Getting Ready For Elul: Soliciting Reader Input

In the month-long run-up to the Yamim Nora’im, many people try taking themselves to a better place by studying some sefer that moves them. Sha’arei Teshuvah and Chovos ha-Levavos are perennial favorites. Some people can use them effectively year after year; others require an injection of novelty, and seek new titles. This is a solicitation of our readership to share ideas for making Elul more effective. Please weigh in with suggestions that can help.

Different people will respond, of course, to different styles. Some of the most popular works historically – Menoras ha-Me’or and Shevet Mussar, never really did it for me. I seem to require an approach that will work simultaneously on mo’ach as well as lev. Both Nesivos Shalom (by the Slonimer Rebbe zt”l) and Sifsei Chaim (by R. Chaim Friedlander zt”l, interpreter of and successor to Rav Dessler zt”l) have worked. In the latter case, I’ve gotten special enlightenment from his line by line expansions and explications of the Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur mussaf Amidah.

My initial plan will be to try Chovas ha-Talmidim by the Aish Kodesh. A few months ago I acquired a beautiful new translation edition, published by Feldheim. It includes a translation of the Sheloshah Ma’amarim, three shorter essays on basic elements of Chassidus and avodah that the Piaseczna Rebbe himself urged people to study together with his Chovas ha-Talmidim before tackling his other works. The layout is clean, clear and uncluttered, making it a joy to learn through a few pages late at night while fighting off the sleep that gradually overpowers the last cup of coffee.

I had been familiar with Chovas ha-Talmidim for many years, but always standing on the sidelines. I had recommended it on the strength of its reputation to several of my sons as they learned in yeshivos. I had never quite understood that it is a primer in avodas Hashem for anyone seeking to upgrade his ruchniyus. I hope that I am finally ready for it.

Other suggestions from readers will hopefully enhance the teshuvah efforts of all of our tzibbur.

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29 Responses

  1. Danny Schoemann says:

    My all time favorite is the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch.

    If you start learning 18 pages/day on Rosh Chodesh Elul(in the Frankel version with Mishna Berura notes), you will have reviewed every practical Halocho and Mitzva that you should and could be doing, between now and Rosh Hashana.

    With wishes for a new year full of Mitzvot.

  2. Netanel says:

    Ohr Yechezkel, schmuesen by R’ Chatzkel Levenstein. Sefer Ellul. It’s intense.

  3. Eli says:

    Try Rav Hirsch in the second volume of the Collected Writings. He also has a beautiful explanation on the pesukin about tekias shofar.

  4. Chareidi Leumi says:

    I have used the following in the past:

    Simcha Raz’s books on R’ Aryeh Levine
    Rav Kook’s Orot HaTeshuvah
    Rav Charlop’s Mei Marom – Ori VeYishi
    R’ Soloveitchik’s Al HaTeshuva

  5. Shmuel says:

    Rabbi Adlerstein,
    First, welcome to the world of Piaseczna; if you would really like something apropos for this z’man, see the Piaseczner’s Tzav v’Ziruz, a personal journal that he kept over the years. It is printed together with Hachsharas Avreichim and Mevoh HaShearim, but it was translated into English by Rabbi Yehoshua Starrett as “To Heal The Soul” (Aronson).

    As for myself: I am learning Al HaTeshuva, by Rav Soloveitchik. I am also beginning to go through selichos with translation and pirushim, and will move onto the Rosh haShana machzor soon.

    Hatzlacha Rabba!

  6. Lawrence M. Reisman says:

    If you are Ashkenazi like me, I recommend saying Selichot at least once with a Sephardi or Edut HaMizrach minyan. They start this Thursday. The experience will help you appreciate the selichos you say when you get there.

  7. dr. bill says:

    The Screwtape Letters by C. S. Lewis, quoted on occasion by RAL, is among the great works of mussar in the 20th century.

  8. mb says:

    Is this even a question?
    The new Koren Sacks Rosh Hashana Machzor, of course. The 22 page introduction is a masterpiece.

  9. Avi Stewart says:

    I have been learning through the Chofetz Chaim’s “Nidchei Yisroel.” He speaks in both an inspirational [heart] manner as well as a practical [mind]approach to many issues. He covers many of the areas that are basic and essential. It is helpful – especially with regard to overcoming מצות אנשים מלמדה

  10. JoshK says:

    Sichos chochma umusar from Rav Dovid Kronglas zt”l, mashgiach of ner yisrael- kshmo kein hu, a combination of chochma i.e. iyun-style shiur and inspiring musar as well.
    Also the maamar hachochma of the Ramchal dealing with the tefilos of RH, especially with the explanations of Rav Dovid Cohen shlit”a, RY of Chevron.

  11. Raymond says:

    As if I were not humbled enough already, I sure am all the more by this article and its accompanying responses. Speaking only for myself, I would be elated if I could and would master just those two most basic and popular works of repentance mentioned, namely the Duties of the Heart as well as the Gates of Repentance. From that same general time and place in Jewish thought, I am sure there are great works on this subject by the Rambam (Laws of Teshuvah) and the Ramban as well.

  12. lev midaber says:

    There is so much to choose from, here are a few favorites…

    Kol Dodi Dofek – from the sichos of R’ Schwadron. (Though the Rav’s is, of course, must reading for a different time).

    R’ Shimshon Pinkus on Elul and Yamim Noraim – available on Hebrewbooks by the way.

    Leket Sichos Mussar vol 2 – R’ Yitzchok Eizik Sher of Slobodka – contains a large section on Elul through Yom Kippur. Warning! You may find yourself addicted, and need all 3 volumes.

    The Lekach Tov on Yamim Noraim – Though I only make it through a small section of it each year, it always leaves an impression.

    Because the Mashgiach ZT”L knows us all so well… Ma’amarei Yemei Ratzon from R’ Wolbe ZT”L. As with everything he left for us, it’s the loving caress of true Mussar.

  13. micha says:

    I vote for any commentary on the body of the machzor. What maximizes the Yamim Nora’im experience is not only to be motivated to teshuvah — which any of these suggested could do, depending on the temperament of the commentor — but studying the machzor in addition prepares one for what to think on the day itself. Coming into Yamim Noraim with notes in the margins of your machzor about what the tefillos say, and what I think they say to me personally in relation to where I’m holding, is a great boon.

    The only sad part is how rarely the notes need updating from one year to the next because I had gotten to a better place in the year since…

  14. Ken Applebaum says:

    Dear Rabbi Adlerstein, please try some of the maamarim of Reb Yerucham, the Mirrer Mashgiach, on the Yomim Noraim; many are in the last volume of Daas Chochmo U’Mussar. In addition, learning even on a simple level chapters of the Neviim (Yishaya in particular) will aid anyone in getting to a better, more ruchniyus place. (Also, please let me know if you want to hear a very interesting explanation as to why we dispense with the mitzva of shofar on Shabbos based on what may seem to us to be a far-fetched takana.)

    K’siva V’chasima Tova.

  15. dovid2 says:

    Ymei Ratzon by R’ Shlomo Brevda.

  16. Michoel says:

    I have often had a yetzer to learn the classics, in the original, and then came up somewhat short in what I actually got from them. I have gone back to simple yet profound English seforim like Gateway to Happiness from R. Pliskin, which speaks to the reader directly in a language and idiom that is immediately relateable.

  17. Shmuel says:

    >If you are Ashkenazi like me, I recommend saying Selichot at least once with a Sephardi or Edut HaMizrach minyan. They start this Thursday. The experience will help you appreciate the selichos you say when you get there.

    To that end, try and procure a copy of a Sephardic machzor as well, and go through the piyutim. OROT has published a beautifully translated and annotated Rosh haShana machzor…

  18. Yosh says:

    Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh – the sefarim are also up online for free.
    Especially good if you commit yourself to the exercises.

  19. Lawrence M. Reisman says:


    Been there done that. I’ve prayed Rosh HaShannah with Syrians for the last four years and will do so again this year IY”H.

  20. Danny Rubin says:

    The “Toras Avraham” has a “schmuz” on Thshuva in the back of the sefer. He starts by spending multiple pages quoting Chazal that make Tshuva seem impossible and beyond the grasp of our generation, then ends with a beautifully uplifting message negating his introduction.

    I find it very uplifting and a strong antidote against being despondent at this time of year.

  21. Daniel says:

    – Alei Shur (R’ Wolbe)

    – Gra on Mishlei

    – Binian Olam (chizuk in limud hatorah)

    Leshana tova tikatevu vesechasemu

  22. Steve Brizel says:

    I highly recommend the Noroaos HaRav volumes that are excellent transcriptions of RYBS’s shiurim especially on RH and YK, with special emphasis on Musaf and the Avodas YK, together with a dose of R Tzvi Pesach Frank ZL’s Mikraei Kodesh. R Karlenstein ZL also has a wonderful sefer on the Yamim Noraim as well.

  23. joel rich says:

    i’d agree with micha on the machzor. i’d add fear no evil by natan sharansky – if one wants to understand what true mesirat nefesh is.

  24. Danny Rubin says:

    Why don’t we expand this discussion? Can anyone suggest any seasonal shiurim that are available for download ?
    Rabbi Adlerstein if you have anything online, can you please share it?

  25. Leah says:

    Michtav M’Elityahu comes to mind.

  26. cohen y says:

    As someone who saw the Mirrers (and the Navardokers)during Elul,you need a sefer?

    • Yitzchok Adlerstein says:

      Shows you how much hisorerus we need (or at least I need) in Elul!

      Besides, i saw them in Brooklyn, not Lita.

  27. Shmuel says:

    It’s not in the same tradition as Sha’ari Teshuva of rabbeinu Yona, etc. but I have found the s’if in the Chayei Adam at the beginning of hilchos Yom HaKippurim (the long one where he tells you what you’ve likely been doing wrong all year) to be very affecting, and I try to read it each year.

  28. Moshe Schorr says:

    This is not a famous classic. But for many who go to the city of Uman for Rosh HaShana, and there are _tens_ of thousands of them, the story of the first trip by an American during the Cold War could be very uplifting. Against all Odds, by my Brother-in-law Rabbi Gedaliah Fleer tells of his adventures, escapes and overcoming many difficulties in being the first American to sneak into Uman after the rise of Communism. Many have told me it’s their preparation for their own trip.

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