Lead up to the High Holidays:
The Month of Elul
The Jewish month of Elul is the month that immediately preceeds the High Holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. A time for reflection and repentance, Elul means "search" in the ancient language of Aramic -- which is appropriate given that this is a time for searching one's heart. Elul is also the last (12th) month of the Jewish calendar, immediately followed by Tishrei, the month in which the High Holidays (also known as the Days of Awe) fall.
During the latter half of the month of Elul, special services are held each morning called Selichot, or repentance. The Selichot liturgy delineates a multitude of possible sins, both against G-d and against man, and asks congregants to account for their own mistakes throughout the year.
Throughout the month of Elul, Jews traditionally begin the process of asking for forgiveness from those they have wronged. According to tradition, G-d cannot forgive people for their sins against man until they have asked for -- and been granted -- forgiveness from the ones they have harmed.
At the conclusion of each morning's Selichot prayer service, the shofar is blown. The shofar is a rudimentary, trumpet-like instrument made from a hollowed out ram's horn. Blown on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur as well shofar has an unmistakable, piercing sound, which is intended to rouse listeners from their complacency.
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