Elul is the month that proceeds Rosh HaShanah, and has thus been given special, important significance in Jewish tradition. We are asked to account for our souls in a process of cheshbon nefesh (taking account for our soul). The goal being that on Yom Kippur, 40 days from the first day of Elul, we will be complete with our atonement in matters of mistakes we have made (or are continually making) toward fellow human beings. Thus, Yom Kippur can be a completely spiritual day – one without the burden of guilt nor remorse of having not attempted to earn forgiveness in the eyes of another.
Rambam (Rabbi Moses Maimonides) begins his chapter on teshuva (the process of seeking forgiveness) by recalling the verse from Numbers (5:6-7): “When men or women individually commit any wrong doing toward a fellow human being, thus breaking faith with G-d, and they realize their guilt, they shall confess the wrong that they have done.” There are multiple steps here: 1) commit a wrong doing, 2) realize guilt, 3) confess.
This implies that first, we can consider mistakes as the first step in making amends! Instead of feeling guilty, we may have a moment to say “ah, and thus teshuvabegins!” It implies second, that we may have done some wrong doings of which we are not aware. Let us take time during this month of preparation to contemplate on our past behavior – it helps me to focus in on one arena or one relationship, otherwise I become too burdened to actually do anything. Finally, it implies that we have the confidence to confess. For me, this requires both a supreme pride and at the same time, a complete humility.
As we move through this month together, may be it a time of mistakes, contemplation, and raising our voice to make amends.