18 Aug Making the Right Changes During Elul and How to Do it!
The month of Elul is synonymous with teshuva- repentance. It is also a time when we increase our charity as best as we can. Smart people also make a strong effort to patch-up friendships that have gone sour and to make amends with people they know they have wronged. This is because even the holy day of Yom Kippur itself, with all of its afflictions and devout prayers, only atones for the sins between us and Hashem; the sins between us and our fellow man cannot be forgiven unless we appease the one we have hurt and acquired their forgiveness. It is for this reason that Elul is also a time for us to be magnanimous with our forgiveness of others for as good Jews we surely don’t want anyone to be punished on our account.
Do we really want someone to break a leg because they were nasty to us? Let’s remember that forgiving others is a form of compassion before Rosh Hashannah and Yom Kippur and as such it is highly effective in bettering our chances for a good year. This is because we are taught, “Kol hemiracheim al hebriyos merachamim alav min Hashamayim – Whoever has mercy upon others, Hashem will have mercy upon him from heaven.”
What if you find it difficult to forgive someone? Let’s say. for example, someone caused you to lose an exciting job opportunity, or perhaps they wrecked your chances at a good shidduch. How could you sincerely forgive someone who hurt you in such a terrible way? Here’s a suggestion: Make a deal with Hashem. Say to Him, “Hashem, this person really was nasty to me. He really doesn’t deserve my forgiveness but I am willing to forgive him even though he doesn’t deserve it. Please, please forgive me for my sins even though I surely don’t deserve it.” You might add the following afterthought: “Hashem I know that this person might even repeat such an offense against me in the future, but I am still willing to forgive him for now. Please forgive me as well even though I might likewise slip-up with aveiros, sins, sometime in the future.”
Elul is also the last month of the year. As such it is a very vital month, for our Chazal teach us that, “Hakol holeich achar hachasom – Everything goes according to the finale.” It therefore behooves us to make the last part of the year the very best part in every spiritual way, whether it’s davening, bentching, making brochos better, learning more Torah, spending more time with our spouse, parents and children, putting more thought into our tefillin, tzizis, mezuzah, being more careful with taharas mishpacha/family purity, kashrus, and Shabbos, and trying to find as many opportunities as possible to do a full array of gemilas chasadim/acts of kindness, such as visiting the sick, gladdening the hearts of brides and grooms, helping the needy, giving respect to the dead and showing special kindness to the widow, orphan, converts and the poor.
But there is another angle to Elul that many people do not realize. We are still acutely aware that at this time of the year and we must petition to Hashem to forgive us and a grant us a new lease of life. It is for this reason that we get up early in the morning to say the selichos prayers thanking Hashem for forgiveness, and we spend most of the Day of Judgment and of course Yom Kippur in solemn prayers, begging Hashem to give us another chance to be better people.
However, there is another side of prayer and that is to thank Hashem for all the wonderful things that He has given us during the past year. The central prayer that we say on the first night of selichos has a recurring stanza which goes like this, “Lishmoa el harina v’el hatefillah.” We ask Hashem to listen to our songs and or petitions. Note that we mention song first because it is imperative that before we ask Hashem for future privileges, we first thank Him for all the things He has done for us in the past. It can be compared to the way we are with our older children when we spend a lot of money on them and devote much time to them. If they are appreciative and voice their gratitude, it is a pleasure to do more for them in the future. So too it is with Hashem. As the Chovos Halvovos succinctly puts it, “Devorim sherotzeh lehasmid bah, al tiftach bah – Things that you want to continue, don’t take them for granted.” Rather, constantly thank Hashem for all the kindness that He showers upon us, and then it will be a pleasure for Him to continue to do so in the future.
One of our national names is Yehudim, which means ‘people who give thanks’ for we understand the importance of expressing thanks at all times. This is why we start off everyday of our life with the expression of Modeh Ani, thank you to Hashem, and every Jewish man says a whopping 100 brochos every day. (A women says fewer brochos because of other pressing responsibilities she needs to attend to.)
So as we prepare for the Day of Judgement, of course it is appropriate to look to the past at our misdeeds in order to repair them. It is also important to look to the future and make kabalos/new commitments on how we will try to do better. After all, we are not simply asking Hashem to grant us just another year. We want an even better year and therefore we must in return bring to Hashem our commitments on how we too will do better for the upcoming year. But besides all of this, it is important to look back at out past year and take note of the many happy times we have had, the successes and the nachas, and make sure to say thank you to Hashem as we close the year of 5780. In that merit may Hashem bless us with a very healthy, happy, and wonderful New Year.