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Torah Attitude: Parashas Ki Seitzei: From days of mourning to days of joy Part 2
Throughout the month of Elul, customs were instituted to inspire us to examine our level of observance in preparation for Rosh Hashanah. During the forty days from Rosh Chodesh Elul till Yom Kippur, G'd, in His great mercy, gives us a special opportunity to repent and get close to Him. Only through G'd's "extraordinary great compassion" did we merit the second set of Tablets. At the same time that we feel comforted we must see what we can do to change our situation for the better. G'd has made an eternal irreversible covenant with the Jewish people. Eventually, our teshuvah will bring us to the ultimate closeness to G'd at the time of the final redemption, when we again will be able to serve G'd in the Temple. When we strengthen ourselves in our observance and get closer to G'd, it does not only help us and our families, but it makes a difference for the entire Jewish people and even for the rest of the world. If we utilize the month of Elul and the Ten Days of Repentance in a meaningful way then we are ready for the next step after Yom Kippur, as we prepare for Succos and Simchas Torah.
In last week's Torah Attitude we discussed how the seven weeks of comfort follow the three weeks of mourning. Rabbi Dessler points out that the last four weeks of comfort fall in the month of Elul, and he elaborates on the significance of this juxtaposition. Throughout the month of Elul, the custom in the Ashkenazi communities is to blow the shofar daily. In the Sephardic communities the custom is to say extra penitential prayers known as Selichos. These customs were instituted to inspire us to examine our level of observance in preparation for Rosh Hashanah, the day G'd judges every individual and decides how his coming year shall be.
During the forty days from Rosh Chodesh Elul till Yom Kippur, G'd, in His great mercy, gives us a special opportunity to repent and get close to Him. This was established already in the wilderness, when G'd called upon Moses to ascend Mount Sinai for the third time on Rosh Chodesh Elul. At this time, G'd was ready to forgive the Jewish people for making the golden calf, and the next forty days G'd showed His mercy and compassion and prepared Moses for the second set of Tablets that he descended with on Yom Kippur.
G'd's extraordinary compassion
Every morning we express in the blessing before Shema how much G'd shows us His love. We say, "You loved us with great love, HASHEM, our G'd, You pitied us with extraordinary great compassion." Rabbi Yitzchak Moltzon explains in his commentary on the Siddur "Siach Yitzchak" that the "great love" refers to the revelation at Mount Sinai. This love had been established from the time of our ancestors and was in their merit. However, after the golden calf this was not sufficient. Only through G'd's "extraordinary great compassion" did we receive the second set of Tablets. This extraordinary compassion is available to us every year during these forty days, from the beginning of the month of Elul, through the Ten Days of Repentance, culminating with Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. On this day G'd is ready to forgive us if we repent and undertake to make changes in our observance and lifestyle. We can even have our judgment from Rosh Hashanah changed if we are sincere about our changes.
Comfort and change
G'd does not want us to dwell constantly in mourning over the destruction of the Temple and our exile. That could easily bring us to depression and nothing good would come out of it. He wants us to keep it in mind and at the same time to accept His words of comfort and look ahead longing for the rebuilding of the Temple and the final redemption. But, this is not sufficient, for it could lead to complacency as we just wait for these events to come about. Rather, at the same time that we feel comforted we must see what we can do to change our situation for the better.
Eternal irreversible covenant
Rabbi Dessler quotes a conversation between the Elders of Athens and Rabbi Yoshua ben Chanina from the Talmud (Bechoros 8b) as it is explained by Rabbi Chaim Valozhiner. The Elders asked the rabbi how the Jewish people ever hoped to get out of the exile. If the Jewish people were exiled as a punishment for their sins, and the exile itself causes them to sin even more (through assimilation and the influence of the gentile world) what hope is there that they will eventually merit atonement and be redeemed? The rabbi answered that G'd has made an eternal irreversible covenant with the Jewish people. G'd is patiently waiting for them to do teshuvah and return to Him on their own accord. But if this does not happen G'd will have to force the issue and He will allow an evil ruler like Haman to stand up against them. Eventually, this will bring about that the Jewish people will do teshuvah and return to G'd (see Talmud Sanhedrin 97b and Megillah 14a).
The period of mourning and comfort brings us into the time for teshuvah when we have the opportunity to get closer to G'd. Eventually, our teshuvah will bring us to the ultimate closeness to G'd at the time of the final redemption, when we again will be able to serve G'd in the Temple. But in the meantime, our repentance will enhance our chances for a favourable judgment for the new year. We all need G'd's mercy, so that He will bestow His blessings upon us. In this way, we will be able to provide for our families in good health and bring our children up to be proud and G'd fearing Jews.
Help the world
When we strengthen ourselves in our observance and get closer to G'd, it does not only help us and our families, but it makes a difference for the entire Jewish people and even for the rest of the world.
Succos and Simchas Torah
If we utilize the month of Elul and the Ten Days of Repentance in a meaningful way, then we are ready for the next step after Yom Kippur, as we prepare for the Festival of Succos. Succos is referred to as "our time of joy". For who can be happier than the person who knows that G'd accepted his teshuvah and forgave his sins on Yom Kippur. Throughout the week of Succos, we rejoice with the four species and express our trust in G'd by dwelling in the temporary structure of our succos. And after Succos, as we return to our regular homes, we reach the climax of our joy with Simchas Torah. On this day we dance with the Torah scroll and express our appreciation for the fact that G'd chose us and gave us His Torah. When we reach this stage, we are ready to start a new cycle of reading the weekly parasha with our new and elevated level of observance.
These words were based on a talk given by Rabbi Avraham Kahn, the Rosh Yeshiva and Founder of Yeshivas Keser Torah in Toronto.
Shalom. Michael Deverett
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