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From Rav Sholom Schwadron, Kol Dodi, p. 15.
Elul and Tishrei are called Yomim Nora'im "The Days of Awe." Really the translation of Nora'im is fear. These are days which have a special quality to impart in us Fear of Heaven. As Rosh Hashana and Yom Kipuur approach a person naturally (at least in the old days) started feeling Yiras Shomayim. One could feel it everywhere.
The possuk tells us, "And now Yisroel, what does Hashem your G-d ask of you? Only to fear Him" (Devorim 10:12). That's all? Only that? The gemora (Brachos 33b) explains, "Everything is in the hands of Heaven, except for fear of Heaven." This means that there is no area where you really have to do anything. A person's actions accomplish nothing. Everything happens because of Divine Hashgacha. (We're not getting involved in the issue of hishtadlus, leave that for another time.) There is only one area where a person has total free will, and he has an obligation to act on his own - regarding Yiras Shomayim. However during these days of Elul and Tishrei, if a person prepares himself properly and concentrates on lifting himself up, he will warrant a special Divine assistance even in the realm of Yiras Shomayim.
These days are called "The Days of Awe." They can also be translated, "Days of Fear" implying, days full of Yiras Shomayim. Hakadosh Baruch Hu awards Yiras Shomayim as a gift to anyone who makes an effort to attain it. Thus, it becomes easier to do teshuvah. This is the intent of the possuk, "Seek G-d when He is found, call out to Him when He is close" Yeshaya 55). Chazal tell us (Rosh Hashana 18) that this possuk is referring to the 10 Days of Repentance between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. That's when He is "near."
This interpretation of this possuk raises a problem. The very next possuk states, "Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; and let him return to the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon." The gemara just told us that it is discussing the Yomim Nora'im. The implication is that a rosha doesn't have to do teshuvah the rest of the year when Hashem isn't close! Are you telling me that he can wait until Rosh Hashana?
That is not the intent of the drasha. Rather, Chazal are telling us that it is easier to do teshuvah when Hashem is close. This is a time which is opportune for the rosha to fosake his evil ways, for Hashem has great mercy now.
Now, don't take this merely as a consolation. There lies in this possuk a weighty requirement. If one is being sent such a bountiful amount of Divine assistance, he must take advantage of it. Now is the time!
The Chofetz Chaim related us a powerful moshol: The king had a custom to personally pass through the country once a year in order to hear personally the complaints and requests of the citizens without the interference of the court lobbyists who normally relayed to him information. Everyone knew approximately when the king was going to arrive. They would try to determine the exact date, and then they would go out to welcome him.
Once, the king was delayed and failed to arrive on the predetermined date. Everyone waited patiently for many hours for the king's entourage. Everyone, that is, except for one. One fellow gave up and went to sleep.
In the meanwhile, the king arrived, heard everyone's requests, and went his way. When this fellow woke up and hurriedly ran out, all he could do was catch a glimpse of the royal coach quickly fading into the distance. He was the laughing stock of the whole town for his foolishness of going to sleep and missing his opportunity.
When this lazy fellow realized that he had missed his chance to speak with the king, he decided to go to the palace himself. He had no means of transportation, so he walked the whole way. Finally he reached the royal palace, hoping that perhaps the king would in his benevolence agree to an audience. However, the royal guard weren't so benevolent. They were adamant in their refusal to let him in. "Not only did you miss your special opportunity to speak personally with the king, but you lost the right to send in your request through any government official. The king was right there in your town, and you were sleeping? If you could sleep through the king's visit, you have humiliated the king. You have shown that he is less important to you than your sleep!" With that they expelled him from the palace.
This is significance of Elul. People understand that the Yomim Nora'im is a very important time. But we can daven the whole year also. We can ask our requests, and do teshuva and even push off teshuva for a later time. That's not true.
Of course, it is possible to do teshuva the whole year. Hakadosh Baruch Hu is close to anyone who calls out to Him, anytime. But that is concerning a person who knows the importance of the king and doesn't demean him. It is referring to someone who during the Yomim Nora'im tried to do teshuva and now wants to do more and become an even better person.
But someone who is lazy during Elul is digging his own grave. He may even lose any Divine assistance he could have received the rest of the year.
Let's take this moshol even further. In the above moshol no one came to wake up this lazy fellow. So the indictment against him is not so great.
However, imagine that they came to wake him up and announced that the king had arrived in the city. They tried to rouse him out of his slumber. "The king is here. Get up!" And he mumbled something, turned over, and went back to sleep. If the king found out about that, he would be incensed. This poor fellow would be absolutely embarrassed to show his face to the king, much less to have the nerve to ask for anything.
Hakadosh Baruch Hu sent us the mitzvah of shofar to wake us up (see Rambam, Hilchos Teshuva, chap. 3). Not only do we hear the shofar but we do all sorts of hiddurim (enhancements) and blow 100 blasts of all different sorts of sounds to cover all the different opinions as to which one is the right way to blow the shofar. We want to be in no doubt that we fulfilled the mitzvah properly.
But if we don't take to heart the deeper meaning of the shofar, that it is prompting to us to awaken from our sleep, then we are just like that lazy fellow whom they tried to wake up and went back to sleep. How can we be so insolent to keep davening the rest of the year and putting in our requests to the king!
© Rabbi Eliezer Parkoff
Rabbi Eliezer Parkoff
Yeshiva Shaare Chaim.
Rabbi Parkoff is author of "Trust Me!" (Feldheim Publishers) and "Mission Possible!" (Israel Book Shop - Lakewood).
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