The King Will Never Betray You
It’s Elul! For some of you this doesn’t mean much; you can live in Brooklyn, Golder’s Green or any other large “Jewish” city without ever knowing what the next forty days hold. Elul is the most beautiful days of the entire year (at least in my opinion). These are the days in which Moshe implored Hashem to forgive the Jews for the terrible betrayal of everything Hashem revealed to us by taking out of Egypt and giving us the Torah. When they built the golden calf, over three thousand years ago, they would have been doomed except for the transcendent love that Hashem has for us, and the spark of the Avot (patriarchs) that still lives within us. The culmination of this period is Yom Kippur, when Hashem told Moshe “I forgive you as you spoke”. These are days of love, compassion, forgiveness and renewal. These are also days of accounting to G-d (and to yourself) about the person you are, the person you were and the person who you want to become. Most of all, these are days of return.
The obvious question is, “Return where?”-you can’t go back to where you never were. None of us are perfect-what are we trying to return to? Why should G-d forgive our betrayals when they recur again and again? One of the most evocative stories of what return really means is found in the Vilna Gaon’s introduction to Shir HaShirim.
Once there was a King.
He chose a wife for himself from among the common people; unspoiled and real. He married her and brought her to the palace. It was a place of beauty and sophistication that far surpassed anything she had ever dreamed of. The problem was that she felt herself unequal to the task of living up to the role of royal queen. She always had to be courteous and elegant, “on” and aware of every word and every movement. As the days passed, her life became unbearable to the point of her feeling choked. She left. Her escape was daring, silent and catastrophically doomed. Yes. She got away. No. It didn’t make her life any better. The village that she lived in throughout her entire youth didn’t give her the respite she longed for. She was no longer like the peasants she grew up with. They seemed vulgar and coarse because they were! They were ignorant, brutal but human enough to recognize that she felt inner contempt towards their failed humanity. They hated her with the sort of hatred that only they could feel. They would beat her, spit at her, and do anything to show her their scorn.
Her husband, the King, came to the village. He knocked on her door, but she was too humiliated to open it for him. How could she face him after her disloyalty to him and to everything he built and stood for? He was insistent. He said, “You don’t have to be afraid to open the door. The ketuba (marriage contract) that I wrote for you is different than any other ketuba. He opened it and showed her a unique clause. It said,
“No matter how many times you betray me, I will never betray you”. This is the story of your life and mine. You want to return to being the person G-d envisioned when He made you. You may have fears that you just can’t “live in the palace”- that you will never feel okay about who you are and what you want to be. There are also many choices that you made that affirmed your closeness to the King. There are all sorts of impediments to getting back to being the person you wish you were. Your environment may not be all that supportive (to put it mildly), you may need to talk to someone for some mentoring or guidance and you don’t know where to turn. There may be unfinished business (relationships that need resolution, mistakes that need undoing). This is all normal, and part of what life is all about if you are really living. The one thing you have to watch out for most of all in Elul is letting your feelings of vulnerability and guilt hold you back. The King loves you, and on the deepest level, you love Him.
Shame is tricky. It can keep you on the straight and narrow, or it can destroy you from the inside out. The reason for its duality is that you have aspirations and expectations from yourself. Some of them are positive and honest (for instance feeling guilty and embarrassed if you are caught lying. Your discomfort reflects that you are a person with values that include rectitude). You may also have aspirations and expectations that are status oriented and artificial (for instance feeling body shame because you will never be size two, or feeling not quite as good as other women who have found the right man and are married while you are still single). Positive shame can inspire you to return. Negative shame can keep you from opening the door. You may be struggling with religious issues and find yourself falling again and again. You may find it easy just not think too much. You may have even noticed Hashem so to speak “knocking on the door” in various areas of your life, but you can’t bring yourself to open the door because you anticipate that the result will lead you towards guilt and shame. You have to remind yourself again and again, that your feelings are not at all reflective of who you really are. You may be subconsciously listening to your enemy the Little Critic who harps on your every mistake and makes everything that you do that is good and noble feel cheap and petty.
The King will never betray you. Everything that you have, and everything that you are comes from Him. It proves how invested He is in you, and how much He believes in you.
Use Elul to recognize that tomorrow can be more than today, that you will be challenged so that your potentials can be actualized. Trace your life, and if you see that you have made a wrong turn, don’t just keep on travelling down that road because it’s easy. Ask Hashem for help, for the strength to get beyond your guilt.
Giving tzedaka, (and don’t forget Neve!) asking forgiveness (and giving forgiveness) will make you stronger. Doing more davening will give you more connection.
This can be the best month of your year, and maybe even the best one of your life.
The Foundations of Tish B’Av – Modiin, July 30th, 2014
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