How to Elul
Rabbi Yitzhak Tuvia Weiss zt”l, was the Av Beis Din of the Eidah Charedis in Yerushalayim. He grew up in a small town just outside of Presburg, and when the Nazi's came, he was one of the privileged 669 children to be evacuated to Great Britain on the famous Kindertransport.
When he arrived in England he was taken to an orphanage, along with many of the other boys. Many years later he recalled the following:
He was living in an orphanage with other refugees, when one day the teacher entered in a state of excitement and proclaimed that King George VI was coming. All the children were ordered to their room to put on their best shorts and scrub their faces and knees in preparation for their meeting with the king.
Along with all the other residents of the street, the school children turned out on the pavement and there was a great sense of anticipation. However as the other spectators were aware, the 'meeting with the king' was not quite as the children had imagined. Instead they were merely part of the welcoming party as the king's fancy car turned the corner and proceeded down the street.
Nonetheless the children joined in the cheering and flag waving as the car passed them at a processional pace. However, Rabbi Weiss, recounting the story explained that for the boy standing next to him in line simply watching was not enough and he broke ranks and proceeded to chase the car down the road. When he reached the vehicle which was still at processional pace he began banging on the boot with all his might, when finally the car stopped and lo and behold the door opened and the boy stood face to face with the king.
King George asked what was the problem and the boy explained that he had been told he would meet the king and very much wanted to thank him for having brought him to this country and rescued him from Europe. “However”, continued the boy, “you see, I'm terribly lonely as my parents are still over there.” The king responded by asking the boys name, the name of his parents and where he was from. He thanked him and bid him on his way back to the rest of the children.
The boy was sure he would be severely punished for his actions but surprisingly the school did not make anything of the incident. Until a few weeks later the headmaster summoned the boy to his office, to which the boy was sure he was to be reprimanded. The headmaster wished to talk to him about the incident that had taken place but instead of punishment he explained that the boy had made quite an impression upon the king. So much so in fact that King George had sent a gift.
With that the headmaster opened the side door to the office and standing there waiting was the boy's parents.
Rabbi Weiss added that for the past 60 years he has asked himself, “why did I just stand there watching like everyone else? Why did I not seize the moment and chase the king? Maybe if I had I might have seen my parents again and not lost them to the gas chambers...”
Hashem is Close By
We have just entered the month of Elul – a month of closeness to Hashem. The famous expression of the Alter Rebbe (ליקוטי תורה פ׳ ראה) is already on our lips and in our hearts – המלך בשדה – The King, Hashem, is in the field. He is not yet in the palace, and He is more accessible than any other time.
The Navi (Yeshayahu 55:6) tells us: דִּרְשׁוּ ה׳ בְּהִמָּצְאוֹ – Seek Hashem while He may be found, קְרָאֻהוּ בִּהְיוֹתוֹ קָרוֹב – Call upon Him while He is near.
Chazal (יבמות קה א׳) explain:
יָחִיד אֵימַת? אָמַר רַב נַחְמָן אָמַר רַבָּה בַּר אֲבוּהּ: אֵלּוּ עֲשָׂרָה יָמִים שֶׁבֵּין רֹאשׁ הַשָּׁנָה לְיוֹם הַכִּפּוּרִים.
For an individual, when is the time that God is close to him? Rav Nachman said that Rabba bar Avuh said: These are the ten days that are between Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur.
But the Hafla'ah (Rabbi Pinchas HaLevi Horowitz – פנים יפות פ׳ אחרי) adds: Chazal are telling us that “When he may be found – בְּהִמָּצְאוֹ” is the Yamim Noraim, but when is the time of בִּהְיוֹתוֹ קָרוֹב? When is Hashem is closest? That happens in the month of Elul.
The special nature of Elul as a time for connection with Hashem is well known as the acronym for this month: “אני לדודי ודודי לי – I am for my Beloved and my Beloved is for me”. But this is not simply an acronym, there is real Avoda to be done, and there are even Halachik implications:
The Maharil (אות ל״ג) writes that, as opposed to a regular Shabbos or Yom Tov, one is not allowed to “take in” Rosh HaShana early. We need to wait until nightfall to begin Maariv. The reason for this, he explains, is that the moment that we say “מקדש ישראל ויום הזיכרון” we have transformed the moment from Elul – which is Rachamim, to Rosh Hashana – a day of judgement.
To that end, so as to ensure we are not losing the opportunity, we need to understand the nature, the obligation and lifestyle of אני לדודי ודודי לי that Elul prescribes.
Making it Real
In the simplest and most profound way, the Avoda of Elul is expressed in our Parsha: תָּמִים תִּהְיֶה עִם ה׳ אֱלֹקיךָ – You should be wholehearted/wholesome with Hashem.
Rashi explains that our attitude towards Hashem determines our relationship; how much Hashem is with us:
הִתְהַלֵּךְ עִמּוֹ בִתְמִימוּת, וּתְצַפֶּה לוֹ, וְלֹא תַחֲקֹר אַחַר הָעֲתִידוֹת, אֶלָּא כָּל מַה שֶּׁיָּבֹא עָלֶיךָ קַבֵּל בִּתְמִימוּת וְאָז תִּהְיֶה עִמּוֹ וּלְחֶלְקוֹ:
Walk before Him whole-heartedly, put your hope in Him and do not attempt to investigate the future, but whatever it may be that comes upon you, accept it whole-heartedly. Then you will be with Hashem and become His portion.
How do we live whole-heartedly with Hashem? What does that entail? Perhaps we could illustrate with a story (שיח שרפי קדש ח״ב אות רס״ג):
It once happened that the Yid HaKadosh of Pshischa was dangerously ill. The town came together to pray for their Rebbe, and declared a day of fasting, tzedaka and tefillah for his recovery.
That morning, a simple Jewish traveller arrived in Pshischa, exhausted and famished. He knocked on the door of the local tavern looking for food, a stiff drink and a bed to rest on. To his shock and horror, he was informed that no such request would be honored. No-one was available to serve him, and the entire town was fasting that day.
They explained to him the dire condition of the Rebbe, and his need for Divine Mercy. At this point, the traveller looked up to the Heavens and cried:
“Master of the Universe! Please help and heal the Yid HaKadosh so that I can get myself something to drink!”
When the Rebbe eventually recovered, he explained that the most powerful tefilla offered for his Refuah was that of the thirsty traveller. It was simple, honest and had no agenda. That tefilla was the epitome of תָּמִים תִּהְיֶה – a wholesome relationship with Hashem.
Our Avoda this Elul, the time of אני לדודי ודודי לי – is to understand that Hashem is not foreign to us. He is right here; not even a phone call away. The more we make Him part our lives, the more He is with us.
He's waiting for us to call out, to run down the street, to knock on the door of His car, and say “HaMelech BaSadeh – please give us everything we need; for us, for our families, for our community, for Klal Yisrael and the world.