I love Elul for the same reason that I like waking up in the morning.
The life of a peasant ties him to the ground. One of the best things that happened to the Jews in exile is that we were never serfs. The Church saw us as cursed for rejecting their savior and therefore didn’t want us to “defile” the earth. We never faced day after mind numbing day in the company of an ox or a donkey. A peasant is a peasant from birth to death. He had no relationship to the nobility beyond whoever sat at the head of the table of the castle on the hill. We always had dreams that took us much further.
Spiritually we didn’t get off so easily. Not everyone was able to escape the fate of the peasants when you move into maintaining a vision of what life can be. Many of us can’t get beyond life behind the computer or the mind numbing process of making more and more money for less and less defined purpose. Some of us have never even met the ‘minor nobility”. What percentage of the Jews Out There has heard of the Choftetz Chaim, or Rav Shach? Did they ever hear of anyone like Rav Elyashiv or conceive of his level of dedication to Torah’s truth? Some of them may have come across Chabad, but how many of them understand the kind of love for every Jew that motivated their Rebbe? If the minor nobility is beyond their reach, how can their minds stretch enough to conceive of the Master of the Universe whose incomprehensible compassion creates every day’s sunrise? Intuitively every Jew believes that there is more to living than earning. This is why we are such meaning freaks.
Hashem doesn’t change. In Elul you change. Not in ways that can be weighed and measured. There is something inside you that wants to wake up. Shir HaShirim tells you, “I am asleep, but my heart is awake” describing what we feel in spite of exile’s imprint. Your senses are dulled by the continuum of outside distraction that pulls you in every direction except inward and above. Your heart is still awake.
Elul is unique. The names of the months of the Jewish calendar are not of Torah origin. In the Torah they are numbered, not named. The numbers used are in reference to the exodus. Pesach takes place in “the first month”. When we talk in halachic language, we begin counting the months using the creation the beginning of the year. From that angle, Rosh Hashanah, the beginning of the calendar takes place in Tishrei, the first month (which makes Elul the last month). When G-d speaks, nothing is more central that our evolution as His people. He counts time from the exodus.
From our perspective, nothing is more important than acknowledging G-d as the ultimate Creator. This leaves us with a question: why did things change. We don’t speak about months by numbers any more. Why change? This question is especially striking when you realize that the names of the months are Aramaic, the language of our first exile. They mirror the depth of our slumber. The names also have a “heart” that is always awake. There are many meanings hidden in the spelling, gemmatria, and pronunciation of the seemingly random Aramaic names. This tells you that even if you are asleep in exile deep in L.A. or N.Y. or wherever, your heart is still awake. Elul as most of you know stands for the phrase “Ani LIDodi V’Dodi li”. I am for my Beloved, and my Beloved is for me.
He isn’t different. Your ability to be aware is different, and that opens your eyes to see that the King is with you, in the field or behind the computer. When you see the King in your field, things change. You discover that He was there all along. You discover that something of Him is in you. It’s the part of you that is most enduring, that isn’t constrained by the field or the computer or the paycheck or the latest style. It’s also the defining feature of everyone you meet.
Not everyone you come across is perfect. They are asleep. They may not be in touch with much beyond the field. When you feel the sweetness of being awake, it’s easier to forgive them for not seeing beyond the field. You still know how it was when you also were stuck with your eyes focused only on the ground in front of you.
A woman who I will call Naomi, called me up today with a difficult problem. Her neighbor, Lisa was able to get permission from the city authorities to enclose her porch. Naomi lives one floor below Lisa. This addition darkens her kitchen and shades part of her garden. Naomi appealed against the city’s committee and lost. That is the part of the story that she told me. The raw fury that came through with every word was just as real as the narrative. Naomi described her neighbor as “aggressive”, “vulgar. “A bully” and more. I don’t know her neighbor. It might all be true. Naomi has no more legal options. The porch will be built. Her question is how she can face Lisa when the construction begins. She will see her in the building’s elevator. Their kids play together in the lobby. She doesn’t want to hate her (or more correctly she doesn’t want Lisa to see the extent of her hatred, because she is wise enough to know that that will only make things worse). We spoke for a long time. The conclusions that she reached were enormously empowering.
1-If she was meant to endure the unwanted construction; the One who determined that this would happen is the King Himself. It was decided last year. If her neighbor didn’t decide to enclose the porch, to quote the sages, “G-d had many bears and many lions”
2-Lisa thinks that she is right. From her perspective, she is protecting herself. If Naomi was less sure that she was right, the easier it would be to lower the temperature….Most people defend their rights.
3-She can’t choose what will happen. She can choose who she wants to be.
The result is that she decided to speak to Lisa, explain to her that she really thought that she was right; if she didn’t she never would have taken her to court. Now that the court decided against her, she will accept that there are two sides to this story. She will then wish her well.
The final step is doing all of the above with inner truth and genuine sincerity. This part of the story is still in progress.
Have a wonderful Elul. It’s the best time of the year.