Shabbat Reeh/Rosh Hodesh Elul

As we observe Rosh Hodesh Elul on Shabbat and Sunday, we’ll notice a change in our ritual behavior. With the arrival of the final month of 5776, we will sound the shofar each day leading up to the eve of Rosh Hashanah. The reason for this tradition is found in the midrash:
“On Rosh Hodesh Elul, God said to Moshe, ‘Come up the mountain to Me and sound a shofar throughout the camp.’ Because Moshe was ascending the mountain, the shofar was sounded in order that the people not repeat the error of idol worship.” (Pirke deRabbi Eliezer 45)
The rabbis arrived at this chronology to create meaning for us in our calendar observances. We know–because he tells us repeatedly–that Moshe spent 40 days and nights on the mountain. It’s 40 days from Shavuot to the 17th of Tammuz, when Moshe saw the Golden Calf and smashed the first tablets. If you count 40 days from Rosh Hodesh Elul, we reach Yom Kippur. Moshe returns that day with the new tablets–the ultimate symbol of reconciliation between God and Israel.
But in between the 17th of Tammuz and Rosh Hodesh Elul, plenty of time passes–forty days, in fact. Rav Yehuda Amital, the giant of the religious Zionist community at Yeshivat Har Etzion, asks this question: Why did they need the shofar to remind them to repent when they had just spent 40 days repenting?
On Shabbat morning, we’ll use Rav Amital’s teachings to help us learn lessons about teshuvah from the differences between Moshe’s two trips up the mountain to get the tablets. As we begin Elul, we could use the inspiration to improve!
Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom and Hodesh Tov,
Rabbi David Wise