The world is in a state of chaos.
Devastating earthquake in Haiti… Wildfires decimating thousands of acres of forests in Israel… Taliban takeover of Afghanistan… Coronavirus and its various mutations wreaking global havoc…The “woke” culture shredding up the moral fibers of society right before our very eyes…
When is all this occurring? It is occurring now, during the month of Elul, when Hashem is closest to us, when He speaks to us most directly. Our sages tell us that on the Shabbos before Elul, when we bless the new moon, the fish in the sea tremble in anticipation of the coming day of judgement. But what exactly does this term “judgement” really mean and why does it seem that all of creation “gets it” except for us human beings?
The answer lies in the very nature of man and the nature of the world. Every created thing (except man), whether animate or inanimate, is keenly aware that its continued existence depends upon its lifeforce which comes from Hashem. Were it to choose to disconnect from Hashem, the Source of Life, that creature knows it would vaporize into nothingness.
We human beings are the only creatures with completely free choice. That free choice, however, can only occur within the framework of illusion. If we could see things clearly, as they really are, we would lose our free choice. We would see how disconnecting and pulling away from Hashem; giving the Yetzer Hara, the evil inclination, power over us; damages our bodies, our souls, and the world. This is the beauty of free choice; we are given the opportunity to make the proper decisions on our own and not sin.
It is not just a coincidence that the Hebrew word for world, olam, comes from the root that means “hidden”, for the reality of Hashem sustaining the existence of every being is overlaid with layer upon layer of physicality and hedonism, effectively hiding the reality of Hashem from view. Unfortunately, the vast majority of people are so caught up in their day-to-day existence, worldly pleasures and egos, that they rarely consider what is hidden from view. Yet Hashem, our loving Father, in His great mercy, comes closer to us for one month of every year, urging us to wake up from the stupor, from the anesthesia, in which we got stuck. That month is Elul.
Circumcising Our Hearts
Our sages tell us that Elul is an acronym made from the first letters of the verse, “Ani L’dodi V’dodi Li – I am to my Beloved and my Beloved is to me” (Shir HaShirim 6:3), an indication of the close relationship that we aspire to have with Hashem during this month. Another verse brought down, also an acronym, even more profoundly alludes to the power of Elul: “…and He will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring” (Devarim 30:6). How do we understand what the Torah is saying, since circumcision is associated with the removal of the foreskin with which a baby boy is born and not the human heart? Is the Torah telling us to have open heart surgery and remove the pericardium, the thin membranous sac that envelops our hearts? Hardly!
The Ramban comments on this verse: Circumcision of the heart indicates a change in our human existence – the removal of the Yetzer Hara. This is the vision of the era of Moshiach, the days of the final redemption, when we will have no inclination for rebellion or vice, when mankind will live in harmony and with Hashem, when no inner struggle will divert our energies from the true goal of spiritual life. Our desire to return to Hashem will facilitate the removal of the factors which take us away from Him, as the Gemara (Menachos 29:2) tell us “One who is ready to purify himself, will be helped from Above.”
Adam before the First Sin
The Ramban explains further. He views this change as a return to the pristine world of Gan Eden, the Garden of Eden, before Adam and Chava sinned. In the “Gan Eden existence” man lives in harmony with Hashem, reflecting the perfect togetherness of man and his Maker. Teshuva, repentance, with which we are occupied during Elul, takes us back to the exact point of our departure from Hashem. It is a ‘return’ in the literal sense of the word. So too, our aim during Elul should be to take ourselves back to a pre-sin world, a world where the layers of olam, hiddenness, are circumcised from our hearts.
Day of Judgement
As we enter the final few days before Rosh Hashana, Judgement Day, the process of teshuva gets even more intense. Each day is a microcosm of the days of the year now ending. Part of the judgement we face involves looking within. Our sages tell us that He remembers all the things we forget, and forgets all the things we remember. Whenever we judge ourselves, regretting and resolving to change, we literally free ourselves from having to stand trial in heaven for that transgression!
Rosh Hashana is also referred to as Yom HaZikaron, Remembrance Day, reflecting an additional component of judgment. Even the very word we use to identify this day has significance! Similarly, Rosh Hashana doesn’t mean “New Year” as it’s commonly interpreted. Rosh Hashana is also significant, since it literally means “Head of the Year.” This awesome day is to the coming year what the head is to the body; it is the control center, the brain. This is the essence of why it is also called “Judgement Day”, because just as the brain influences every nerve, muscle, fascia, and cell of the body, so too, what we do on Rosh Hashana will influence EVERYTHING in the coming year, including our livelihoods, our health, our fortunes, and our lives.
Rosh Hashana is a Microcosm
The Gemara tells us that “simana milsa he”, that omens have significance. That is why on Rosh Hashana we eat the head of a fish and pray that this coming year we will be on top, at the head of things and not at the bottom; we dip apples in honey and pray that we will have a good and sweet year; and so on with other foods. All of these symbolic acts have profound significance in affecting the coming year, but we shouldn’t take these activities, or anything else we do at this time, lightly, for we are being watched and we are being judged.
As the last few days of the year slowly slip away, our job must be to prepare for this judgement, by judging ourselves, by clearing up our unsettled scores, and by begging Hashem to circumcise our hearts, in order for us to really see the truth.
Mashiach is Waiting
I recently heard, in a recorded shiur by Rav Shalom Arush, that Moshiach was supposed to have come already but the tzaddikim implored our righteous redeemer to delay in coming. Why? Because many, many Jews would have died during the final war, those Jews who had not yet returned to Hashem. Moshiach agreed to wait.
May we be ready soon and may all of our brothers and sisters wake up to the illusion of this world. May we join the rest of creation in being aware of the source of our lifeforce and, with that awareness, merit to crown our Almighty Father and Healer, as King.