The Hebrew calendar is looked at as cycle of spiritual influences. That yearly cycle starts with Tishrei and ends with Elul. Because it starts again next month, Elul has a message, and a focus both in how to end something, and also how to prepare to begin something. It signifies completion and perfection, but in a way that relates to that which is to come. For example, the month, historically, is used as a time of reflection and self-examination on the previous year’s activities. We look over the past year as an act of completion and say, “Okay, how did I do? Did I accomplish what you wanted? Did I improve your character? Did I gain more wisdom?” This is also a preparation for the upcoming “Day of Judgment” (Rosh HaShannah). Its prudent to use the time period before the Holy Court convenes to assess one’s life, see what needs to be corrected, and make some positive changes or commitments. Elul is ripe for perfecting our character precisely because it leads us up to Rosh HaShannah.
The astrological sign of the Virgin, which is assigned to this month, symbolizes this idea perfectly. Virginity is a quality of perfection and being unblemished. Its value, however, is mainly in light of the future commitment to a relationship. We are attempting, figuratively, during this time to mold ourselves into a state of “virginity” in order to enter a relationship with God that is pure and holy.
Its important to keep in mind the following. Theoretically, someone could review their year, come up with all the wrong conclusions, and start the next year even worse off. Therefore, the accounting that’s done at this time has to be done with wisdom. The letter kabbalistically associated with Elul is “yud”, the tenth letter of the Hebrew alphabet. This is the first letter of God’s four-letter name, which symbolizes the Ten Emanations. The first of the Ten Emanations is called “wisdom”, which is embodied in the “yud”. These ten emanations represent the totality of existence. Since the letter “yud”‘ has a numerical value of ten, it also represents all ten emanations, which echoes the month’s aspect of completeness as it ends the yearly cycle.
The Talmud relates that the Jews will be redeemed and brought back to their former glory, some year, in the month of Tishrei. It’s clear that a month of introspection and correcting our mistakes is the appropriate precursor to this event. This is designed into the calendar. There is a custom to blow the Shofar every morning in Elul to remind people of the importance of “waking up”, and focusing on self-perfection now. The intensity of so many people coming back to a stronger bond with God creates a powerful impression on the spiritual realm. It’s possible that not only do we do this process in Elul because we hope to be redeemed in Tishrei, but the redemption itself may be the result of our coming back.
This is the power of the month. It’s not just practical to introspect and self-correct in Elul. It’s not merely a custom of the time. The spiritual nature of the month enhances and magnifies the effect of any effort you make to come closer to God and spirituality.