* Translation by Yehoshua Siskin
1. Today and tomorrow mark Rosh Chodesh Elul, the head or start of the month of Elul. This month is identified with a desire for self-improvement and change. It presents us with the last opportunity to check and see where we stand in relation to this past year, and what we want to rectify as we approach the new year. We have an entire month for contemplation and self-refinement. And so this month is a phenomenal gift.
2. On Rosh Chodesh we add the words Ya'aleh VeYavo -- "It (our prayer) should ascend and come (before God)" -- to the Amidah prayer and to Birkat HaMazon (Grace after Meals). The Hallel prayer -- composed of psalms praising God and soliciting His blessings -- is recited with parts of it rendered in song.
3. From now until the end of the holidays of Tishrei, it is customary to include the 27th psalm in our prayers. It begins with these powerful words of King David: "By David. The Lord is my light and my salvation." The shofar is blown during the Shacharit or morning prayer. Beginning on Motzei Shabbat (Saturday night), Sephardic communities begin to recite Selichot or penitential prayers. These are just some of the halachot and customs associated with this special time of the year.
4. Why does all this start exactly today? On Rosh Chodesh Elul, MosheRabbeinu ascended Mount Sinai after the sin of the golden calf and breaking of the Tablets of the Covenant. Forty days later, on Yom Kippur, he came down from the mountain with the second set of tablets. Ever since then, these forty days have been designated for supplication, forgiveness, and reconciliation.
5. It's 30 days until Rosh HaShanah yet the classic Rosh HaShanah greeting may already be spoken when we cross paths with one another: "Ketivah ve'chatima tovah. "May you be inscribed and sealed for good " (in the Book of Life).
So Chodesh tov, may you be inscribed and sealed for everything good.