Rosh Chodesh Elul and the Golden Calf
Midrash Tanchuma, Parashat Teruma, 8
The word "Elul" is an acronym for: “I am to my Beloved and my Beloved is to me.”
The last month of the Hebrew calendar encourages us to prepare for the coming year. Some perceive this as preparation for the "Days of Awe" while others perceive them as "the holidays of Tishrei." Either way, Elul is the last month of the year and serves as a transition period between the end of the past year and the beginning of the next year.
In Sephardic communities, Selichot are recited from the beginning of the month of Elul, and all communities blow the shofar every morning until the eve of Rosh Hashana.
The Torah does not make a connection between Elul and Rosh Hashana, nor between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. The link between Shavuot, the fast of the 10th of Tammuz, Rosh Chodesh Elul and Yom Kippur becomes clear with help from the Midrash. Details drawn from various places in the Torah reveal that Moshe Rabbeinu ascended Mount Sinai not once, not twice, but three times. And remained there for forty days each time.
Midrash Tanchuma, Parashat Teruma, 8:
“Make Me a sanctuary, and I will dwell among them.” When was Moshe given this commandment regarding building the Mishkan?” This happened on Yom Kippur itself, even though the parasha about the Mishkan precedes the event of the golden calf.
Rabbi Yehuda b’Rebbe Shalom said:
The Torah is not written in consecutive order, as the pasuk says: "The paths (of Torah) are wandering; an cannot understand them." (Mishlei 5: 6). We cannot fathom the meandering sequence of the Torah. Thus, Moshe was commanded to build the Mishkan on Yom Kippur.
Where do we learn this?
Moshe ascended the mountain on the sixth day of Sivan and remained there for forty days and forty nights. He continued to dwell there for another forty days, and then another forty, which in total adds up to one hundred and twenty days. We learn that the Nation was forgiven on Yom Kippur, and on that same day HaShem said, "Make Me a sanctuary and I will dwell among them, so that all nations will know that Bnei Yisrael have been forgiven for the sin of the golden calf." This is why the Mishkan is also known as Mishkan Ha’Edut (the Temple of Testimony), as testimony to all nations of the world of Hashem’s presence in the Mikdash.
On the sixth of Sivan, Moshe went up Har Sinai to receive the Torah, and the entire nation heard the Ten Commandments.
On the 17th of Tammuz, 40 days later, Moshe descended the mountain, saw the golden calf and shattered the Luchot HaBrit.
On the following day, the 18th of Tammuz, Moshe burnt the calf, and on the 19th of Tammuz he ascended Mount Sinai again to ask HaShem to have mercy on Bnei Yisrael. There he remained for another forty days, and then returned to the nation.
On the first of Elul he ascended Har Sinai, to receive the second set of Luchot.
On the 10th of Tishrei, forty days after Rosh Chodesh Elul, Moshe returned with the second tablets. This day was Yom Kippur, the day HaShem forgave the nation for the sin of the golden calf: "And HaShem said, I have forgiven you as you wished."