Late for an important meeting and unable to find parking our Simon Springer pulled into a spot behind Beth Israel Congregation – a large shul downtown. “They won’t mind,” he reasoned. “And it’s just for a couple of hours.” He was about to leave when he saw the sign in the parking lot that read:
"No parking. We are practicing forgiveness, especially during the High Holiday season, but don’t make it harder than it already is...”
We all know that forgiveness is difficult enough for a first offense, and only gets more difficult when someone commits that offense again and again. Yet when it comes to G-D, however many times we offend and then regret, He is always ready to forgive us.
Elul, the final month in the Jewish calendar is well under way. It is the month in which we prepare for the approaching Days of Awe. It is a month of mercy, forgiveness, and repentance, of taking stock of our lives, and of accessing G-D who makes Himself readily available. Elul’s history starts way back when Moses ascended Mount Sinai a third time to receive the second tablets. He ascended on Rosh Chodesh Elul, the 1st of the month of Elul, and descended at the end of Yom Kippur when repentance and G-d’s forgiveness of the Jewish People was complete. Elul was the beginning of G-D’s forgiveness, a time of revelation of G-D’s mercy, and has remained so ever since. With the Days of Awe approaching, Elul is when we begin to repent in earnest. But what is Repentance? The Hebrew word for repentance is Teshuvah, which actually means Return. Each of us has a pristine soul and intrinsic connection to G-D that we must return to. Throughout the year we become very involved in the mundane aspects of life, passing over chances to fulfill G-D’s commandments, and often getting out of touch with our true selves, the core of our souls. Elul is a special time to do Teshuvah, to return to G-D, to realign ourselves with truth.
Why Now? I Go, Where!?
What makes this time more auspicious than the rest of the year is G-D’s position and disposition. In Elul,G-D relates to us with His 13 Attributes of Mercy, making our entreaties for return and forgiveness all the more powerful. Elul is also a once in a year opportunity when we have unique access to G-D. Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, the Ba’al HaTanya, explains Elul with the following metaphor:
"The king's usual place is in the capital city, in the royal palace. Anyone wishing to approach the king must go through the appropriate channels in the palace bureaucracy and gain the approval of a succession of secretaries and ministers. He must journey to the capital and pass through the many gates, corridors and antechambers that lead to the throne room. His presentation must be meticulously prepared, and he must adhere to an exacting code of dress, speech and mannerism upon entering into the royal presence.
However, there are times when the king comes out to the fields outside the city. At such times, anyone can approach him; the king receives them all with a smiling face and a radiant countenance. The peasant behind his plow has access to the king in a manner unavailable to the highest ranking minister in the royal court when the king is in the palace.”
Wait, There's More to Elul!
If you still need convincing as to the auspiciousness of Elul, worry not, there is more. It is well known that the Hebrew letters that make up the word “Elul”- Aleph, Lamed, Vav, Lamed, are an acronym for the verse, “Ani L’dodi V’dodi Li” (Song of Songs 6:3). Its translation is “I am to my beloved, and my beloved is to me”. This alludes to the relationship between G-D and the Jewish People, that is especially manifest during this time. “I am to my beloved”, the first part of the verse, is us, the Jewish People, reaching out to G-D in Teshuvah, desiring to reconnect to our soul-root in G-D. “My beloved is to me”, the second part of the verse, is the divine expression of mercy and forgiveness, of G-D assuring us that He is there, ever-ready to accept our efforts. There are, in fact, two ways of returning to G-D; through love and through fear. Both are legitimate paths. Our Rabbis teach that “Great is repentance out of love, for is turns sins into merits” (Yoma 86b). Some understanding as to why Teshuvah of love is more preferred by G-D than Teshuvah motivated by fear, is gleaned from the following story:
“A thief came upon the idea to steal from the king’s treasury, and he spent many days figuring out how he could dig a tunnel beneath it. Having completed his passageway, he would enter and fill his sacks with the many treasures that lay inside the vast room. He finally worked out a plan and, one night, dug a tunnel.
His planning had not been exact enough, and instead of leading to the king’s treasury, the tunnel led into the great hall next to it. The thief entered the dark corridor and felt around, but did not find any riches at all. He was very disappointed and so he turned around and escaped before the sun came up. That very same night, a different thief attempted to break into the king’s treasury as well. He, too, dug a tunnel, but unlike the first thief, he managed to successfully enter the treasury and fill his sacks with the king’s treasures. Before he left, however, he stopped for a moment and thought, “How could I be so bold as to steal from the king himself? Why, I am obligated to honor him!” The thief emptied his bags completely and escaped to his home.
When day broke, the king’s subjects noticed that there were two openings that were dug into the palace walls, but the careful investigation revealed that not a thing was missing from the treasury. The king very much wanted to know the reason behind this strange occurrence, so he ordered that a full investigation be made by his trusted sheriff. In a very short time, the king’s sheriff brought the two thieves before him, and the king interrogated them, asking them to explain their actions.
“I will not deny it,” said the first thief. “I entered the king’s treasury but did not find a thing. Since I feared that daybreak was near, I escaped in order to save myself.” The king immediately ordered that the thief be taken to the dungeon. “I,” confessed the second thief, “entered the treasury and even took whatever I could. Suddenly I realized and understood that what I was about to do was a very bad thing which was an insult to the king’s honor. Out of love for the king, I decided on the spot to not follow through with this wicked deed.” When the king heard this, he sent the man home and even granted him many gifts.”
So, too, in relation to Teshuvah, it is a great honor to the King of the World when a person does Teshuvah out of love. Taking advantage of this atmosphere of repenting through love brings us to our next destination, the Days of Awe, allowing us to truly tap into all it has to offer.
Elul in the Name
One Before is a reference to the idea that noble pedigree is like a string of zeros, worthless unless a '1' is placed in front of them. We tried to emphasize it in our logo:
A person must try to align himself with his noble ancestors' lifestyle and values, making himself a worthwhile 1, and only then can he draw from the strength of his ancestors, turning his pedigree into something very worthy. This time of Elul is when we put extra effort into become that worthwhile 1, by returning to the essence of who we truly are, a part of G-D.
Please comment below about your Elul technique! We would love to foster a conversation among our readers.