As I write this, we have just entered the month of Elul. This is a time to prepare for judgment. We will soon be on trial before the ultimate Judge and our future will be judged based on our past behavior. During the month of Elul, however, the Judge is offering a plea bargain……… ”Let’s make a deal!” This is amazing, as both He and I know that I am guilty, and yet He is willing to be lenient with me if I agree to change my ways. I must only promise to rehabilitate myself (but with His help, of course!). That is nothing short of mind blowing to me! He is not only willing to be lenient, He will even help me to improve myself.
So, now the obvious question is: “how do I improve myself?”
“Appoint yourselves judges and police for your tribes in all your settlements that G-d your L-rd is giving you, and make sure that they administer honest judgment for the people. Do not bend justice and do not give special consideration to anyone. Do not take bribes, since bribery makes the wise blind and perverts the words of the righteous. Pursue perfect honesty, so that you will live and occupy the land that G-d your L-rd is giving you.” (Devarim 16:18-19)
The simple meaning of these verses can be clearly understood. But it is also suggested that we must appoint judges at our own personal gates. We have seven gates: 2 eyes, 2 ears, 2 nostrils, and 1 mouth, and we must place judges and police at our gates. We need to constantly police ourselves, always being on alert as we survey our surroundings. If I am aware that I will see things I shouldn’t taking the shortcut home, I must take the longer route for my own safety, so that my eyes are not exposed to things they shouldn’t see. If I know certain people are prone to gossip, idle-chatter, or other unproductive forms of speech, I must protect myself by staying away from them. Not to mention those who hold a false outlook on Torah matters! (we’ll come back to this shortly)
“A man should rather meet a bereaved bear than a fool in his foolishness.” (Mishlei 17:12)
I must also constantly be on the alert, so that I don’t take bribes from my yetzer hara. The yetzer hara will tell me lies and try to sugar coat my misdeeds, to entice or confuse me. Don’t fall for it!! Stay alert and be strong!
“Rabban Shimon the Son of Gamiel would say: By three things is the world sustained: Judgement, Truth and Peace. As stated, (Zecharyah 8:16), ‘Truth and judgement of peace shall you judge in your cities.” (Pirkei Avot 1:18)
This is where we can easily be bribed by our yetzer hara:
- Din: We can judge ourselves (and others) unfairly. Too often we are harsh in our judgment of others and way too lenient in our self-analysis. The yetzer hara is a master of justification.
- Emet: We can easily distort the truth. It happens all day, every day, and has since the world began. The yetzer hara tells us that we have a corner on the truth. And the world is full of false religions, false teachers and confused people who have been mislead and mis-taught.
- Shalom: We can fake peace. Many people truly think they have peace, but they are deceiving themselves. True peace is not found where there is worry, frustration, anger, doubt and an overall bad mood or bad attitude. Yet, we are often academy award level actors. We put on a big smile and tell the world that every little thing is alright, when in fact it’s not.
I recently heard someone describe those who get upset either by their circumstances or by the things other people do or say, as being like a dog biting a stick. If you hit a dog with a stick, the dog doesn’t bite you, he goes after the stick that hit him and bites it. But the stick didn’t really do anything. It’s the one who is holding the stick that is actually the one responsible. The stick is the person or circumstance that provoked us, but the stick didn’t really do anything except deliver the blow. And make no mistake, whoever or whatever it is……. Hashem brought it to you. Ein Od Milvado! The fact that He punishes us when we transgress His will is one of the things our human minds don’t seem to fully grasp. We blame the stick over and over, never understanding it’s just a stick. A tool in His hands.
This month is an auspicious time for making teshuvah. In a few short weeks, on Rosh Hashanah we are facing the judgement that will decide our whole future, for better or for worse! The King is in the field, and now is the time to draw near to Him.
“We are saved from judgment through the embrace of Hakodesh Baruch Hu, by building a closeness and connection with Him, which is the main avodah of these days.” (Rav Shimson Dovid Pincus, Moadei Hashanah)
Who doesn’t want to feel the embrace of Hashem, Blessed be He! We need only to make the first move and show our Creator that we care about Him, and therein lies our salvation. A person who is in His embrace has nothing to fear!
“A thousand may fall at your left side, ten thousand at your right, but it shall not reach you.” (Tehillim 91:7)
“More than any guarding, protect your heart, for from it, life results.” (Mishlei 4:23)
“You shall guard your lives very well.” (Devarim 4:15)
We should never undervalue our lives, as they don’t belong to us. One who doesn’t take good care of something lent to him is guilty of negligence. If we are not striving each and every day to draw closer to our Creator, then something in our thinking is erroneous! And one day we will be held accountable for how we used the myriads of moments, breathes, and blessings we received yet wasted. That should make us tremble with fear! Yet, now, the month of Elul, is the time to make the commitment to change our wasteful ways!
Let’s look again at Mishei 17:12: “A man should rather meet a bereaved bear than a fool in his foolishness.” An upset she-bear intent on killing is a frightening creature! Yet, we are told that we should fear more a fool when he is speaking foolishness and inciting others to sin. Rav Pincus explains this verse to be speaking of someone with a false outlook on Torah matters. Most, if not all of you who are reading this come from non-Jewish background and have been exposed to many teachings which were based on just such a false outlook. The danger is that false teachings influence us negatively, and sometimes it takes a lifetime to get beyond their influence upon us.
“The type of soap that can wash off faulty thoughts has not been created.” (Rav Shlomo Elyashev, zt”l as told by Rav Pincus)
I don’t care how nice, funny, or smart someone appears to be, we need a litmus test to determine who we can trust to teach only genuine emet (truth). And when we see those who fail this test coming, we should run away as if we were being chased by a mad she-bear.
“O G-d, create for me a pure heart, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.” (Tehillim 51.12)
Rav Pincus explains that when we are exposed to a faulty outlook of some sort, the only way to rectify the matter is by techiyat ha-meitim (resurrection from the dead) – through the creation of a new pure heart. It is really frightening to think that when we hold certain false views and opinions, this can stay with us forever and ever!!
“There in olam ha’emet they will open our souls and reveal everything we heard our whole life. A person’s spiritual state at the time of his death is whatever it is. His soul is full of every non-sense, false outlook, bad sights, and improper thoughts that he had during his lifetime. Even if we do teshuvah on Yom Kippur, our soul remains marred.” (Rav Pincus, Moadei Hashanah)
That is a terrifying thought. Yet, I am not telling you this just to scare you! Chasv’shalom! Here’s my point. I’ve exposed myself to many false teachings in my days! I understand firsthand how difficult the deprogramming is!! I have a whole new viewpoint on what it means to be “brain-washed”. We do need to wash our brains and remove all the false residue that lies there. We have been taught many delusions and futile, worthless nonsense!
“Hashem, my strength and my stronghold, My refuge in a day of trouble, to You nations shall come from the ends of the earth and say: our fathers inherited utter delusions, things that are futile and worthless. Can a man make gods for himself? No-gods are they! Assuredly, I will teach them, once and for all I will teach them My power and My might. And they shall learn that My Name is Hashem.” (Yirmiyahu 16:19-21)
We need to get a grasp on where we will find the emet that is supposed to set us free. The only place that emet can be found is where Hashem has placed it, among those to whom He has given His authority. The only religion that began with witnesses, Judaism, is the sole possessor of this authority. The Sages, filled with the Ruach HaKodesh, are the only ones authorized to give us insight into the meaning of the Torah and how we are to live it out in our lives. I have seen firsthand the balagan that results from others claiming to have authority, when in fact they do not. And by spreading their lies and false teachings, so much spiritual damage has been done!
We have all been drawn to this place at this time, because we are seeking Hashem’s emet. If we agree that it is found in Judaism’s rich teachings, then why do I see so many reluctant to follow the ways of the Jews? Why are you coming to a synagogue if not to find out how to be Jewish? And you can’t come and demand that you be allowed to follow your own style of Judaism, or before we know it, there will be thousands of denominations popping up calling themselves “Jewish” but looking nothing like the original. Chasv’shalom! Besides, that has already been done. There are over 42,000 denominations of Christianity claiming to be the truth. Oy Vey!! Ultimately it all began when there were no more Jews to teach the goyim how to interpret the Torah or how to properly live it out in their daily lives.
We cannot pick and choose! “I like coming to Shul on Shabbat, but I don’t want to give up cheeseburgers”. or “I don’t mind eating kosher, but I want to dress modestly”, etc. etc.. Whatever your personal pet peeves are, it is time to ask yourself where those stem from. To go against the teachings of Chazal is to be anti-Semitic and exposes a spirit of rebellion. If you come from a “church” background, you are likely still effected by the false, anti-Semitic teachings you were exposed to. Now is the time to beg Hashem to help you to overcome your biases and to embrace His truths wholeheartedly.
Last week the people were faced with the blessings and the curses which flowed from the two mountains. Not embracing Judaism with our whole life is like picking a blessing here, and a curse there. No thank you! I want all the blessings and none of the curses. It’s time to get serious! We are not only in the month of Elul, but we are living in a period of time the Sages refer to as the “heels of Moshiach”. And it is both an exciting time and a very scary time. We are blessed to be introduced to a new (Jewish) outlook on life! Yes, it will definitely pull us out of our comfort zone and yes, it’s not an easy journey, but it is one that is worth the effort. Do you know that when Moshiach comes, Chazal teach that there will be no more converts allowed? Now is the time to decide, are you in?
“The Gemara states (Shabbat 55a), ‘the seal of Hakadosh Baruch Hu is truth, for the Torah is the seal of Hakadosh Baruch Hu, as the verse states (Yeshayahu 8:16), ‘Bind this warning, seal the Torah in My disciples.’ The word “emet” (truth) is spelled “aleph”, “mem”, “tav”, which are respectively the first, middle and last letters of the alef-bet in which the Torah is written. Talmud Yerushalmi(Sanhedrim 1) explains, ‘this is the meaning of the verse (Yeshayahu 44:6), ‘so said G-d, the King of Israel and its Redeemer, the L-rd of Hosts, ‘I am the first and I am the last, and besides Me there is no G-d.’” (Rav Ovadiah Yosef, zt”l, Anaf Etz Avot on Pirkei Avot, 1:18)
Hashem made only one covenant, with only one man, and his family after him, and ultimately the nation they became… and that is Israel. Hashem is not a man, and He doesn’t change His mind. His promises to Israel still hold true. The Jews were, are and always will be the reason the world exists. We can graft ourselves into the rich olive tree that is Judaism, but it must be done with a pure heart, and in the proper way.
There are two paths before us. One leads to Gan Eden, the other to Gehinnom. That should cause us to do some serious soul-searching, and to cry out to the King while He is near! He hears and responds to every sincere plea!
I am going to end with a lengthy quote from an amazing booklet and I would encourage each of you to acquire a copy for yourself. It is the Schottenstein edition of the Interlinear Yom Kippur Viduy by ArtScroll. (ISBN 10:1-4226-0856-9/ISBN 13: 978-1-4226-0854-8). The following is from the introduction written by R’ Nosson Scherman:
“Atonement and purity are two processes. Our first goal on Yom Kippur is to earn G-d’s merciful decision not to punish us for past misdeeds. That is atonement. It requires sincere repentance, of course – why else should G-d decide to let a year, or a lifetime of sin go by unrequited? At its best it requires, as the Talmud expresses it and Rambam codifies it, a will so strong that G-d, who knows all hidden thoughts, can testify to the penitent’s complete sincerity. That is a repentance that is worthy of G-d’s decision not to punish. However, even that falls short of purity, because the person himself has not changed – yet. His intellectual awareness of right and wrong and his self-discipline may well be strong enough to prevent him from committing a sin, but there still remains the impurities built up over a lifetime, the cumulative effect of exposure to the common culture, assimilation into society, daily encounters with the cynical media, less-than-scrupulous clients, customers and associates, the perceived need to laugh, cheer and lambaste together with comrades and colleagues. So even after we have repented and won atonement, we are tempted by sold sins. Ture, we fight and defeat the temptation – and that is a marvelous achievement – but truly pure people are not tempted to start with. Let us not be depressed over our inadequacy or hopeless at the remote prospect that we can ever reach the zenith of human achievement. For, by its very nature, purity is a goal virtually beyond reach. It is of such goals that Rabbi Tarfon said: “You are not required to complete the task, yet you are not free to withdraw from it.” (Pirkei Avot 2:21). What is this elusive goal we call purity? PURITY IS THE PURSUIT OF PURPOSE for which G-d created us. Man is called upon to endow his entire life with the attitude that every deed, morsel and thought must be directed toward achieving that purpose. Obviously, the task is hard and unending. To be a wellspring of this purity is the function of Yom Kippur. It requires a renewed quest for purity and it provides the spiritual conditions that make it possible………Every sin consists of the deed and of the attitudes that underlie it……..Yom Kippur, the day of purity, calls for one to uproot those attitudes and thoughts…….If the Jew is commanded to seek purity on Yom Kippur, he is given the resources to find it; such is the unique holiness of Yom Kippur, and the day brings with it potential for purity.”
May this Rosh Hashanah and the year ahead be full of purity, good health, happiness and success for you and all your loved ones!
Be blessed and be a blessing,