reason it is customary to greet people with the blessing ketiva uhatima tova (to be sealed and scribed for a good year) starting on the 15th of Av.
Leo, the zodiac sign of the month, is described in Ezekial’s chariot as being to the right of the chariot, symbolizing the Sephira of grace and love. The Kabbalah teaches us that in the month of Av the special kindness and love of the Creator for his creations is revealed.
According to the Kabbalah, Av represents the sphere of wisdom, which is also situated on the right side of the tree of Sephirot. “Who is wise? – He who sees the future” – in the month of Av we are granted the special ability to see how everything is created and comes into being with the paternal kindness and love of the Creator, and how all is for a good purpose; as the sages said, “no evil descends from above.”
Rosh Hodesh (the beginning of the month) of Av – is the day of the Hilula (anniversary of the death) of the High Priest Aharon, brother of Moses, who is described as a “lover and pursuer of peace and maker of peace among people.” This is the only Hilula mentioned in the Torah. On this day we possess special powers to follow in the footsteps of Aharon the High Priest and particularly to love humanity.
The 5th of Av (Hey B’Av) – The day of Hilula in honor of Ha’ari (Rabbi Itzhak Luria), the great sixteenth-century teacher of Tzfat Kabbalah. When transposed, the initials of Ha’ari, or Hey B’Av, are aleph-hey-bet (ahav, the root of the word “love” in Hebrew) – indicating that this day is capable of love of G-d and love of humankind through inner observation. Ha’ari is known as the person who discovered the secret of 'Contraction' – (Tzimzum) the foundation of the Lurianic Kabbalah. The concept of contraction teaches us that because of the Creator’s love of humankind, he 'contracted' his infinite presence in order to enable the reality of those created, so that they could receive the abundance of good.
The 15th of Av (Tu B’Av) – The day of cancellation of the decree of exile of the Generation of the Desert, the generation who came out of Egypt, in the fortieth year of wondering in the desert. This day marks the great rise after the decline of Tisha B'Av – it expresses the joy of redemption and cancellation of the exile, the most joyous day of the year, referred to in the Torah as "G-d's Holyday". On this day the tribes of Israel were allowed to intermarry and therefore the day symbolizes unity and love. On this day Israel’s luck increases, the moon reaches the height of intensity (a full moon) and the force of the sun weakens. From this day on, the days grow shorter and the nights longer, and those who study the inner essence of the Torah customarily intensify their study of the Kabbalah.
Elul, the last month of the year, is known as a time of summing up the past year and preparing for the new one. According to Jewish tradition, it was on Rosh Hodesh (the 1st day of) Elul 3320 years ago that Moses climbed up Mount Sinai in order to receive the second set of tablets, with which he descended on Yom Kippur. Ever since, the 40 days between Rosh Hodesh Elul and Yom Kippur have been devoted to special spiritual elevation.
The word elul means "search." In the story about the spies that Moses sent to explore the land of Canaan, which appears in the Book of Numbers, the Hebrew expression vayaturu is used in reference to the spies' mission. In the Aramaic translation of the Torah, the word vayaturu is translated as veyaleloon (based on the same root as elul) –which means to search, explore and understand the different aspects and inner significance of the matter at hand.
Kabbalah teachings emphasize that our spiritual work during the month of Elul is to explore and search our souls, to find the good forces inside each and every one of us and apply them in the best way possible, so that they will positively influence the less favorable aspects of our personality.
The sign of the month of Elul is Virgo, which symbolizes the purification and cleansing of the soul and body in preparation for the new year.
The letters of Elul are an acronym for the passage in the Song of Songs: ani ledodi vedodi li haro'eh bashoshanim – "I am my beloved's, and my beloved is mine, that feedeth among the roses." The Zohar and other Kabbalah literature explain that the rose has thirteen petals, matching the thirteen attributes of Divine mercy. During the month of Elul there is a special revelation of the thirteen attributes of mercy and love in the upper worlds, and this has a positive effect on our deeds in this world.
The spiritual awakening of the soul in the month of Elul is the result of this marvelous revelation of the thirteen attributes of mercy. In gimetria (calculation of the value of the letters of a word), the Hebrew word ahava (love) and echad (one) each add up to 13, the number of petals on the rose.
Kabbalah and Hassidic philosophy present a wonderful parable about the special nature of the month of Elul, titled : "The King is in the Field." The parable tells us that while throughout the year the king is relatively inaccessible, closed in his palace, in the month of Elul the king is "in the field." At that time, anyone can approach him and benefit from his presence, and the king gives everyone a warm, welcoming reception with a smiling face. The analogy is clear - during the month of Elul, everyone is given an opportunity to approach the radiance, the divine spark of the Creator, found deep inside each of us. Everyone is given special strength to explore and search their souls, to discover the beautiful treasures that are inside our souls, and bring them out into the open.
For this reason it is also a customary to blow the Shofar during the month of Elul. The blowing of the Shofar awakens the inner consciousness of the soul and reminds us of its ancient origins in the creation of man: "Then the Lord formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life" (Genesis 2:7). The word shofar also signifies the effort to improve (leshaper, in Hebrew) and beautify our deeds, feelings and thoughts as the new year approaches.
Rosh Hashanah marks the creation of man on the sixth day of the creation of the universe. On Rosh Hashanah we also blow the Shofar, which is actually the most important mitzvah of this day. Continuing the spiritual process of the month of Elul, the blowing of the Shofar on Rosh Hashanah expresses the Creator's rule over all reality, as at the dawn of creation. In a similar way, the blowing of the Shofar at the Ne'ila prayer on Yom Kippur expresses the revelation of the soul and its unification with its divine origin.