20 Aug 2020 Chodesh Elul: Dwelling in the House of the L-rd
It’s hard to believe that the year has passed, and that even with the COVID pandemic, R”L, time has not slowed down. Once again, Elul is here. 5780 is on its way out, and we will soon usher in 5781… Elul is a sobering time of repentance, rectification and repair, as we look ahead to Tishrei and the Yimei Ha’Din (Days of Judgement).
R’ Soloveitchik zt’l teaches, “The dominant theme of Rosh Hashana (R”H) is the declaration of G-d’s sovereignty. The corresponding realization is that we are utterly dependent on Him alone. Prayer is significant only when it dawns upon man that his situation is hopeless, that he is utterly defeated, that there is no one to help him but G-d. Prayer and crisis are inseparably linked. Meaningful prayer issues from existential distress, from ‘out of the straits’ (Ps.130), when man feels trapped and defeated.
“The Shofar prompts crisis-awareness. On R”H we are in crisis because on this day, the fate of the individual as well as that of the world hangs in a precarious balance. Although this awareness is most acute on R”H, it is a permanent feature throughout the year. The crisis exists as long as the human is aware of himself. It is the crisis that expresses itself in man’s fear of death, his anxiety about his future, his feelings of guilt regarding the past, and his yearning to recover lost time and wasted opportunities, to undo things that he did and to do what he did not do” (Machzor Masores HaRav l’Rosh Hashana, p. p.444-445).
As we reflect back on the past year, strive to improve in areas still lacking, and resolve to change for the future, our journey is reflected in Tehillim 27. With the start of Elul, through the chagim of Tishrei, twice daily after our prayers, we will recite this chapter.
לְדָוִד: ה’ אוֹרִי וְיִשְׁעִי—מִמִּי אִירָא, (A psalm) to David, Hashem is my Light and my Salvation, whom shall I fear? ה’ מָעוֹז–חַיַּי, מִמִּי אֶפְחָד, Hashem is the source of my life’s strength, of whom shall I be afraid (Ps.27:1)… אַחַת שָׁאַלְתִּי מֵאֵת–ה’ אוֹתָהּ אֲבַקֵּשׁ, one thing I ask of Hashem, this I ask: שִׁבְתִּי בְּבֵית–ה’ כָּל–יְמֵי חַיַּי, to dwell in the house of Hashem all the days of my life, לַחֲזוֹת בְּנֹעַם–ה’ וּלְבַקֵּר בְּהֵיכָלוֹ, to behold the delight of Hashem, and to visit in His Temple (v.4).
R’ S.R. Hirsch writes, “In my life there is only one thing which I seek with all my might. Enemies cannot rob me of it, nor can danger and suffering deprive me of it or disturb it. It is to dwell in the house of G-d, to behold in His delight, and to visit in His Temple… The phrase describes the conception of life and of the fulfillment of its duties which can make of any place a Divine sanctuary… For even the actual building of the House of G-d fulfills its purpose – וְעָשׂוּ לִי, מִקְדָּשׁ; וְשָׁכַנְתִּי, בְּתוֹכָם, Make for Me a Sanctuary, that I may dwell amongst them (Ex.25:8) – only if all our lives outside the Temple walls will be sanctified by the understanding, purity and devotion taught within the Sanctuary, so that the presence of G-d will be sought not only in the Temple but, instead, will be among us and with us wherever we go…
“(King) David, then, tells us here, ‘This is my goal, to attain G-d’s nearness in every moment and every aspect of my life, ever to keep before my eyes the splendid way in which all earthly affairs are shaped under His guidance, and to seek to increase my understanding of the truths of life by drawing from the wellspring of wisdom set down in the Sanctuary of G-d’s Law.’ This spiritual and moral goal will remain unchanged, regardless of what the future may bring. It is an inner joy of life which the enmity of men can neither destroy nor disturb. This inner, moral, spiritual striving is the source of the fearless faith expressed in the preceding verses” (R’ Hirsch commentary to Ps.27:4, Feldheim).
The feelings of melancholy and reflection that overtake us at this time of year – the last month of the past year into the first month of the new year – remind of that our true goal is to live a G-dly life, a life saturated with meaning and purpose that comes from Torah and mitzvos.
שִׁבְתִּי בְּבֵית–ה’ כָּל–יְמֵי חַיַּי – What is the key to a life lived in the constant presence of G-d? HaRav Herschel Schachter shlita writes, “Everyone desires happiness but only few know how to find it. Dovid Hamelech says (Tehillim 27:4) that there’s really only one thing that he’s searching for, i.e. that will lead to happiness: to spend the rest of his life in the presence of Hashem. The Talmud (Chagiga 5b) records a tradition that there is no sadness when one is in the presence of Hashem. The Torah often expresses the mitzvah of simcha as “and you should rejoice in the presence of Hashem“. The implication is that being in the presence of Hashem leads one to be happy. On the occasion of Maamad Har Sinai, when the entire Jewish people was in the presence of the Shechinah, our tradition tells us that they were in a state of utmost simcha” (https://www.torahweb.org/torah/special/2004/rsch_happy.html).
When we contemplate the great chessed of Hashem, that in His awesome and wondrous mercy, He will surely accept our repentance, will wipe our slate clean, and will reserve a seat for us in His house, keviyachol, then Elul and Tishrei become, not only a time of trepidation and fear, but a time of rejoicing and gratitude. For “being in the presence of Hashem leads one to be happy.”
R’ Aharon Lichtenstein zt’l teaches, “אַחַת, שָׁאַלְתִּי מֵאֵת–ה, One thing I ask of the L-rd. Who is the author is this verse? King David! Was he the model of a person who spent all his time ‘gazing on the beauty of the L-rd and frequenting His temple’? Not at all! He ran a country and commanded an army, but nevertheless saw himself rooted in avodat Hashem and his ultimate aspiration in coming close to G-d (By His Light, p.39).
This, too, must be our goal, our desire, our wish, our striving: to dwell in the house of the L-rd, and delight in His Presence, all the days of our lives. בברכת חודש טוב ושבת שלום.