Elul is the acronym of: Ani l’dodi v’dodi li (“I am for my beloved and my beloved is for me.” — Song of Songs 6:3) One of the interpretations of this verse is: I surrender everything that constitutes my ego and self to G-d: my desires, habits, pleasures … I want to direct everything I have to fulfill God's will. Even if at this moment I want to talk slander, or want to sleep in and not wake up on time for prayers, I nevertheless pledge all my ego to my Beloved, who is the Creator of the universe Who loves me. If a person does this, the inevitable result will be that “my beloved” — G-d — will fulfill all his wishes, do everything for his good, and will sign him down for a good year.
On Elul, the gates of heavenly assistance are open to anyone who wants to make himself a better person — on condition that he acts on his resolution. The gates of heaven are open to receive our prayers, and gatekeepers and accusers of all kinds were taken away so Jewish prayers can enter, provided that they are sincere.
Here are six ideas for self-improvement during the month of Elul and accepting the yoke of G-d’s kingship ahead of the New Year
1. Say Shema while concentrating on its meaning.
The book “Alei Shor” relates that since we crown G-d as King on Rosh Hashanah, it is proper that we strengthen ourselves already in Elul by accepting the yoke of G-d’s kingship upon us. Saying the text of the Shema with concentration is paramount to accepting G-d’s kingship upon oneself.
2. Respond “Amen yehai shmai rabba” with full concentration.
Our rabbis of blessed memory wrote that “whoever replies Amen yehai shmai rabba with all his strength, the gates of paradise open for him.” Rashi explains that “with all his strength” means that he says it aloud and with intent.
Amen yehai shmai rabba is a prayer that G-d’s great Name be further magnified in the world. However, as long as Amalek and evil exists, the Almighty’s Name is not complete, and G-d’s kingship is not evident.
Alei Shor suggests making this resolution: Twice a day when one says Amen yehai shmai rabba, one should have in mind that the world should accept G-d’s kingship. He suggests doing so in the morning prayer Kaddish before Borchu, in the Kaddish before the evening Shemoneh Esreh and perhaps also in the Kaddish before the afternoon Shemoneh Esreh.
Our sages explain that “Whoever answers ‘Amen yehai shmai rabba’ with all his might — is forgiven even if he had a smidgeon of heresy in him.” The Zohar says that all of one’s limbs should shake and he should answer in a firm voice when he declares it, and whoever does so, is promised that his sins will be forgiven as long as he doesn’t return to vice.
3. He should strengthen himself in the commandment of “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
Throughout the month of Elul, a note was hung in the Kelm study hall door with this comment: “It is a well known saying: ‘Say before me the verses of kingship to crown me over yourselves.’ What gives a human monarchy legitimacy? Only when all the citizens together desire to serve their king. Therefore, before the Day of Judgment, we should accept upon ourselves to fulfill the commandment of “love your neighbor” throughout the year, and in this way create unity among the Almighty’s servants. We will thereby succeed in establishing G-d as King over ourselves and He will remember us for the good.”
To keep the commandment to “love your neighbor”, one has to observe many other commandments, including: being kind, giving in, being happy for others, and avoiding baseless hatred and jealousy.
4. Careful observance of the Shabbat
Our sages say that “Whoever is careful and observes Shabbat meticulously, will be forgiven even if he served idols like the generation of Enosh, as it says “Keep the Shabbat from being desecrated.” (Isa. 52:6) Do not read “from being desecrated” (mechalalo) but “he is forgiven” (mechul lo).
Strict observance of the Shabbat includes these easy options which brings huge rewards:
· Make sure to light candles at the time indicated in the calendar.
· Welcome Shabbat early. Refrain from doing work 10 minutes before the time indicated in the calendar.
· Shut off the fridge light on Friday and holiday eve.
· Avoid the forbidden method of “selecting” when putting your home in order, collecting games, and preparing food for the meals on Shabbat.
· Avoid mundane speech and business talk on Shabbat.
5. Avoid forbidden speech.
· You can choose a specific person and decide that you will not say defamatory speech about him at a specific time.
· It is a good idea to study two laws daily about the laws of defamatory speech from the book “Chafetz Chaim”. Just the fact that a person is studying these laws already takes him out of the category of a person who habitually slanders others.
6. Be careful about theft.
Of all sins, theft is the worst. It is written that: “Theft jumps to the head of the line.” (Kohelet Rabba 1) It also says about the Generation of the Flood that their verdict “was only signed over theft.” A very frequent example of theft is forgetting to return what you borrowed from your neighbors. Lenders often forget to return their loans. It is a good idea to register every object you have that belongs to another and make sure he gets it back.
Choose one of these ideas, or any other idea that comes to mind, and start accumulating loads of merits towards the Day of Judgment.