From Bney Yosef North America (I copied and pasted from email, as their website was down for maintenance.)
40 Days of Repentance —The Season of Teshuvah
This season of repentance begins on the first day of the Hebrew month of Elul, the sixth month of the Hebrew calendar. This is a time to blow the shofar (ram’s horn) and seek YHVH in sincere repentance. “Thus says the LORD of hosts: Consider your ways.” (Haggai 1:7)
Tradition says the name Elul spelled in Hebrew Alef-Lamed-Vav-Lamed is an acronym for “Ani L’dodi V’dodi Li” – “I am my Beloved’s and my Beloved is mine” from Shir HaShirim (Song of Songs) 6:3. The word Elul can be traced back to the Akkadian word for harvest. A root of this word Elul could be “search” in Aramaic. Thus we have this month of searching our souls.
In Vayikra (Leviticus) 16:29 we find the 10th of Tishri (the seventh month on the Hebrew calendar) is the Day of Atonement. This is 40 days from the first of Elul. There is an ancient tradition that the King would take off His Royal garments and come out to the people in the field to meet with them during this month of Elul. Then, with the month ending, He would return to His courts as the 10 Days of Awe lead us to the Day day of Atonement. During Elul, there are 30 days of the King coming to your home, your place of work, your business, and where you hang out. This can be a time when we recognize that we have fallen short in our love for our brothers and , or lack in Good deeds. As we examine ourselves, we may find we are living two lives: one spiritual, and one carnal.
“For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you,” (Matthew 6:14)
“And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.” (Mark 11:25)
“Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven.” (Luke 6:37)
The pattern of repentance, or “teshuvah” in Hebrew, as we lead up to the Day of Atonement is more than simply a tradition of “New Year Resolutions.” Repenting is the act of stopping, turning around, and moving in the other direction toward Elohim our King. This Season of Teshuva in the month of Tishri is the new year in Hebrew thought. Leviticus 25 explains it as the time of release that happens each year on the Day of Atonement. Every seventh year begins the Shmitah, or Sabbatical Year, which is a sabbath rest for the land. Every fiftieth year is the Yovel, or Jubilee, the release of all debt and the return to ancestral inheritance are in this month. But resolutions do not bring the heart change that we need. King David gives us a look at this in the pattern revealed in Tehillim (Psalms) 51.
1) We need His Mercy
2) Identify our sin
3) Recognize who we sinned against
4) Know who we are
5) Ask for cleansing
6) Rejoice in His work
7) Ask for renewal
8) Let Joy and a willing spirit return to you.
“And when all these things come upon you, the blessing and the curse, which I have set before you, and you call them to mind among all the nations where the LORD your God has driven you, and return to the LORD your God, you and your children, and obey his voice in all that I command you today, with all your heart and with all your soul, then the LORD your God will restore your fortunes and have mercy on you, and he will gather you again from all the peoples where the LORD your God has scattered you.” (Deuteronomy 30:1-3)
This season is the time for us to take stock and actively seek forgiveness.