Musings of an Orthodox Jew

Thoughts on Torah and the Jewish world today.

Rosh Chodesh Elul 5770

Today is Rosh Chodesh Elul, tomorrow is the first day of Elul. As always, we enter into the month of Elul with trepidation. Unlike Tishrei, it does not have any great days- all those are next month, starting with Rosh Hashanah, followed by first Yom Kippur and then Sukkot. Yet it is now, as the moth before them begins, that we do the most introspection, now that we start preparing to stand before Hashem, the Dayan Emet, the true judge, from whom nothing is hidden and who will make a true, just and complete accounting of our past year when he passes judgement on us. So, as Elul dawns, we start the month with trepidation, as we start taking a truly honest look at ourselves as we begin to account for our actions.

In the morning, during shacharit, the sound of the shofar is a plaintive cry, a sound to awaken our souls to repentance. But should we be in despair? Should we be standing there, fearing, weeping, scared because we know we have not been perfect? Are we doomed because we have failed to perform every mitzvah precisely? Do we need to view ourselves as beyond help, beyond redemption? Of course not! In fact, we are forbidden from viewing ourselves as sinners- and no man is ever beyond the power of Teshuvah!

Rav Dessler in Micthtav me’Eliyahu has an interesting essay on Midat HaRachamim (I am still being reading this drosha, so I may update this when i have completed studying this particular drosha). At the start of this essay he makes the point that it seems contradictory that G-d can be true judge, yet judge us with mercy! Surely the dictates of being a true judge would compel him to judge strictly according to the law without the benefit of mercy? And if that is the case, why do we bother with the mentioning of Avraham, Ya’akov and Yitzchak in our prayers and hoping that in their merit, G-d will show us mercy? If G-d, the true judge, is bound to judge us only strictly and by the letter of the law, then how can he find mercy for us merely because he shows us mercy because of the actions of the Avot?

Perhaps the answer lies in the fact that whenever we do something there are always multiple motives. Yes, we might have done something wrong, our primary motivation being wrong- but what of our secondary motivations? What of those hesitations, that second guessing of ourselves, the misgivings we have even as we undertake an action? Yes- the action was wrong, but is it always that harsh? In secular courts they will look for extenuating circumstances, look for reasons why an action, while wrong, can be forgiven to a certain extent.

Now if we, mere humans who can only emulate the great midot of Hashem can judge with mercy, can look beyond the harsh facts, surely G-d, whose capacity for mercy, whose capacity for love and understanding exceeds anything human,can do so as well? The avot trusted in G-d completely, judging every statement of his in the best possible light. Imagine if Avraham had evaluated and judged the statements of G-d the way we do the statements of our fellow man. Imaging if, when G-d told him to leave his country, his home, his family and go to an undetermined location if he had judged it harshly? Imagine if Yitzchak, when being told by his father that G-d would provide the sacrifice had stood there, evaluated and judged the words harshly- and decided that, strictly speaking, he didn’t like the idea of being a sacrifice? Imagine if Ya’akov, who went through so many hardships had decided to throw in the towel, had turned back and settled with Lavan so as not to face the power and vengeance of Esav? Each of the avot was tested, each had to make a decision whether to judge G-d’s word on faith and hope, or strictly and by man made standards. They chose to judge faith and hope and thus created a nation worthy to receive the Torah- if they had judged as men, subjected the promises and hardships they underwent to the harsh judgement of cold logic, the Jewish nation would never have been born! It is a common phrase and belief in Judaism that hashem judges “measure for measure”- and thus why we feel confident that if we mention the Avot G-d will judge us lightly just as he judged them lightly.

Thus, as we start looking at ourselves tomorrow, as we start our period of introspection, correcting ourselves and our actions, seeking out those flaws we need to fix, seeking out the deeds we need to atone for, the people we need to approach for forgiveness- we should not see ourselves as sinners. We should not see ourselves as being evil and beyond redemption. Rather, we should judge ourselves as hashem judges us, as the avot judged the words of Hashem. we should look at our deeds to se ehow they can be improved so they can pull us forward, lead us into a closer relationship with G-d. We should find how we can negative the negatives into positives, judge ourselves with mercy and understanding, and find hope that we can improve ourselves and merit a judgement for a good and sweet year!

August 10, 2010 - Posted by | Other Torah, Torah | , , , , , , , , , ,


  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by The Bamba Baby, MarcL. MarcL said: Post for Rosh Chodesh Elul up Come discuss, agree, disagree, add to it […]

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  2. Beautiful…

    The Alter Rebbe gives a Mashal (parable). He says that Elul is the month where Hashem comes to listen our prayers. The parable is like this… A king going out of his castle into his garden. Where is he more reachable (also- where does his presence rest accessibly?)? Obviously outside in Elul. Same thing.

    Also, did you take a look at your email? I have sent you a few She’elot
    Thank you… Rosh Hodesh Tov.

    Comment by Gavriel | August 10, 2010 | Reply

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