The month of Elul is considered a month of repentance, a time to reflect and clean the slate ahead of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur in the following month of Tishrei. It is a period of introspection and self-review where we have the opportunity to go back in time to our "virgin" selves and take stock of people we've wronged or errors we've committed during the past year which have brought any chaos into our lives. Elul is connected to the astrological sign of Virgo which means virginity or purity in both English and Hebrew. One of the most powerful months of the Hebrew calendar, Elul is the last month of the Hebrew year and is a month of reconnecting to the Creator and starting anew. Similar to the word "search" in Aramaic - it is a time to search and draw close to God in advance of the Day of Judgment and Atonement during the High Holidays in Tishrei. The Talmud says Elul is an acronym for "Ani L'dodi V'dodi Li" - I am to my Beloved as my Beloved is to me, an allegory to our eternal relationship with G-d. Elul is a month of accounting and preparation where we have an opportunity to account for past and prepare for future. It is customary to increase charitable giving during Elul in order to expand our vessel and help us return to our original state. In ancient times it was considered the "New Year for Tithes".
According to the "Sepher Yetzirah", the Hebrew letters are spiritual frequencies that created the universe. A different Hebrew letter controls or influences the constellation and planet of the month. By connecting to these letters through meditation we can draw down specific energy to empower and enlighten us. The letters for the month of Elul are Resh and Yud. Resh created the Planet Mercury and represents poverty. The design of the letter Resh looks like a person who is bent over - a poor person, and the word resh is from the root "rush" - to be poor. The numerical value of Resh is 200. The Talmud states that a poor person can collect charity until he has 200 "zuz". Once they have more than 200, they are no longer considered poor.
The letter Yud created the constellation of Virgo and symbolizes richness and the highest level of consciousness. It is the first letter of G-d's holiest name, the 4-letter tetragrammaton. Yud represents thought before the act of creation. Likewise, Elul is the month when the "thought of creation" took place, an unadulterated state, before actual creation which occurs in the following month of Tishrei. We have the opportunity during Elul to balance the opposing energies of poverty and higher consciousness within the Resh and Yud to examine ourselves, purify and make a spiritual correction.
Moses carved the second set of tablets and ascended Mt. Sinai on the 1st and 2nd days of Elul indicating that the Israelites had been forgiven and granted mercy for the sin of the golden calf. The shofar is sounded daily in the morning (except Shabbat) during Elul from Rosh Chodesh to the day before Rosh Hashanah. The Shofar announces that these are special days of compassion when our prayers can be received and to awaken one's spirit. The gates of compassion are now open for us and for teshuvah - returning. We also recite the 27th Psalm from Rosh Chodesh Elul through Hoshahah Rabbah on Sukkot and we recite Selichot - penitential prayers during Elul which include a passage from Exodus with the 13 Attributes of Mercy. Ashkenazi say Selichot for 4 days prior to Rosh Hashanah while Sephardim say it for entire month of Elul. It is customary in Elul to extend wishes of a good year by including "K'tiva V'Hatima Tova" (a good writing and sealing of judgement) in all letters and greetings.