Since Elul is the last month of the year and immediately precedes Rosh Hashanah - Day of Judgment for all the world's inhabitant's - it was established as a time for repentance. We therefore recite Selichos and penitential prayers to God.
From ancients times, these have been days of reconciliation between God and Israel.When Israel committed the sin of the golden calf and the tablets of the Law were broken, Moshe ascended the mountain and pleaded for Divine mercy and forgiveness. God acquiesced, telling him (Shemos 34:1): Fashion two tablets like the first ones. Moshe ascended the mountain on Rosh Chodesh Elul and stayed there for forty days, until the tenth of Tishrei. On the tenth of Tishrei he brought down the second tablets from the mountain, those which God had given Israel willingly and joyfully. This forty-day period - between Rosh Chodesh Elul and the tenth of Tishrei - was fixed for all generations as a time of reconciliation, a period of repentance and forgiveness.
Although true repentance is always accepted, the days of Elul are especially suited for repentance, for during this period Divine mercy is aroused and God's hand is outstretched to welcome those who return to Him.
source: The Book of Our Heritage by Eliyahu Kitov
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