Friday, August 14, 2009

Birkat ha-Chodesh for Elul

Tonight is Shabbos Mevarchin for Elul, kicking off the yontiff season.  During Birkat ha-Chodesh, you may hear the haunting nusach of yamim noraim.  It's a bit shocking, here in the midst of August, still during the month of Av, to be transported for a few seconds into the middle of Erev Rosh Hashanah -- which is surely the intent.  

And in a few days (this coming Friday morning, in fact), it will be the first day of Elul.  At the end of Rosh Chodesh davenning, not only do we begin the yontiff pracitce of adding Psalm 27, but you may get to hear the season's first blasts of the shofar.

So what do we mean by shabbos "mervachin", and what might it mean for this approaching season?  Literally, we just mean the shabbos when we bless the upcoming new month (i.e., recite Brikat ha-Chodesh (link) while holding the sefer torah).  Small problem though -- there's no actual bracha in Birkat ha-Chodesh.  Neither of the Baruch Ata nor the Brucha At variety.  It there's no extra bracha, why call it the "Shabbos that is blessed"?  And who's doing the blessing or getting blessed here?  The month herself?  The Sh"tz holding the sefer torah?  All of us reciting the Birkat ha-Chodesh?

One interpretation: For most months, Shabbos Mevarchin is about giving and receiving the blessing of "chodesh" -- which means both "new" and month.  When we recite the Birkat ha-Chodesh, we bless the project of "re-newal" that we collectively pledge to undertake in the coming month.

But Tishrei doesn't get a Birkat ha-Chodesh, nor a Rosh Chodesh, but instead a Rosh Hashana.  So the blessing for Elul has to cover Tishrei as well, a blessing of "shana" -- which means both "change" and year, may it be a good and sweet one.  When we recite the Birkat ha-Chodesh tomorrow, we bless the project of change that we collectively pledge to undertake in the coming holiday season.

May we be blessed this yontiff, to offer, be a conduit for, and receive overflowing blessings of change for all of us.

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