Hakhel Email Community Awareness Bulletin
AUGUST 2007 DAILY EMAIL ARCHIVE
FORWARD WITH TRUST
Every morning and evening
during the month of Elul, it is our custom to recite Tehillim Chapter 27,
L’Dovid Hashem Ori. It is important to note that this Kepital, which takes
us through so many thoughts, reflections and emotions of Dovid HaMelech,
concludes with the words “Kavey El Hashem...Ve’Kavey El Hashem--Hope to
Hashem, strengthen yourself and He will give you courage, and hope to Hashem.”
By mandating the recital of this chapter during these days, our minhag
teaches us that a most appropriate and necessary teaching for the month of
Elul is to follow the conclusion of Dovid--hope to Hashem, and, then when
you are down on yourself, strengthen yourself, and then hope to Hashem
again. Let us take a moment to reflect upon this.
During this time of year, a
person who is serious about himself and his life may tend to feel down or
depressed as he looks back over the year and reflects upon the fact that he
is a year older--but is he a year better? The proper response to this is to
have hope--not a blank or superficial hope--but a hope in Hashem who is
All-Powerful that He will help us fulfill a sincere and meaningful desire to
improve--and we can trust in Him to help us become better.
It is interesting to note that
after the sin of the Golden Calf, the Bnei Yisroel are twice criticized for
being an “Am Kishei Oref--a stiff-necked people” (Shemos 33:5 and 34:9).
Likewise, in the Viduy we recite “Kishinu Oref--we have been stiff-necked.”
The neck, as opposed to the front, symbolizes the back of the person and
shows that the person is turned away from someone, rather than facing him.
It is our job not to turn away from what we have done, and certainly not to
turn away from Hashem. Instead, we must face that which we have done with a
plan to improve, and face Hashem asking Him for nothing less than Divine
assistance going forward.
Chazal teach that the Moshiach
will come in one of two ways--either at the final, designated time (“B’Ito”),
or earlier than that (“Achieshena”), if we are deserving. Thinking a little
bit forward (hopefully not too much forward), wouldn’t it be a
disappointment to learn at the end of days that the Moshiach came “B’Ito”,
at the final, designated time, rather than Achieshena, at an earlier time?
After thousands of years of toil and suffering, of yearning and aspiration,
we just did not finally succeed to make it on our own, and Hashem had to do
it for us. On the other hand, what greater ecstasy could we experience than
that of Hashem Himself recognizing the collective efforts of our
forefathers, our fathers, and our very own accomplishments, and bringing the
Moshiach **because we deserved it** earlier than the final date?
Now, let us take this thought
and apply it to ourselves--for, as Chazal teach, each one of us is a
microcosm of the world, an actual little world onto himself (Sanhedrin
37A). Chazal (Kiddushin 40B) likewise teach that one mitzvah or one avairah
that one individual performs can tilt the judgment of the whole world in the
right or wrong direction. At the very least, we owe it to ourselves to make
sure that with respect to our own little world--we tip ourselves in the
Responsibility now bears fruit
later. Shlomo HaMelech, the wisest of all men, teaches (Koheles 9:4): “Ki
Mi Asher Yechubar El Kol HaChaim Yesh Bitachon…--for to him who is joined to
the living, there is hope, for a living dog is better than a dead lion”.
Rabbeinu Yonah in the Shaarey Teshuva (2:24), in explaining this
pasuk, writes that life in this world is praised by Shlomo HaMelech because
it affords a person the opportunity to do Teshuva, perform mitzvos, and
attain “ma’alos hanefesh--higher spiritual states,” not otherwise attainable
anywhere else at any other time. Rabbeinu Yonah continues that the meaning
of “…for a living dog is better than …” is that the lowliest person alive
still can grow spiritually, something that the wisest, most righteous
deceased person cannot do. The opportunity that each and every one of us
has is so incredible, so awesome, simply because we are joined to life.
So, as we recite daily the
words of Dovid HaMelech, “Kavey El Hashem…V’Kavey El Hashem…”, let us
recognize the power that we have while alive, and look forward towards
realizing our mission and purpose in this world---while facing towards
Hashem, with hope, trust, joy and appreciation!!
Special Note One: The Chofetz
Chaim’s daughter related that the Chofetz Chaim once asked her to review
some of his Seforim before selling them, as it was his practice not to
“deceive” anyone by selling him Seforim which had mistakes. She had other
plans that night, however, so she responded “Father I will check 100 Seforim
tomorrow, but I would like to go out now.”
The next day, she found
exactly 100 Seforim on her table. As a result, she had not only merited
assisting the Chofetz Chaim in his great dissemination of Torah knowledge,
but she had also learned a lifetime lesson--the words that a person utters
are his bond and trust. They are not to be taken lightly, and are to be
truly valued for what they are--as the “Ruach Mimalilah,” the heavenly
spirit which distinguishes human from animal life (see Bereishis 2:7, and
Targum and Rashi there).
We should try to the greatest
extent possible to be proud--and not to be ashamed by what we say. The
Alter of Kelm used to say that adults, too “must teach themselves how to
speak”. This may be accomplished, at least at a minimal level, by every
once in a while thinking twice before you initiate a phone call or
conversation, or come back with a witty repartee.
There is a story in Tanach
which we read approximately twice a year as the Haftorah for Machar Chodesh
(i.e., when Rosh Chodesh falls on Sunday). It is the story of the manner in
which Dovid and Yehonasan agreed that Yehonasan would advise Dovid as to
Shaul’s feelings towards him. Yehonasan would study his father’s behavior
at the Rosh Chodesh meal, and then advise Dovid whether he could stay
together with Shaul’s family, or whether he had to flee.
The plan was as follows: Dovid
would hide out in the field, and Yehonasan would shoot arrows towards his
direction. If Yehonasan were to tell the young boy who is fetching his
arrows “go further, go further”, it is a sign that Dovid is to flee. If, on
the other hand, he were to tell the lad that the arrows are closer, it is a
sign that Dovid can come closer, as Shaul is not angry with him. As we all
know, Yehonasan tells the boy to go further, as Shaul is enraged with Dovid.
Yehonasan and Dovid then find each other, embrace and cry, until Dovid takes
leave of Yehonasan.
The question is obvious: if
they were going to meet, why did they have to go through the act of the boy
with the arrows--Yehonasan could have simply made up to secretly meet Dovid
and tell him either that he could stay, or that he must run away. HaRav
Chaim Kanievsky, Shlita, (and others) answer that to the extent one can
minimize Loshon Hora spoken--even if it is l’toeles (with a legitimate
Halachic purpose)--nevertheless, to the extent it could be done in some
other way--without directly impugning someone, this must be done. Yehonasan
did not want to utter one unnecessary negative word against his father--and
when he met Dovid, he did not do so. What Dovid learned, he learned from
the “arrows.” The Navi is teaching us the great lesson of how far we must
go to keep our tongue from any kind of evil.
This brings home the
requirement set forth in the Sefer Chofetz Chaim that even when Loshon Hora
l’toeles (for a purpose) may be spoken; it is only if there is no other,
even indirect, means to accomplish this task. This, of course, would be
another perfect time to apply the “think twice” rule in our daily lives.
Special Note Two: In this
week’s Parsha, Ki Savo, we find that when performing the mitzvah of “Viduy
Ma’aser” one states “…I have not transgressed any of your commandments, and
I have not forgotten” (Devorim 26:13). The obvious question is--forgotten
what? Rashi, quoting Chazal, teaches that I have not forgotten to make the
appropriate Bracha on the mitzvah when separating the Ma’aser.
Why does the Torah use the
term “I have not forgotten” to describe the necessity to make the Brocha
before the Mitzvah? The Sifsei Chaim (Middos V’Avodas Hashem 1, p. 479)
writes that there is a great lesson to be derived here with respect to all
Mitzvos and all Brachos. A person can perform a Mitzvah out of rote, with
little or no thought behind the act. A bleary-eyed Tefillin placement in
the morning, or a very hungry individual eating (pouncing upon?) a festive
Leil Shabbos meal would be two examples.
The Bracha before the Tefillin,
or the Kiddush before the Seudah, are intended for us to focus us on the
“Ata” and the “V’Tzivanu”--i.e., that we are performing a Mitzvah in front
of Hashem. The Bracha, then, prevents us from “forgetting” Hashem more than
the Mitzvah itself can! Just as with the Bracha over food reminds us that
it is Hashem who graced us with the food, so too, does the Bracha on a
Mitzvah cause us “not to [otherwise] forget” that Hashem is before us as we
perform it. At this time of year, as we focus on raising ourselves up
spiritually, we should recognize that perhaps one of the best ways to
accomplish this is to sense that Hashem is with us at all times. As we
recite the words “Baruch Ata” (approximately 100 times a day!), they should
serve as an incredible gift, a wonderful reminder, for us “not to
forget”--both who we are, and where we are!
Special Note One: Rebbe
Yisroel Salanter is said to have remarked “we should treat the whole year as
if it were Elul--and Elul as Elul!” Set forth below are teachings from a
shiur given by Rabbi Ephraim Wachsman, Shlita (distributed by the Chofetz
Chaim Heritage Foundation), which exactly relate to the time of year that we
Imagine you were at a wedding, and the band
leader announced “Ladies and Gentlemen, for the first time, Mr. and Mrs…...”,
and nobody even bothered looking up. Instead, everyone continued
talking and eating their soup. How profoundly absurd the scene would
be! How ridiculous! How insulting! We are now about to hear a similar
kind of announcement. Let us not continue to sit there just eating our
In a similar vein, Rabbi Wachsman suggested
that one should envision receiving a phone call from HaRav Chaim
Kanievsky, Shlita, asking you to do him a favor and buy something for
him in America and get it to him in Eretz Yisroel. Imagine the time,
effort and alacrity you would exercise in accomplishing your task, and
the “money is no object” feeling you would have. Putting things into
perspective, how much more dedication, sincerity, zehirus and zerizus is
required, as Hashem Himself asks us to “do Him (and ourselves!) a
favor”--and straighten our ways at this time of year.
Indeed, Rabbi Wachsman likens
someone who passes through Elul without some new and solid commitment(s) to
someone who takes an old car in real need of repair, and merely sprays it
inside with some hastily purchased “Fresh Car Spray”.
Special Note Two: Dovid
HaMelech teaches in Tehillim (119:162) “Suss Anochi Al Imrasecha…--I rejoice
over Your teachings, as one who has found a great treasure.” HaRav Aharon
Kotler, Zt’l, (Mishnas Rebbe Aharon 1, p. 243) notes that Dovid
HaMelech is giving us an invaluable lesson here. One should not merely
accept--but actually rejoice--when hearing words of Mussar, constructive
criticism, or ways to improve--and so much so, that he should actually feel
as if he has just found a great treasure. The next time we hear our Rav
speak to the kehillah in general or to us in particular, or the next time we
hear or read words or lessons to improve, we should actually exult at the
opportunity--for the net result is not just money in the bank, or a new car
outside---but the gold equivalent of eternal currency.
It should be noted that just
as it is a privilege to be the recipient of words of Mussar, one should also
deem it to be a privilege to properly relate words of Mussar to those whom
you feel you could have a positive impact upon. The Sefer Piskei
Teshuvos (Volume 1, p. 34), for instance, notes that one should teach
his family members how to properly wash Netilas Yadayim, the importance of
davening and how to properly recite Birchas HaNehenin (the blessings before
partaking of something). Sometimes, even beyond the Halacha, one can teach
a close friend or family member about acting in a more elevated manner. It
is said that HaRav Dovid Kronglass, Zt’l, (the Mashgiach of Ner Israel in
Baltimore), one Elul overheard one of his students in the yeshiva dining
room asking someone to pass the ketchup. Rabbi Kronglass later called him
over and gently rebuked him. “Ketchup--in Elul? I believe you are beyond
that. Even if you don’t think so, try doing away with it until after the
Yomim Noraim”. Show yourself what you are capable of!”
Special Note Three: While we
may feel what Rabbi Kronglas expected of his student is well beyond us,
there are certain things which we can all undertake and appreciate during
this time of year:
Some have the custom of checking their
Tefillin and Mezuzos in the month of Elul, and others have the custom of
praying at the Kevarim of Tzadikim and relatives. The Aderet (of
Yerushalayim), Z’tl, made it a point to go through his home and ledger
to see if he had borrowed any Seforim, personal items, or money from
anyone and made sure to return it prior to Rosh Hashana. We can also
try to do this, and to “pay-up” on any outstanding pledges or
commitments that we have made throughout the year.
Likewise, another two-week project would be
working on a Viduy transgression, such as avoiding the aveira of “Tzararnu”--making
people feel bad or saying hurtful words (even to--and especially
to--close family members), or to turn away from the aveira of “Kaasnu”--becoming
angry--especially in situations where it really did not (or will not)
make a difference, or in which you could have otherwise controlled
yourself. Indeed, the long-standing joke of the anti-Semites is “Why do
Jews have long noses? Because the air is free.” We may suggest that a
Jewish response to the question is because it symbolizes that a Jew is
to be “Maarich Af”--in which the long nose symbolizes slowness to
anger. This is of major importance to the Torah Jew, and one should be
sure to reaffirm this commitment at this time of year.
Every one can think of their
own short-term program which, would surely be effective. As the year comes
to close, it is up to us to exert the time, effort, care and concern to make
sure that the winding down is truly a rising-up!
NOTES ON SELF-IMPROVEMENT
Special Note One: Thirty days
from today will be the Holy Day of Yom Kippur:
In tomorrow’s Parsha, Ki
Seitzai (Devorim 21:13), Rabbi Zelig Pliskin, Shlita, brings the following
thought in Growth Through Torah (p. 494-495).
“The Aishes Yefas Toar must
cry over her parents for a period of thirty days. The Ramban explains that
thirty days is the amount of time necessary for her to remove the attachment
to her idols from her mouth and heart.
“Rabbi Chaim Zaitchek, Z’tl,
comments that we learn from here that to really change a trait it takes a
thirty-day period of intense work. This is the principle of the month of
Elul which is a time for us to focus on our behavior and traits in order to
make a major improvement in ourselves.
“A person tries to work on a
trait for a day or two, and when he does not see improvement he becomes
discouraged and gives up. When you want to improve any trait, give yourself
thirty days of serious effort in order to see visible changes. While some
people are able to make changes very quickly, even they need a significant
amount of time in order to ensure that the new habits become second nature.
Even if you do not see any positive changes in the first week or two, if you
will persevere for an entire thirty days, you will begin to see the fruits
of your labor.”
Hakhel Note: Today would be an
awesome day to begin your own personalized thirty-day self-improvement
project--to conclude with Yom Kippur itself!
Special Note Two: Clearly,
one of the most significant aspects of Elul is for a person to take control,
to take charge of his life. The Yetzer Hara has various tools and guises to
sway a person from this task, whether it be overwork, overvacationing (yes,
this is possible!), getting you to function on too-little sleep, and other
various and sundry deceptions and scams.
The Orchos Chaim of the Rosh
contains a three-word paragraph which was very much emphasized in Kelm, and
which, it is reported, HaRav Nosson Wachtfogel, Z’tl, the Mashgiach of
Lakewood, would recite in a special tune in the month of Elul in the
Lakewood Yeshiva. The three words are: “Al Tivahel Ma’asecha--don’t act in
a hurried, disturbed fashion.” Rather, keep calm, don’t get depressed or
excited, and act with discipline and self-control. This is especially
important as we take the time out to review the events and occurrences, the
successes and failures, the unfortunate sins and the special Mitzvos, of the
past year. It is also important for us, as we remember that every
additional proper thought, word, or act in this month counts toward the
development of a new and improved you--so keep things under control!
Indeed, HaRav Chaim Friedlander, Z’tl (Sifsei Chaim, Middos V’Avodas
Hashem 1, p.629), teaches that every singular additional moment of Torah
study, any additional consistent improvement in your daily Tefillah (even on
a word or phrase), or, for that matter, any additional act of Chesed (no
matter how small) for the mere sake of doing Chesed elevates us to a higher
level per se.
Rabbi Yissocher Frand, Shlita,
adds a beautiful dimension to sitting down and thinking about the past year,
and concertedly and conscientiously guiding yourself through
self-improvement in a meaningful way. He suggests that every one take the
time to write an “ethical will,” which need not be lengthy at all, but which
should indicate what you feel are important guidelines for life, and which
you would want your family and friends to remember you by--and perhaps even
We do not believe that this is
a morbid--or even a solemn--task, but a happy, or at least meaningful one,
as it brings to the fore one’s goals and purposes in life--which is
something that most of the world seems to disregard, ignore or pass over.
In the end, Shlomo HaMelech (the wisest of all men) teaches us: “Im
Chachamt, Chachamt Loch--if you have become wise, you have become wise for
yourself” (Mishlei 9:12). You, more than anyone else, benefits from your
personally-constructed opening of the gateway to your own
self-knowledge--and ultimately to the realization of your purpose in life.
Let us take a lesson in wisdom
from the wisest of all men--and get going once and for all!
LETTERS FROM OUR READERS
Because we have received so
much valuable correspondence from our readers, we are devoting today’s
bulletin to some of their precious and moving suggestions. At the very
least, the ideas set forth below should encourage each and every one of us
to move on our own in a way which we feel is important for our Teshuva and
“Don’t let the sound of the Shofar go in one ear and out the other.”
I saw the
following quote from Rabbi Twerski, Shlita: “Your actions will make you
either into someone you want to be, or into someone you wish you
weren’t. Who do you want to be?”
that a person should do something to show that he is really serious
about himself. I know that great people would conduct a “Ta’anis Dibbur”
in Elul, in which they minimized or eliminated their speech to the
greatest extent that they could. My suggestion would be to latch on to
this in some way by not speaking one time daily in a place or at a time
when you otherwise would have something to say that is not so important.
I read that
HaRav Shimshon Raphael Hirsch, Z’tl, writes that tears are the
perspiration of the Neshama. If one can put some emotion into his
reflections upon the past year, he will be properly exercising his
Neshama during Elul.
parents were to give you money to spend on whatever you wanted, there
are a few things you could do. Either you can buy yourself a present
with the money they gave you. That would be very nice as that is what
they had in mind when they gave you the money. They give you ten
dollars; you buy yourself some pizza and ice cream. They give you more;
you buy yourself shoes, clothing or a new book. They give you a
large sum of money; you buy yourself something more expensive. But even
better than that, you can use the money they give you to buy them a
present. That would be extra special because you are using the money
you got to try and repay them for all the good they have given you.
They gave you ten dollars, you buy them roses. They gave you more; you
buy them a gift to enhance the Shabbos table. They gave you a large sum
of money; you buy an expensive piece of silver.
imagine if you were to take that money and use it against your parents.
They gave you ten dollars, you buy yourself some fuel and matches and burn
the house down. They gave you more; you buy yourself some other destructive
device and cause untold harm. They gave you even more, you use it to pay
for a car and crash into them, killing them.
ridiculous, right?! This is what happens when we sin against our loving
father, HaKadosh Baruch Hu. He gives and gives and gives to us. He
doesn’t stop. And we have choices of how to use the gifts He has given us.
We can use
them to our benefit alone. We can eat the food He gives us and enjoy it.
We can sing songs to ourselves and enjoy our beautiful voices. We have
eyes, we can use them to read. We can use our ears to hear sounds and our
lips to speak words. But even better than that, we can use our talents to
come closer to Him.
repay HaKadosh Baruch Hu for even the smallest amount of what He does for
us, but we can give Hashem a present by using what He gave us to bring Him
nachas and joy. We can say brachos on our foods or use our voices to sing
songs that will inspire ourselves and others to come closer to Hashem. We
can use our eyes to read stories and look at things that will bring Hashem
happiness. We can use our ears to listen to words of Torah and use our lips
to daven and thank Him.
we use our body to sin against Hashem, we are giving Hashem the equivalent
of a “slap across the face!!” Hashem gives us eyes and what do we do?! We
read and look at things we should have never read or seen. We look at
people with a jealous eye instead of a forgiving eye. Do we look into the
Siddur and the holy aleph bais when we daven or do we let our eyes wander
around the room diverting our attention and getting distracted from our
blessed with the ability to hear, and what do we use our ears for?! We
listen to words of Loshon Hara and ona’as devarim--hurtful speech. We
listen to complaints against others, and then validate these complaints,
instead of helping the complainer realize that there may be another side to
the story. We should try to listen more when someone is trying to tell us
something instead of interrupting them before they finish their thought.
given the ability to speak. How careful are we with guarding our lips? Do
we daven and bentch carefully? Perhaps we can start to say each bracha with
a bit more articulation, thereby enabling us to have more concentration when
saying it. When we use our mouths and our lips to do aveiros, we are taking
the gifts Hashem gave us and using them against Him! What could be a bigger
insult to Hashem than that?! “I give you a gift and this is what you do with
it?!” Do we want Hashem to, Chas v’Shalom, have to wake us up by taking
away one of these gifts so we won’t be able to use them altogether?!
We are now
seriously into the month of Elul. It is a time for us to really think. We
should use this month to give Hashem nachas by showing Him that we are using
every part of our body to serve Him. So work slowly. May I suggest that
each day we take a different part of our body and think about how we could
improve the use of it? One thing at a time, the eyes, the ears, the mouth,
the face, the brains. Is this hard? Maybe. But think about how your life
could change--how each part of your body, a physical thing, becomes
spiritually elevated!! You can do it. Give it a try. See how it works.
You’ll be amazed by the feeling you’ll have when you realize that you are
able to use the gifts Hashem gave you to get close to Him, and truly elevate
your life in this world. Remember, your life in the eternal, infinite world
is what you make of it NOW with your body, time--and effort!!
Hakhel Note: Reader Comments
are dear to us and are always more than welcome! We hope they help you as
much as they help us!
THE THIEF AND THE NEW SUIT
In preparation for the days
ahead, we highly recommend an excellent book The Palace Gates—Parables
for the High Holy Days (Compiled by Rabbi Sholom Wallach, Shlita,
We present below the first
excerpt from this book, entitled “The Purpose of Elul”:
The Maggid of Dubno, Z’tl,
suggests an important dimension to the role of Elul, with the following
A thief once noticed that a
certain shop was always filled with customers. “They must have quite a cash
turnover,” the thief told himself, and he began to plan the robbery.
He decided that he would
observe how each day’s earnings were transferred from the store to the bank
every evening. Soon enough he noticed that just before closing time, a
young man would walk out of the store with a full briefcase and head
straight for the nearest branch of the bank with it.
Now, the thief knew that the
streets were always full at this hour, and it was not yet dark, so he had
almost no hope of getting away with grabbing the briefcase. He was about to
give up his plan when he noticed that there was a clothing store that the
young man always passed on his way to the bank. A brilliant idea popped
into his head.
The next afternoon, a few
minutes before closing time, the thief showed up at the clothing store and
introduced himself to the owner. “I work for a very wealthy man, and my
boss is interested in buying an exquisitely tailored suit. The price is
absolutely inconsequential. He insists only on the highest quality material
and tailoring. Do you have something for him?”
“You have certainly come to
the right place,” the owner answered with enthusiasm. “Just tell your boss
to come in and we’ll fit him with something that will satisfy him. I assure
you, he’ll leave here pleased.”
“So will I…” the thief thought
to himself. “But that’s just the problem,” he went on to explain. “He
doesn’t have the time to come in and get fitted. He’s a very busy man.
That’s why he sent me to bring him a suit to try on.”
“But how can we determine his
size?” the owner asked.
The thief acted as if he were
stumped, and then suddenly answered “I know! Let’s stand outside on the
street, and I’ll tell you when I see somebody who’s his size--you can try
the suit on him!”
The two went outside and
watched all the people passing by. When the thief spied the young man
walking towards them, on his way to the bank with the briefcase in his hand,
he pointed and called out, “See the fellow there? He’s the same size as my
The owner made his way through
the crowd and approached the young man. “Excuse me, but could I trouble you
to come into my store for a minute?” he asked politely. “I would like to
try a very expensive suit on you.”
An expensive suit, thought the
youth, why not?
He accompanied the owner into
the store, placed the briefcase near his feet, and tried on the beautiful
suit. Stepping up to the full length mirror, he took a look and admired
himself in the new suit. Then, before he knew it, the thief bent down,
grabbed the briefcase, and faster than lightning, was out of the store and
“Thief! Thief! Grab him!”
the young man cried out. As he as about to dash out of the store after the
thief, the owner grabbed his shoulder. “Not so fast, mister! You’re not
going anywhere as long as you’re wearing my suit. Take it off first, and
then go your way.”
“But he’ll get away!” the
young man pleaded.
“I’m sorry, but that’s none of
my business. Just take off the suit first.” And as the distraught young
man was taking it off, the thief swiftly disappeared into the crowd.
The lesson of this parable is
We are responsible for “a
briefcase full of money”, and we have been instructed to make sure that this
briefcase arrives at its destination.
But that cunning thief, the
Evil Inclination, tries to prevent us from carrying out this all-important
task. He lures us into a store that is not our own, to try on a suit that
is not our own. He cons us into enjoying ostensible pleasures that afford
no benefit to our bodies, and certainly not to our souls. He persuades us
to waste precious time in worthless pursuits so that he can then drop his
disguise, rise up and stand before Hashem’s throne, and expose us for
falling into his trap…
But there is still a chance.
Even after we have fallen for his crafty tricks, we can still chase him
crying “Thief!” we can retrieve the stolen goods. How? By repenting for
all the time we have wasted, and by regretting all the wrong we have done.
Only then will we be able to make a penetrating Cheshbon HaNefesh
(accounting of our lives) will we be able to realize what it means to stand
before our Creator on the Day of Judgment and speak to Him from the depths
of our hearts. Only then, with true tears welling up from the very depths
of our souls, will we make an opening in the Heavenly Gates. For even if
all other gates have been closed, the gates of heartfelt tears remain open.
But the frightening
possibility exists that when the Day of Judgment arrives, and we wish to
stand in fervent prayer and completely return to Hashem--we will not be able
to. Like the young man, we will still be dressed in the wretched suit. We
will still be bound up in our vanities, wrapped in our own foolish pastimes,
unable to see beyond our own illusions, unable to see that we have lost our
How happy our young man would
have been if, even after he had gotten lured into the store, tried on the
suit, and taken a good look at himself in the mirror, a friend had come up
to him and whispered in his ear, “Watch out! The fellow standing next to
you is a known thief!” If he had been warned before it was too late, he
could have taken off the suit before the thief could get his hands on the
money. How grateful he would be to such a friend!
Dear reader, that friend is
none other than the month of Elul! (Ohel Yaakov)
One: The following are recent comments we received from our precious
a. “When a person wants to do
an Aveira, like speaking Loshon Hara (you can come up with the harder ones),
he should push it off for another time. He should say to the Yetzer Hara
that tomorrow he will speak negatively about that person, or tomorrow he’ll
eat the cake with the questionable Hechsher, or tomorrow he’ll read that
magazine. In this way, the desire for the sin will dissipate. The Yetzer
Hara’s grasp will loosen, because you ‘promised’ him to do the Aveira
“We learn this from Moshe, who
told Korach to bring the Ketores--the incense--‘tomorrow’. Why did he have
to wait for the next day? Moshe hoped that by the next day, the Yetzer
Hara’s stronghold on Korach would be weakened.”
b. “As we already are in the
period preceding the beginning of Shemita when farmers have to refrain from
working their land, may I suggest that you urge your readers to daven the
Bracha of ‘Barech Aleinu Es HaShana Hazos’ with special intensity and
Kavannah that Hashem apply this Bracha beshefa--in abundance--to all Shemita-observing
Special Note Two: The
following notes are excerpted from the teachingsof HaRav Yosef Yozel
Hurwitz, Zt’l, the Alter of Navardok, as related in Sparks of Mussar
by Rabbi Chaim Ephraim Zaitchik, Shlita.
a. The advantage of Teshuva
over all other ventures is that even losses are converted into profits.”
Note: We understand the explanation of this to be that one’s Aveiros,
through Teshuva out of love for Hashem, actually become transformed into
Mitzvos. See Yoma 86B.
b. When a traveler on a ship
sailing west regrets having made the trip and turns himself towards the east
while remaining on board. He has obviously accomplished nothing. The same
is true of a person who tries to mend one of his ways while remaining in the
company of those who do the offense.
c. Alarmed by the sound of
people crying in a Navardok yeshiva, a passerby entered the building to
investigate. It was a Mussar Seder in the month of Elul, and for the
passerby the scene looked very strange. He approached R’ Yosef Yozel, who
was there at the time, and asked, “Is this an insane asylum?”
“Yes, indeed,” came the
answer. “People come here insane and leave with clear heads.”
Special Note Three: As we
move up the rungs of the ladder of Elul, we must remember that our failure
to climb an additional rung on each important day of this month simply means
that we will not bring ourselves to the plateau that we could have reached
when the New Year begins. Can we not stop climbing?
Rungs of a ladder are not
spaced far from each other, because they are intended to make the journey up
as safe and comfortable as possible. We additionally note that a ladder is
not a destructive device, nor a pressure cooker. It is, quite to the
contrary, a positive tool used to accomplish a constructive act. Every day
we should try to raise ourselves in some Bain Odom LaMakom, and some Bain
Odom L’Chaveiro, and that growth can simply be achieved by consistency,
applying the improvement day-in and day-out and without fail, irrespective
of the circumstances.
A beautiful example of a Bain
Odom L’Makom improvement would be one brought in the Piskei Teshuvos (Volume
1, Page 4):
“When arising each morning,
let your first thought, words, and actions of the day be L’Shem Shamayim--recognizing
that you have a Creator, and a purpose in life, rather than a means to that
end, such as thinking about what you will wear or what you will eat, or
talking about where will you go or who you will meet today.”
In the Bein Odom L’Chaveiro
sphere, may we suggest the wonderful words of HaRav Chaim Freidlander, Z’tl,
in the Sifsei Chaim (Midos V’Avodas Hashem Volume 1, page 330), in
which he emphasizes the importance of feeling and expressing HaKaras HaTov
(recognition of all those little and not so little things that are done for
you) to those who are close to you--your immediate family members or close
friends--whether your HaKaras HaTov is expressed through your kind words,
your daily favors, your concern, your “I’ll take care of it”, or even your
warm smile--for through a sincere and ingrained middah of HaKaras HaTov, we
can release ourselves from the shackles of self-centeredness--and even come
to a greater appreciation before the New Year of all that Hashem does for us
on a minute-by-minute basis, as well!
In response to
our note on Love, a precious reader wrote:
Regarding demonstrating love of HaShem-it is well known that Rav Miller,
Z'tl, told people to say, "I love You, HaShem." This, said at least
once daily, is definitely a reminder to a person of his obligation to love
HaShem, and as Rav Miller taught-act like a tzaddik, and you will become
one. Even if you don't feel the love initially, with time, you will.
Taking care of ourselves (not overindulging, but getting enough sleep,
driving safely, etc.) is, as a teacher taught me, necessary in order to love
your fellow as yourself, for if you don't love yourself, you can't love
others. I think it is possible to say that when we attach a greater
appreciation to the obligation to take care of ourselves, this in itself is
a manifestation of a love for HaShem, for we love and take care of that
which He has created. And when we properly love ourselves, we can have
better love for others and do a better job of caring for them, which is
Ratzon HaShem--the Will of Hashem.
From one of our precious readers: I believe that once a Jew realizes that
Elul is coming, he/she should start doing teshuvah immediately--for 2
reasons. First, if one is aware that the time for teshuvah will come
shortly, the yetzer hora may tell one, “soon it will be Elul, so why don’t
you do your sins now as long as you don’t have to repent for a while, and
then when Elul comes, you’ll be good and do teshuvah?” Obviously,
teshuvah done in this way is not accepted. Secondly, just as a bike
rider speeds up before getting to a hill so as to have momentum for an
easier climb, we all should “build up momentum” before taking on the
difficult task of teshuvah--by beginning in Av and building up a head of
I believe that every Jew has the potential to be a tzaddik--you just have to
want it badly enough.
Special Note One: In Guard Your Tongue, Rabbi Zelig Pliskin, Shlita,
provides the following fundamental and indispensable advice:
FORMULA FOR LOSHON HORA PROBLEMS
At times a person finds
himself in a quandary: Is the situation at hand one of those exceptions
when it is not only permitted but obligatory to speak what ordinarily would
be considered Loshon hora? There is a simple formula that solves doubtful
cases. When you will be summoned before the Divine Court, the doubtful case
will be considered. If the Court decides that you should have spoken
instead of remaining silent, you will easily be able to exonerate yourself.
But, if it decides that you should have kept quiet, and you spoke, you will
find yourself in a very difficult position. The formula? When in doubt,
silence is the best policy. (Chofetz Chaim, Sefer Shmiras Halashon
Vol. 1, 2: 16)
advice applies when one is not in a position to ask a shaila based on the
exigencies of the situation. Of course, if possible, one should ask a Rav
whether the particular information in question should be related or
provided. The Chofetz Chaim Heritage Foundation's Shmiras Haloshon Shaila
Hotline, in which experienced poskim in the areas of shmiras haloshon are
available to answer your particular shialos in shidduchiim, business and
personal matters as they arise, is an excellent resource. The hours are
Monday through Thursday and Motze'ei Shabbos from 9-10:30 PM EDT, and in
emergencies. The phone number of the Hotline is 718-951-3696.
Special Note Two: In this
week’s Parsha we find the mitzvah of Tefillah with the words “U’Lovdo B’Chol
L’Vavchem--You should serve Him with all your heart (Devorim, 11:13).” In
this regard, Dovid HaMelech in Tehillim (145:18) teaches “Korov Hashem
L’Chol Korov…--Hashem is close to all who call upon Him-to all who call upon
Him in truth.” HaRav Chaim Friedlander, Z’tl, writes that Dovid HaMelech is
teaching us in this Pasuk that the Yesod HaTefilla, the unequivocal
foundation of prayer, is “calling out to Hashem in truth,” for this is what
draws Hashem near. But, what does “calling out in truth” really mean?
HaRav Friedlander (in Sifsei Chaim, Midos V’Avodas Hashem, volume 1,
p. 29) writes that it is comprised of two elements:
1. That one understands what
he is saying when he says it--i.e., that his Tefillah be with Kavannah. For
instance, when reciting “Baruch Ata Hashem”--one should feel that he is
actually standing before Hashem--and that he is actually speaking to Him;
2. That one recognizes that
whatever he is asking Hashem for, it is **Hashem and only Hashem** Who can
provide it. It is only Hashem Who provides knowledge, only Hashem Who
provides healing, only Hashem Who provides sustenance….
Now is certainly an auspicious
time, as we are taught to pray in this week’s Parsha on the one hand, and as
we enter the portals of Elul on the other, to begin a sincere and dedicated
practice of “calling out to Hashem in truth” in the manner that HaRav
One can begin, one Bracha at a
time, one Tefillah at a time, to succeed, and succeed further and further,
in his daily and weekly quest for Truth!
Special Note Three: We
provide the following special Piskei Halachos of HaRav Chaim Kanievsky,
Shlita relating to Tefillah (as recorded in Derech Sicha, pp.
Question: If one has a long
list of Cholim, rather than reciting all the names (which may be
intimidating, especially when under time pressure), can one pray for them by
saying “For all the people on this list?”
Answer: If this concept works
when one takes Maaser [“In accordance with the formula written in the Siddur…”],
then it works here as well.
Question: If one who is ill
has not requested secrecy about his illness, but his family does not want
people to know, and as a result people are not praying for him, must one
respect the family’s wishes?
Answer: Yes [See Bava Kamma
Question: Many people have
davened for a sick person many times and they have not apparently been
answered, should they look for a different zechus to perform on his behalf?
Answer: If one sees that his
prayers do not appear to be answered, he should nevertheless continue to
pray again and again (Brachos 32B). HaRav Kanievsky adds that one should
seek the best mode of prayer possible. In a related question presented to
him, he ruled that once additional prayers were in order, it was better for
a group to travel to the Kosel than to pray in their city, even though it
would require much additional time and effort to do so.
One final note on Tefillah:
immediately prior to our concluding Shemone Esrei, we recite the following
Pasuk from Tehillim (60:7) “L’Maan Yaichultzun Yididecha…--act that your
beloved ones may be given rest, save your right hand and respond to me!”
Amazingly, Dovid HaMelech describes each one of us (“me!”) as Hashem’s
“right hand.” We should take a moment to reflect upon the power of this
analogy. We are blessed, incredibly blessed, infinitely blessed. We are,
or at least can be, Hashem’s “right hand,” k’viyochol, to be saved. We
should try our best to use the incredible closeness and relationship that
Hashem offers us through Tefillah--and draw closer and closer to Him!