This Month


Rav Zev Leff

Part of the process of the conversion of the non-Jewish female captive is to let her sit in the home of her captor and cry for her father and mother for a month's time. The says that this month of crying is a hint to the month of Elul. Exploring the various explanations as to the nature of this month of crying by the captive will shed light on the very essence of the month of Elul and its role in helping us to prepare for the Yomim Noraim.

The Ibn Ezra offers two explanations of the nature of this crying. Firstly, he says, she cries out of respect for her parents, to exhibit that she in fact mourns her separation from them and their uncertain fate. The various commentaries comment that we were enjoined to honor our parents even in a generation such as those who received the Torah. Those parents did "not" provide material sustenance for their children, for all material sustenance was provided directly from Heaven. Nor were the parents needed to be the link in the spiritual chain of tradition for their children, for that chain was just beginning, and all learned directly from the source. Moreover, the parents of that generation, indirectly harmed their children by causing them to remain in the desert 40 years as a result of their sins.

It is obvious that the underlying basis for honoring a parent is not necessarily gratitude for the material or spiritual benefits they provide, but rather for the fact that through them one received his very life. Hence the mitzvah of kibbud av va'em is an appreciation of life itself. Therefore the reward for the mitzvah is length of days. One who appreciates life deserves an extra measure of life.

However the temporal life that parents imbue is only significant if put in the proper perspective. If one views this physical existence as merely the sum total of seconds from birth to death, then in reality this life is one continuous journey towards death. Furthermore, if one views life in this world as an end in itself, then the trials, tribulations, frustrations, and heartaches that typify this temporal world make it a sordid goal. However, when viewed properly as a means through which to earn and create everlasting life, then every moment of temporal life is imbued with eternal potential and significance.

The second explanation of the Ibn Ezra is that the captive is crying over the fact that her parents did not have the opportunity to come to the truth as she did and did not also convert to Judaism. And appreciation of life that generates an appreciation of parents who provided that life must lead to an appreciation of the true nature of the quality of life that make one value a life of Torah and mitzvahs and grieve for those not fortunate enough to embrace it.

Similarly, the month of Elul is a month in which to regain a perspective on life and its true value and significance and cry for the moments of precious life we have wasted in the past year, letting potential for eternity slip through our fingers.

The Sforno and Rambam based on Chazal(Yevamos 48b) say that she is to cry for the former idolatry, euphemistically, referred to as her father and mother, and totally reject it and remove it from her mind. This woman thought she could rely on her parents, and likewise on her idolatry, to protect her and give her security. She is now made intensely aware that these forces were of little help to her. It gives her time to reflect and put into perspective where in fact lies security and hope.

Likewise the whole year we put our trust and hope in a myriad of material things that we rely on to provide us with satisfaction and success. As we reflect on a year gone by, we must come to the realization that none of these things can be relied on, and in truth "Ein lanu lehisha'ein elah b'Avinu shebaShomayim - -We can depend only our Father in Heaven and look to Him alone for support."

This is why the 30-day period is referred to as yerach yomim and not chodesh yomim. Yerach represents the moon having gone through its whole cycle and disappeared, whereas chodesh signifies the cycle of the moon beginning again. Hence in a kesubah, the start of a new life together, we refer to the month as a chodesh when writing the date. Conversely in a get, signifying the end of a life together, we use the word yerach in writing the date. So, too, this woman cries for all the things she thought she could trust, only to have them disappear as a mirage.

Only after realizing what one cannot rely upon can one come to chodesh of Rosh HaShanah, the beginning of a new perception, heralded by the cry of the shofar, signifying the coronation of the Heavenly King, the recognition of the true source of hope and reliance and the total subjugation to that Heavenly source.

Rashi quoting Chazal gives yet another dimension to this crying. Seeing this captive woman stripped of her beautiful clothing, disheveled and crying, will eliminate the lust of the yetzer hora that motivated him originally, and permit him to see her either as a potential convert and helpmate or to dismiss her as a potential stumbling block generated by the desire of his yetzer hora. During Elul we must look at the allurement of the past year and the various things we were involved with in a more objective manner, stripping them of their alluring facade and seeing their essential value or worthlessness.

Elul is the month to revitalize our relationship with HaShem, Ani leDodi ve Dodi li - I am to my Beloved and my Beloved is to me. We must first crystallize Ani leDodi - our relationship to HaShem - by reassessing the centrality of Torah in our life and realizing our sole dependence on HaShem and the futility of trusting in material things.

All these ideas are echoed in the kapitel - "LeDovid HaShem Ori" - which we recite twice daily during the month of Elul. Dovid HaMelech represents the centrality of Torah in his life when he says "Achas sho'alti me'eis HaShem, osah avakesh - - But one thing will I ask HaShem and that will I seek - shivti beveis HaShem kol yemei chayai - to make wherever I am HaShem's home, that my entire life revolve around Him." And secondly the idea of not trusting in anyone without anyone but HaShem is echoed in the verse "Ki avi ve'imi azvuni - even when my father and my mother may leave me - v'HaShem ya'asfeinu - but HaShem is still there to gather me up."

May we utilize the month of crying to arouse our hearts to cry out like a baby to our Father in Heaven, Who will renew His relationship with us on Rosh HaShanah, give us a renewed, unblemished potential for relating to Him on Yom Kippur, culminating in the pinnacle of joy of Succos that will herald a new year of happiness and health, a year of geulah sheleimah bimheirah beyomeinu, amen.

From Mourning To Teshuvah

Dovid Small

The months of Elul and Tishrei, months of teshuvah, follow the months of Tamuz and Av, months of national mourning, for good reason. Teshuvah naturally follows mourning. Why?

In the episode of Dovid Hamelech and Bas Sheva, we find what seems to be a contradiction. Nosson Hanavi hints to Dovid about Hashem`s displeasure with his actions. Dovid then responds simply "hatosi lashem", "I have sinned against HaShem." Yet, in Tehillim (51), Dovid Hamelech composes a lengthy vidui from which we learn the different components of teshuvah (regret, acceptance not to repeat , etc.). Why does Dovid, in one place, cite just two words, and in another, say a long confession?

There are two stages in mourning: aneanus and aveilus. Aneanus refers to the period after the death until the burial. This period is marked by the mourner's complete engulfment in his emotions, and his bewailing the death. The shock of the tragedy is settling in. The mourner is so empowered by his emotions, that he loses full definition of a person and thereby becomes prohibited to perform mitzvos.

Aveilus commences upon the burial. Here, the shock has settled in, the mourner's mind is again functioning totally, and the mourner resumes mitzvos. Here, the mourner is able to contemplate his loss and absorb his new situation. Those coming to be menachem him, to console him, speak about the one who passed away, and prompt the aveil to do so too. Only an aveil can accept nichum, consolation. so aneanus is an emotional bewailment of the loss, and aveilus a heartfelt crying born from the understanding of the situation.

These two stages are also found in teshuvah. Aneanus of sin is coming in contact with the fact that one has perpetrated a sin. All of a sudden, one cries, "Oy! what have I done? Where is my life going?" This is aneanus - the emotional realization. Aveilus comes next. One contemplates the seriousness of the sin, and ponders the gravity of it (e.g. the effect it has on oneself, on others, and on the world in general).

Now we can understand Dovid Hamelech's response. The Gr"a explains why there is a psik, an empty space of 8 letters, after Dovid's response of "I have sinned. Now good bye." Rather, these were the only two words he could utter before the tears. Dovid Hamlech then first realized that he sinned. He was experiencing aneanus of sin. Later, in Tehilim, he composes Vidui. This was after he had the chance to think about the incident, and allow the gravity of his actions to sink in. That was aveilus of sin.

We also experience these two stages in mourning over the churban. On Tisha B'Av, we sit on the floor and wail over the fate which has befallen us. The crying is part of aneanus. After noon, we get up onto chairs, don tefillin, and hang up the paroches. These are signs of nichum, of consolation. Consolation can only be by aveilus. On the latter part of Tisha B'Av we ponder the churban. "What exactly was the loss? Why did it happen? What can be done to rectify it?"

Obviously then, if we mourn over the causes of the Churban we will be inspired to do teshuvah. This is why it is appropriate for the months of teshuvah to follow the months of aveilus.

The Rav mentioned to us how the 21 days of the three weeks correspond to the 21 days between Rosh Hashanah and Hashanah Rabboh. The period of teshuvah doesn't follow the period of mourning by coincidence. Rather, it follows because the proper response to aveilus over the churban is teshuvah - whether national level sins or personal ones.

As we begin to hear the call of the shofar, let us recall, at least, the impetus created by the aveilus, and employ the kindness HaShem has bestowed upon us: teshuvah.


Rav Aaron Krockocki

If two witnesses warned a boy thirteen years old not to steal money in order to purchase meat and wine , and afterwards observed that he stole money from his parents, bought meat and wine, and consumed them in a gluttonous manner, the parents bring their son to Bais Din. The boy is then whipped. If he repeats these sins, his parents again bring him before Bais Din. The boy is now subject to death since the Torah predicts that he will eventually come to steal and murder in order to satisfy his lusts. The Torah therefore declares: "Better he leave the world while still innocent, than after he is guilty of serious crimes" (Sanhedrin 91A). Concerning this the Saba of Kelm made an interesting comment, something which concerns us all as we approach the Day of Judgment, Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur:

If a person just begins to act somewhat against the Torah; even though he has not yet reached the point where he is deserving to die, however, on "Yom Hadin" even the attribute of mercy will say that it is better he die now an innocent man rather than later on as a guilty person. On the other hand, if someone begins to better his ways, then even though it is just a start they will say up above that he must be written immediately for life so that in the future he can die an innocent man. i.e.: Since this individual began to do Tshuva, certainly he will become a Tzaddik, a complete Tzaddik. Thus he will be given the opportunity to die later as a righteous person as opposed to now as a somewhat guilty one. However, one who began to go astray, although this is only a beginning, the Torah understands that he is headed towards becoming a "rasha Gamur" thus: "better he leave the world while still innocent, than after he is guilty of serious crimes."

This idea should awaken us all to immediately at least start to better our ways in order that we be able to merit on the "Yom Hadin" to be written in the Book of "Tzaddikim Gamurim".

Avodat Elul

Aryeh Varon

After forty more days and nights, Bnei Yisroel's beloved leader, Moshe Rabeinu returned with the second luchot after his third aliyah on Har Sinai. It was the holy day of Yom Kippur.

The Meforshim ask, "Why did Moshe Rabeinu need another forty days and nights just to carve out the new luchot?" HaRav Dessler, z'tzal, answers that Moshe Rabeinu didn't need forty more days in order to write the Luchot, rather he needed it to learn the Torah in a new way. Rav Dessler brings this down based on the idea that Kabbalat Hatorah of Baalei Teshuva cannot be done in the same way as someone who hasn't sinned before. For example Bnei Yisroel before the chait haegel.

HaRav Chaim Friedlander, z'tzal, explains that the Torah of Baalei Teshuva is a Torah of "fences". Once a person stumbles on a mitzvah he has to think of preventive methods in order not to transgress again. (For example, if a person has been over Loshon Hara, he should fix a time to learn Hilchos Shmiras HaLoshon, or call Kol Haloshon for the daily halacha in English, 08-941-6303).

We are all Baalei Teshuva to some degree. The third time that Moshe Rabeinu went up was Rosh Chodesh Elul. Our avodah is what Moshe Rabeinu was kavua for these next forty days. These being "gedarim" or fences. Therefore, we should all be blessed with a successful Elul, realizing our shortcomings of the past year, and being able to plan what we should do differently this year, in order not to fall in the same ways as before. With HaKodesh Baruchu's help, this should be one of our goals for Avodas Elul.