Elul is the month of Divine compassion, the month in which we hear the blast of the shofar and are inspired to return wholeheartedly to God. The Ba’al Shem Tov, founder of the Chassidic movement, who was born on the 18thof Elul, taught us that our return to God (תשובה) should be achieved through an inner sense of profound joy.
The mazal (מזל) of Elul is Virgo (בתולה), the virgin, and our parashah, parashat Ki Teiztzei, which is always read during the month of Elul, contains the greatest concentration of the word “virgin” in the Bible.
Elul arrives right after the year’s lowest point—Tisha B’av, which commemorates the destruction of the Temple. Yet, even while still in the month of Av, we immediately began to rise up until we reached a high point six days later on the 15th of Av, one of the most joyful days of the year. The Mishnah describes that on that day, maidens would dance in the vineyards. Still, following the trauma of the Temple’s destruction, we remain with the feeling that things will never be the same. This is usually the case, that following a traumatic experience it is very difficult for a person to return to wholeness and we need to learn how to rehabilitate ourselves to retrieve our virgin state of purity.
This rectification process takes place in Elul, when we regain our purity like the virgin who is the symbol of this month. The virgin of Elul is “the virgin of Israel,” i.e., the innate, untouched purity of the Jewish people that can never be defiled. The phrase “the virgin of Israel” (בתולת ישראל) appears once in parashat Ki Teitzei in the context of a man who defames his bride with the claim that she was not a virgin, God forbid. However, in the rest of the Bible it appears four more times.
One of the appearances of this phrase is in the book of Amos in the verse that begins, “she has fallen, she will not arise the virgin of Israel” (נפלה לא תוסיף קום בתולת ישראל). The sages interpret this by reading, “she has fallen and will not [fall again]; Arise, the virgin of Israel.” However, Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, master of the Torah’s inner dimension, does not accept this interpretation. Instead, he reads the verse literally, that once the virgin of Israel has fallen, she will not be able to elevate herself again. Seemingly, there is no chance for her to heal her trauma and likewise, trying to rehabilitate ourselves appears to be a lost cause. Nonetheless, though we cannot heal ourselves, our hope is not lost, because God, our Healer can elevate us and heal us from all our ailments, whether physical or spiritual. God Himself will return the lost virginity of the Jewish people by forgiving us for all our sins. This transformation is illustrated by the fact that “a lost cause” (מקרה אבוד) has the same numerical value (358) as Mashiach (משיח); it is the Mashiach who can overcome even lost causes.
According to the inner dimension of the Torah, “the virgin of Israel” corresponds to the sefirah of kingdom. The rehabilitation of the Jewish people will ultimately be achieved when the kingdom of Israel returns to its rightful place, with Mashiach as its ruler. We pray that this will be soon and that the sages’ words will indeed be fulfilled, “She has fallen and will not [fall again].”