Here we are in Ellul, the month when we try to convince God to judge us favorably for the coming year. I thought I’d post a few questions about this month I’ve never found decent answers for.
1) I’ll start with my oldest question. In first grade at the beginning of the year I learned that we blow shofer every day during Ellul, except the day before Rosh HaShanah. On Erev Rosh HaShanah we don’t blow the shofer in order to confuse the Satan. Apparently by blowing the shofer we have warned him that Rosh HaShanah is coming, and he has been preparing his case against us. When we stop for a day he thinks he has missed Rosh HaShanah and is confused, which ruins his prosecution of us.
How does this work year after year? Maybe the first time we did this the Satan would be confused, but the hundredth? The thousandth? This is the same being who we are always being warned is super-clever, who is able to lead us astray while making us think that we are being pious, then going to the Heavenly Court with perfect arguments against us. Is he really so dense that after three and a half millennia he hasn’t figured this out?
And once he does figure it out, omitting shofer on Erev Rosh HaShanah is a heads-up that tomorrow is the big day. Kind of counter-productive.
2) I understand that being judged can inspire one to try to better himself. And I can understand that being more careful than usual for a limited time (a month) is easier than doing the same thing indefinitely. But what do people think they gain by adopting extra-pious practices just for Elul? Do they think that God will be fooled into thinking they are better than they really are? Or is it supposed to work like a bribe? “Hey God, I’ll do a little something extra for You, and come Rosh HaShanah You do a little something extra for me.” *Wink*
3) Perhaps the least serious, but the one I find the most annoying, are the cute vorts that darshan the name of the month of Ellul. It is undisputed that we adopted the names we use for the months from the Babylonians. The Babylonians named their months after their gods. So anyone who makes a drasha from the name “Ellul” is finding deeper Jewish meaning in the name of a Babylonian god. I know that most of these vorts are just meant to be cute, but it smacks of historical revisionism to try to find hidden Jewish meaning in the name of a pagan god. Especially since so much of Judaism is designed to be specifically anti-pagan.
A quick Google search turns up a Babylonian god named Enlil, who was a weather god. Wikipedia says that it was “sometimes rendered in translations as Ellil in later Akkadian, Hittite, and Canaanite literature.” I don’t know if this is actually where we get Ellul, but seems to be a good possibility. So let’s all try to be better servants of God during this month of the God of Storms.