Elul and Teshuva

Message for your Shabbat Table

Shoftim 5780

We have entered the month of Elul in the Jewish calendar. This is a period endowed with Divine assistance and tremendous potential to come closer to the Almighty through self-improvement and increased mitzvah performance. This is the period designated to get ready for the holy days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom kippur.

The commentaries point out that the name Elul which in Hebrew is spelled אלול is an acronym for a number of different concepts. One is that אלול stands for the words in Deuteronomy 30:6:

וּמָל ה' אֱ-לֹהֶיךָ אֶת־לְבָבְךָ וְאֶת־לְבַב זַרְעֶךָ לְאַהֲבָה אֶת־ה' אֱ-לֹהֶיךָ בְּכָל־לְבָבְךָ וּבְכָל־נַפְשְׁךָ לְמַעַן חַיֶּיךָ׃

Then the LORD your God will open up your heart and the hearts of your offspring to love the LORD your God with all your heart and soul, in order that you may live.

In Deuteronomy 10:16, we find that we have to open our hearts:

וּמַלְתֶּם אֵת עָרְלַת לְבַבְכֶם וְעָרְפְּכֶם לֹא תַקְשׁוּ עוֹד׃

Cut away the thickening about your hearts and stiffen your necks no more.

How do we do this?

The Kitzur Sefer Chareidim, a work that enumerates the 613 mitzvos of the Torah, writes that this verse is actually a positive commandment to accept the words of one who rebukes us to improve our ways in the service of Hashem. He writes that we should not only listen, but actually love that person for it, as King Solomon wrote, "Rebuke the wise one and he will love you for it."

This means that we need to open our hearts, especially in the month of Elul whose name alludes to this, to messages of self-improvement. These messages can come in a number of ways. They may come through the spoken word of a rabbi, teacher, parent, or friend.

Sometimes they come from unexpected sources. The story is told of a non-observant Jewish man who was driving home through Manhattan one evening many years ago. He encountered a traffic jam that was much worse than usual. He rolled down his window and asked the police officer directing traffic why there was so much traffic. The officer looked at him incredulously and responded in a heavy Irish accent, "Don’t you know? It’s Yom Kippur tonight!" The man was so shocked by his own ignorance that this became the catalyst to live a life of Torah observance.

The messages are there. The challenge is to open our hearts to them. When we do our part to open our hearts, Hashem will respond and open our hearts to grow closer to Him.

Listening to messages of self-improvement is the key to a productive Elul and a blessed new year.

Shabbat shalom!
R' Yitzchok Rabinowitz


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