Chodesh Elul: The Beginning of the End (of the Year)

Rosh Chodesh Elul, 1 Elul…The beginning of the end of the year.  The summer is ending, the fall is coming, 5777 is almost over and 5778 will soon begin. 

When Elul arrives, it behooves us to ask ourselves: What have we accomplished these past eleven months?  Have we set goals for ourselves and met them – or at least striven to have met them?  Have we moved forward in our avodas Hashem throughout the year? 

Am I the same person going into 5778 that I was when I entered 5777…?

In this week’s parsha, Parshas Shoftim, the pasuk tells us:  כִּי-תֵצֵא לַמִּלְחָמָה עַל-אֹיְבֶךָ, וְרָאִיתָ סוּס וָרֶכֶב עַם רַב מִמְּךָ–לֹא תִירָא, מֵהֶם:  כִּי ה׳ אלקיך עִמָּךְ, הַמַּעַלְךָ מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם – When you go to war against your enemy, and you see horse and chariot – a people more numerous than you – do not fear them!  For Hashem, your G-d, is with you; Who brought you up from the land of Egypt (Devarim 20:1).

The commentators explain that homiletically, this verse refers to man’s never-ending battle with his yetzer harah (evil inclination).  When we go out to war against our arch enemy within!  And we see his proverbial horse and chariot; his tactics, his ploys to cause us to stumble and sin, his cunning ways of trickery, the ease in which he attacks us!  It is easy to be frightened, it is easy to stumble, it is easy to fall… and fail.  And yet!  The Torah admonishes us not to be afraid, for Hashem is with us in each and every battle that we face.

As the Sages teach: יצרו של אדם מתגבר עליו בכל יום ומבקש להמיתו… ואלמלא הקב”ה שעוזר לו אינו יכול לו – Each and every day, the (evil) inclination of man rises up against him, and seeks to put him to (spiritual) death, and were it not for the Almighty Who helps him, man would not be able to overcome (Sukkah 52b). 

Though, at times, repentance and repair seem impossible, for perhaps we have tried, tried, and tried again – and we seem to be hopelessly stuck… this is never, ever the case.  Even at the 11th hour….even in the 12 month… repair is possible! 

As the well-known story goes…

One night, R’ Yisrael Salanter (1810-1883), the great mussar master, walked past the home of a shoemaker.  He noticed that despite the late hour, the shoemaker was still working by the light of a dying candle. “Why are you still working?” he asked. “It is very late and soon that candle will go out.” The shoemaker replied, “As long as the candle is still burning, it is still possible to accomplish and to mend.” R’ Yisrael Salanter spent that entire night excitedly pacing his room and repeating to himself: “כל עד זמן שהנר דולק אפשר לתקן – As long as the candle is still burning, it is still possible to accomplish and to mend.”

R’ Soloveitchik zt’l relates that “When the righteous man falls he has the strength to rise up again.  However, there are those who do not have the strength and courage to stand up once more.  They have no courage to rise.  One of the main factors that prevent people from making amends and repenting is a lack of faith in themselves.  They say it is too late.  They state: ‘I am not capable of performing such a deed, of changing my life, of changing my identity and my personality.’

“I remember a certain person, a very tragic person, who attended my shiur in Boston.  He was very impressed.  I am not bragging; I am just telling you the story.  He was interested and moved by my teachings.  I once asked him: ‘Tell me.  I see that you wish to cling to Yahadus.  Why can’t you take the final step and make your home kosher?  Afterwards, we will begin to think about the laws of Shabbos.’  So he said to me: ‘Rebbe. I would like to, but I can’t do it.’  ‘Why?’ I asked.  He answered: ‘Because my family will declare me insane and I will be locked up.  In addition, I do not belong in your society.  I am far away.  I do not belong in your community.  I live a different life.  I have no courage.  I have to die a sinner.’”

As we gird ourselves to move through this final month of 5777, to accomplish what we have not yet been able to do, and to continue with what we have done, we must believe that not only is Hashem with us – for He always is!  And not only will He save us as we strive to save ourselves – for He will!  But we must further believe that we have the capacity, the power, the ability, the courage and the fortitude to change who we are

Hillel would say: אם אין אני לי, מי לי? וכשאני לעצמי, מה אני? ואם לא עכשיו, אימתי – If I am not for myself – if I do not work to change and improve my very own self – then who will do it for me!?  And yet – if I live only for myself – to the exclusion of my fellow Jews – then what am I?  And if not now – for there is no time like today, like the present, like the here and now to effect change! – then when…? (Avos 1:14). 

בברכת חדש טוב ושבת שלום,


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