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Elul!You shall set up judges and law enforcement officials for yourself in all your gates. (Devorim 16:18)
The simple reading of this possuk describes the mitzvah to set up a legal system in every city. Rav Moshe Feinstein zt"l (Dorash Moshe) points out, however, that the word: "lecho (for yourself)," seems superfluous and disjointed. This 'society-type' commandment could have simply stated "appoint judges and officers." Why did the Torah add the word: "lecho"?
He explains that the Torah is teaching us a very fundamental concept. In addition to the need for society at large to have these shoftim and shotrim, each individual must be both a judge and officer over himself. "Lecho - for you." Over you. You must constantly oversee your own actions like a judge and making sure that they are what they should be. Secondly, you must also be a policeman to give yourself a ticket when you overstep your bounds.
Where should these judges sit? "B'chol sh'a'recha (in all of your gates)." The Shla"h Hakodesh writes that a person has seven gates: two eyes, two ears, two nostrils and a mouth which are the gates between the person and all that surrounds him. You should "appoint judges" on "all your gates," that all your senses should be led by the "judges" of your soul, the intellect of the G-dly soul with which one learns Torah. The Torah should control the functioning of one's sensory powers. The way that these gates are used will either build or destroy the person. A person must appoint shoftim and shotrim to control the flow through these gates.
This parsha is an excellent introduction to Elul. It is now one month before Rosh Hashana, the Day of Judgment. In the olden days, says Rav Yisroel Salanter (Ohr Yisroel 14), people would tremble at the mere word Elul. A reminder that Yom HaDin loomed in the near future was enough of a jolt to scare people. What is strange, says Rav Yisroel Salanter, is that one would think that those people who are far away from Avodas Hashem all year round, would be the most scared come Elul time. Yet quite the opposite is true. The Yirei Shamayim (the G-d fearing individuals) get nervous Elul time, while the rest continue with business as usual. Why?
Rav Yisroel Salanter says that there are two reasons, one gashmiyos and one ruchniyos. From a gashmiyos (physical) point of view, a person suffers from "hergel" - habit. He is so used to everything, he has become numb and nothing fazes him. In terms of ruchniyos (the spiritual), each aveira puts a layer of tumah on the sinner. With tumah covering you, the world looks much different. You cannot see kedusha. You cannot appreciate an Elul. Even the mitzvos you do are tainted due to the condition you have created for yourself.
So how does one break out of the mess and get on the road to recovery. Mussar! Only mussar can cut through the grime and touch the depths of the Neshama. Mussar breaks the heart and turns it towards good. Elul is time of mussar. Everyone should choose their own mussar sefer for Elul. (In our day and age, the sefer has been replaced by recorded shiurim.) The classics include, Shaarei Tshuva, Shaar HaGmul, Mesilas Yesharim, Tomer Devora, Reishis Chochma, Chovos HaLevavos, Orchos Tzadikim, Orchos Chaim, and others. Many are even translated into English. There are also many contemporary gedolim that have written classics in their own right. Pick one up, any one. By time you put it down you will not be the same, and neither will your Rosh Hashana.
Rav Chaim Walkin (Mashgiach of Yeshiva Ateres Yisrael - Yerushalayim) once spoke about his mother who was born in Radin and grew up in the very home of the Chofetz Chaim zt'l. She told him: "By us in the village, they used to say that in Elul, even the fish in the water trembled!" The ambience of Elul was felt not only in the yeshiva itself, but it enveloped the entire village of Radin!
R' Mordechai Mann ztvk'l explained it thus: In the nature of things, a person views everything in relationship to the particular aspect which interests him. When a tailor sees a person, he immediately notices what clothes he is wearing; a shoemaker looks at a person's shoes and so on.
Elul permeates the very being of every single person to the degree that when one sees fish swimming in the river, he cannot help asking himself: Why are they swimming so frantically? It must be that they are trembling from the fact of its being Elul.
When summoned by his disciples on Rosh Hashanah eve and told that ma'ariv was about to commence, the Alter from Kelm would be seized by trembling and would quaver, "I am being summoned for judgment!"
He once overheard some yeshiva students discussing the arba minim in the month of Elul. "Well, then, are you already finished and done with the Yom Hadin?" he asked.
We have the minhag that during Elul every morning after Shacharis, we blow the shofar. The Tur (581) remarks that this is to wake you up, "Yidden, do Teshuvah!" When a shofar is blown in the city, it is an air raid siren, and everyone becomes gripped with fear. So writes the Tur.
The shofar is a moshol. Everything that happens to a Yid is a message, it's a wakeup call. One trained in seeing hashgacha pratis will start seeing everything as a Heavenly sent message.
"A person doesn't bruise his finger here below unless they announce it above" (Chulin 7b). Imagine that there is an event in your neighborhood and they want to publicize it. So they set up loud speakers, they have cars driving up and down the streets announcing the event. They put up notices in every shul and beis midrash; people should know there is an event. That's an announcement.
The Chazal don't say that there is a decree from above. The gemara says they announce it. That means that in all the Spiritual spheres, in all the Heavens there is an announcement, "Ploni ben Ploni is going to nick his finger today." They announce above in Heaven every single thing that happens to us.
The Ribnitzer Rebbe was a very great tzaddik. He was an Ish Kodesh, a holy person. He had a reputation as a wonder-worker. People came to him with the most difficult tzoros and his tefillos brought people many yeshuos.
The Ribnitzer Rebbe was once coming down from the Aron Kodesh when he slipped on one of the steps and fell. Everyone ran over to him to help him, but they saw he wasn't getting up. They asked, "Is the Rebbe all right? Why isn't the Rebbe getting up?" "I'm fine," he answered. "I'm just thinking to myself. Why did I fall? If I fell, HaKadosh Baruch Hu made me fall; there must be a reason for it. I need to think. HaKadosh Baruch Hu is talking to me."
Rebbe Yaakov Yosef HaCohen (the Toldos) was standing together with the Baal Shem Tov discussing various thoughts in Torah (according to this version of the story, there are other versions involving other personalities). The Baal Shem expressed the belief that everything that happens and you notice it, is a message relevant to you. If something occurs in the world, and you become aware of it, that means that you are being sent a message from Heaven. The Baal Shem Tov added that this is true even if it seems to be very insignificant, and even if it seems entirely natural, still, since everything that happens in the world is ordained by Hashem, even your becoming aware of this event is also ordained by Hashem, so it means that it contains some message.
As they were discussing this concept, a gentile worker passed by and peeked through the open window and said, "Good Morning Rebbe, is there anything that needs fixing today?" He was a worker looking for a job.
"No, not today; everything seems to be in order," the Baal Shem replied.
The workman could not accept the answer, he needed work. So he blurted out, "Rebbe, if you look hard enough you'll always find something that needs repair.
The Baal Shem turned to Rav Yaakov Yosef and said, "Do you realize that we have just been sent a message from the Ribono Shel Olam. If you look hard enough, you can always find something that can be fixed up. Never think you're perfect."
Rav Yaakov Yosef was not ready to accept this idea. "If Hashem has such a lofty message, is He going to send it through a goyishe laborer? I can't accept that."
The Baal Shem Tov looked at him and retorted, "You can, you just don't want to."
Rav Yaakov Yosef left the Baal Shem Tov's house, reflecting upon the conversation. As he was standing there, a goyishe farmer passed by with a wagon load of hay. (Other versions relate this story happening to Rav Zusha.) As he drives by, a few bales of hay become loose and fall off the wagon. The goy stops his wagon and gets off and looks at Rav Yaakov Yosef and asks, "Can you help me lift these bales of hay back on the wagon? They're too heavy for me to lift."
Rav Yaakov Yosef replied, "I'm sorry, but they're too heavy for me too."
The goy looked at him and said, "You can. You just don't want to!"
That did it. He was convinced. A Heavenly message can come even through a goyishe wagon driver.
So when we hear the shofar we should realize that it is not just a musical instrument. It is not just a nice minhag. Hashem is talking to us, "Yidden, do Teshuvah!"
Wishing everyone a Gut Shabbos!
Rabbi Eliezer Parkoff
Yeshiva Gedolah Medrash Chaim
Rabbi Parkoff is author of “Chizuk!” and “Trust Me!” (Feldheim Publishers), and “Mission Possible!” (Israel Book Shop ? Lakewood). You can access Rav Parkoff's Chizuk Sheets online:
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