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8 Elul 5764 - August 25, 2004 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly
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Opinion & Comment
Elul -- Hastening to Get to Know One's Creator
Inspiring words regarding the essence of Elul,

by HaRav Shlomo Wolbe, shlita

We are suffused with a great joy at the onset of the new Elul zman and at the opportunity of entering the new and splendid Beis Medrash, for which we have R' Kugler to thank.

It will be our obligation to bring the Shechina into this beis medrash through our prayers and Torah study. We hope that our efforts will make the presence of the Shechina here palpable. How can we go about accomplishing this?

In Avoda Zora 19b it is written: "Why does it say, `Fortunate is the man who fears Hashem' and makes no mention of `the woman'? Said R' Amram in the name of Rav, `Fortunate is the person who repents when he is a man.' Rashi explains that this means while one is still vigorous and in his prime, that is, he is quick to recognize his Creator, before he is an old man. [It does not mean `man' as opposed to `woman' but means `man' as opposed to `old man.']

This is a significant revelation into the meaning of teshuva. We are accustomed to thinking that repentance is what we do for our sins, whereas Rashi tells us that teshuva is acknowledging and "getting to know one's Creator."

If teshuva means to return, to repent, from what point does one repent? From where? And where does one go to from there?

When a person is immersed in sin, entangled in the net of the yetzer hora, he has to abandon that place in order to purify himself, and this is repentance: leaving behind the sins and going to be purified. But Rashi introduces a different concept, a principle in teshuva -- that the very first step is to recognize one's Creator. And this is best done when a person is in his prime and vitality, not when his strength has already waned.

One would think that recognizing one's Creator may require the advanced maturity and broad perspective that comes with age and experience. But Rashi tells us that the earlier the better, while one is still in one's prime. This is very illuminating.

Today we are beginning the Elul session, whose very purpose is to repent our sins. But as Rashi stated, it really means getting to know the Creator. To return in order to become closer. The proximity is the first step, followed by repentance for one's sins, those acts that are incompatible with a closeness to the Holy One. First things first. The earlier the better, the younger the better, the stronger the better.

Young men -- it is they who must get to know their Creator. And if a youth is asked if he knows his Creator, he will forthwith reply, `Yes.' From where does he know about Him? From his father, from cheder? But this is not the level we are talking about. One must introspect and contemplate this subject, think in depth about all of Creation, and see and realize that Hashem created everything that exists, including the young man himself.

Hashem is our Father. Hashem is the source of everything we see around us, whatever we see. We are aware that Hashem gave us the Torah at Sinai and that all Jewry, souls past and present, heard Hashem command, "I am Hashem Your G-d." When a person acknowledges his Creator, is aware of Him, it must, perforce, make an impression upon him when he begins to pray.

When he says, "Boruch Ato Hashem," he must realize Whom he is addressing. Is he speaking respectfully enough to the King of kings? How can he address Him directly as `Ato Hashem'? He is the Master of the Universe.

But Hashem is the One Who created me. He is my Father, my King, and every blessing that I utter is a direct address to Him. This very fact should make a constant impression upon us, in our hearts, every single time, with each prayer and utterance.

The Rambam discusses the laws of repentance and asks, "What is perfect teshuva? When he experiences the same circumstances which caused him to sin in the past, and is tempted to sin again, but refrains from doing so. In that case, his tshuva is complete, as Shlomo Hamelech advises us: "Remember your Creator in the days of your youth." The Rambam cites this saying of Shlolmo Hamelech to indicate that repentance is bearing Him in our minds, being aware of Him. For if one is aware of Hashem, he knows that He does not want us to sin and that person will refrain from sinning. The awareness makes a different impression upon him, and must be constant.

The Rambam also writes, "And even if he transgressed throughout his life, only to repent on the day of his death -- and dies after having done teshuva, all of his sins are forgiven . . . We see from here that if he is acutely aware of his Creator right before his death and duly repents, he is forgiven" (emphasis added). We see from here that the Rambam indicates that all teshuva entails remembering Hashem.

It therefore follows that as we are entering the month of Elul, the month of sanctity, we must also prepare for Rosh Hashonoh and Yom Kippur -- by doing our utmost to recognize, to get to know our Creator. A young man, says Rashi, is capable of acknowledging his Creator and doing true repentance.

We must give serious thought to this. Young men are together nowadays all day; rarely does one find himself alone, alone with a chance to contemplate. If a bochur seeks to draw closer to Hashem, he must create an opportunity for solitude, when he can meditate on drawing closer, thinking about everything that Hashem does for him, and all the things he must do in order to draw closer to Hashem.

This is the purpose of Elul, and the nature of the effort which we must invest. This is the proper preparation for Rosh Hashonoh, the day of accepting upon oneself the yoke of the Kingdom of Heaven.

Such a momentous day requires great preparation, the first step of which is prayer. This does not mean mouthing the words in the siddur by rote but making a special effort that each prayer draw us closer to Hashem. Indeed, every single word -- Boruch . . . Ato . . . Hashem . . . -- should achieve that purpose. One of the goals of our yeshiva is to create that awareness, that closeness and the realization that Hashem is the Creator, Sustainer, Living and actively involved. This belief must accompany us all the time. And as Rashi said, this applies to a young man who does teshuvoh.

The Shulchan Oruch begins with the verse, "Shivisi Hashem lenegdi somid." Hashem is ever before me. This is the level of a mature person. But young people should at least realize that when they stand in prayer, the Shechina is before them. This is why the halocho states that one is forbidden to pass before someone who is praying. The Taz explains that someone in prayer is in the presence of the Shechina and thus, the very ground upon which he stands is holy soil. One may not trespass on it. The fact is that each time a person stands for Shemoneh Esrei, he stands before the Shechinah, and we must feel this too.

This is how we must begin the month of Elul. It is a weighty thing, to know that young men must make an effort to get to know Hashem and thereby begin the process of repentance. It is with this resolve, with this goodwill that we enter our new beis medrash, consecrate and dedicate it and hope, here, to feel the Presence of the Shechina.

Elul. This holy month, the month of tshuva. And this must begin with an awareness of the Creator. Every bochur must know this and work on this. And when a young man acknowledges his Creator, "Fortunate is the man."

May Hashem grant us success in this holy month of Elul that we merit to approach tshuva so that we arrive at Rosh Hashonoh and Yom Kippur with true repentance in anticipation of the New Year, may it come upon us for the good. May all of the students here succeed in this holy avoda of Elul and may we all merit to grow in Torah and avodas Hashem. Amen.

These remarks were delivered at the beginning of Elul zman in Yeshivas Givat Shaul last year. The yeshiva had also just moved into a new beis medrash.


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