Elul: A Time to Search and Destroy

“It does not do to leave a dragon out of your calculations, if you live near him.” -J.R.R. Tolkien

Throughout the Hebrew month of Elul, the shofar is sounded every day except the Sabbath, in preparation for Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year.  In Aramaic, the language spoken by Jews at the time months were first named, Elul means “search.”

The entire month, blasts of the shofar serve as a ‘wake-up call’ to begin our internal search- the deep, spiritual work of the season. However, the day before Rosh Hashanah the shofar is silent. It is said one reason for this change in pattern is to confuse Satan, who may have viewed the daily repetition as mindless routine and is rattled by  the sudden stop. Befuddling Satan, throws him off his evil game.

The pregnant pause in the pattern also provides us with the opportunity to reset, to collect our intentions for the resumption of the shofar, which, before it is sounded in the Torah service Rosh Hashonah mornings, is introduced by the recitation of a series of six Hebrew verses. The acronym formed by the first letter of each of these verses spells out the phrase Kra Satan, “rip up [destroy] Satan.” This declaration expresses the desire to  rid ourselves of our own debilitating negativity and the evil influences in our midst.

According to gematria, the numerical representation of Hebrew letters and words, the Hebrew word for “Satan” equals 359. The word “nachash” (the snake in the Garden of Eden) equals 358. Kabbalah teaches that in tabulating the numerical value of a word, the number one may be added to represent the word as a whole. Therefore “Satan” and “nachash,” both equalling 359, may be viewed as synonyms for negative energy or evil.   The spiritual counterbalance to the primordial snake and Satan is the Messiah, whose name, fittingly, also equals 359.

The upcoming Jewish new year, 5780, contains the number 80, the numerical value for the Hebrew letter pey,  meaning “mouth,” and by extension, “word,” “expression,” “breath.”  The number 80 is the same numerical value of the words yesod and gevurah, “foundation” and “strength.” There seems to be more and more evil in our world, whether in the form of dragons, snakes or human incarnations of Satan. It won’t do, to leave this tragic reality out of our calculations. It will take a foundation of creativity, courage, strength and leadership for us to banish Satan and begin the holy work of repair.










L’Shana Tova 5779: Come As You Are

East Side Bus Tunnel, Providence, Rhode Island, 2018

The series of sounds of the shofar, helps us prepare for the work of the year ahead.

Tekiah: we are whole

Shevarim: we are broken

T’ruah: we are shattered

   Tekiah g’dolah: we are whole; transformed through the holy work of repair, reinvention and renewed commitment to making our lives a blessing.

Elul: The Heart of the Matter


Now, in the Hebrew month of Elul which precedes Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, is the time to get to the heart of the matter. This is a time of awakening ourselves (aided by the sound of the shofar every morning but Shabbat) to the task of a thorough personal accounting, from the year that is ending, of our deeds, our relationships and our souls.  Elul is also seen as a map to our inner heart potentially serving as the key to the depth and power of our inner heart. The Hebrew letters that make the word “Elul,” aleph, lamed, vav and lamed, are an acronym for the phrase (from the biblical Song of Songs) ani l’dodi v’dodi li, which means “I am to my beloved and my beloved is to me.” This sacred song has been thought of as analogous to the love between a married couple, our relationship to the Divine and our relationship to keeping the Sabbath. I think it can also symbolize our relationship with the self we hope we can become, the marriage of who we have been and who we strive to be.

At the start of of Elul, according to the Zohar we are achor el achor, meaning “back to back.” The work of the month is to be panim el panim, “face to face.” In a year that has perhaps been difficult in our personal and professional lives, our country’s political life and a challenge to hopes for peace and repair of our planet, we are, appropriately, deeply discouraged. Hopeless, that our prayers have not been heard, we turn away from our dialogue with the Divine presence we define as God. But we also turn away from ourselves, in despair, turning our backs on our goals and dreams.

My Elul prayer for us all is that during these strange and dispiriting times that we do not also become disheartened. Instead of losing heart, we must use this opportunity our tradition provides to do an “about face.” May our reflections, re-evaluations and dreams during all the days of Elul and the yamim noraim 5777, provide us with humility, insight and optimism for the year ahead and always.

Shanah Tovah

LeShanah TovahI am wishing you a happy, healthy and holy New Year. Click on the link below for a short Youtube video to partake in the mitzvah of hearing the sound of the shofar. I am doing the series of traditional calls sounded during the month of Elul, leading up to the celebration of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year.


Portrait Amy with Shofar

And, from my blog archives:  https://amyartcohen.wordpress.com/2013/08/21/have-shofar-will-travel/