24 Aug Making the Most of Elul
These days we are dealing with a somersault of emotions. The summer is coming to a close and many of us say we can’t believe it’s already over. We are experiencing the blues of getting back to the city grind while, at the same time, we realize that we are in the month of Elul. And so, we have the chilling awareness that we are rapidly approaching the Yom HaDin, the Day of Judgment.
I think that it’s important to first put Elul in its proper perspective. Rav Itzele Blazer, zt”l, zy”a, the great Baal Mussar, had the following practice. At the onset of Elul, he would go up to the Aron Kodesh, open up the paroches and give public thanks to Hashem for the great gift of Elul. This is the way we need to perceive Elul; not as a scary time but rather as a time of great opportunity.
This period of the year of “Ani L’dodi V’dodi Li – I am to my Beloved [Hashem] as my Beloved is to me,” is the ultimate “matching” program. Hashem says, “In direct proportion to how you reach out this month to Me, I will be there for you and embrace you.” It’s the season when Hashem says, “I am there for you. Just make sure to make time for Me.”
The special power of this season was created thousands of years ago when Moshe Rabbeinu went up to Hashem on Rosh Chodesh Elul to petition Him to forgive the Bnei Yisroel for the sin of the golden calf. He successfully descended 40 days later on Yom Kippur with the happy news, “Vayomer Hashem ‘Salachti ki’dvorecha’ – I have forgiven you as you requested.” From that time on, the 40 days from Elul to Yom Kippur has been a time that is m’sugal, best suited for selicha v’kaporah, forgiveness and atonement. Thus, Elul has always been a time for making a cheshbon hanefesh, a personal accounting to determine which sins we need to avoid and which mitzvahs we need to improve upon.
But, there is another aspect of Elul that we need to keep in mind. We know that as the Day of Judgment comes, we make hopeful commitments to be better at our relationships, more attentive in our devotions of prayer, more liberal with our tzedaka and more assiduous with our learning. But, as soon as Yom Kippur and Hoshanna Rabbah are behind us, these commitments all too often begin to fade. By the time Zos Chanukah comes around, many a time they are completely forgotten. The posuk tells us that Hashem looks at us, “Mei-reshis hashanhah ad achris hashannah,” Hashem looks at how we behave from the beginning of the year until the end of the year. The venerable Satmar Rebbe, zt”l, zy”a, says wittily that this is what it says in the Kedusha on Shabbos, “Hein go’alti eschem archaris k’reishis – I will redeem you when the end of the year is like the beginning of the year.” Elul therefore, as the last month of the year, is also a time to show Hashem that we are ending the year with the same hopes and aspirations that we had in the beginning of the year, putting our best foot forward before the Day of Judgment. As Chazal teach us, “Hakol holeich achar ha’chasom – Everything goes after the finale.” So regarding the year taf-shin-pei, 5780, a year that was truly difficult and challenging, let’s make the end of this year a strong and fruitful conclusion.
One more idea. Everybody approaches Elul as a time of promise for the future. But, it is also an opportunity to look back at the past year and give thanks to Hashem. As we say in the first selichos of the season on motzei Shabbos before Rosh Hashannah, “Lishmoa el ha-rina v’el ha-tefilah – [Hashem should] Hear the song and the petition,” meaning that before our petitions for the future, we should sing about the past. The Nitra Rav, shlit”a says that anyone over 60 years old who survived the coronavirus scourge after Purim should really bentch gomel. If everyone is healthy and you’re able to pay your bills, and you’re of good peace of mind, the first thing you should be doing is singing to Hashem in songs of thanksgiving. When Hashem sees that we are appreciative, this is another good way to connect with our Beloved. In the merit of our Elul preparations, may Hashem bless us as Kasima v’chasima tova u’masuka, a sweet, healthy and wonderful New Year.