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11 Elul 5765 - September 15, 2005 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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Opinion & Comment
The Light of Elul

A Meditation Compiled by Yated Ne'eman Staff

In the margins of those decisions and deeds which we embrace in the days of Elul, there may sink in some lack of faith or true recognition of the importance of those deeds. We are not completely convinced, altogether assured, that this is what is being asked of us, that this is what is good and what is most effective for these Elul days.

We must confront this latent feeling that gnaws away like a worm, leaving an internal emptiness in our deeds.

The question is: What are our expectations when we progress and strengthen ourselves? What development do we think we must discern after a day or two, or a week, of arousal and fortification in prayer and Torah study?

Do we understand that we have made a step forward, that we have climbed one rung higher on the ladder? Or do we presume to think that we have already made it; our work is completed, the conflict is over and henceforth, there will no longer be any difficulties or tests? That from hereon in, everything will be smooth sailing?

It is possible that in the recesses of our hearts there hides some such expectation or thought. "We've already taken some proper measures and sacrificed much."

Is this not enough?

And when we admit that, sadly, it is not enough, the work is not finished, we then ask: If so, if I have not succeeded, why do I need all this? Why did I go to such trouble?

The truth is that every intelligent person understands by himself that his work is never done. So long as body and soul are bonded together, one pulls in one direction and the other, in the opposite one. The struggle will never end, the wrestling will continue: every day, every hour and even every minute.

The very composite within a living person of body and soul is a tug-of-war reality. It is a contest, like a rider astride an untamed horse who is trying to gain control. He must hold the reins tightly in check in order to direct the horse to the right or the left. He must never loosen his hold. He can never slacken and say, "Well, I've held on so long. It's enough. Now I can give the horse free rein."

For the horse will always remain a horse, even if he is being controlled by a strong and clever man. The rider will always have to maintain control, to hold the harness tight and never let go, lest the horse hurl him into a chasm. Can there ever be a pause, a laying down of arms, an end to the power struggle?

Two ways lie before this contest of the powers of the body and the soul to each person. He can strengthen and reinforce the power of the soul until it overcomes the power of the body and its desires. Or he can diminish the pull of physicality by stifling its desires and not satisfying its demands. The soul can be strengthened by increasing the acts of good, for mitzvos intensify the forces of the soul so that they can control those of the body.

Every mitzvah-act, every good practice that is bound up with overcoming the material and physical drives, sheds a precious light upon the soul, invigorates it and increases its potency. It also diminishes the power of the body and its ascendancy over the person. And thus does a person gain the upper hand over the body and its desires. Thus does he deflect and diminish the struggle, and consequently he is able to approach closer and closer to the clarity of who really is the dominant force — the body or the soul?


"R' Eliezer says: Where there is judgment, there is no judgment. Where there is no judgment, there is judgment.

"What then is true? Said R' Eliezer: If justice is served below, it is not done in Heaven. But if justice is not served below, justice is done in Heaven" (Devorim Rabbah 5:5).

Justice requires clarification. It also denotes resolution between two conflicting sides. Justice mediates and clarifies and adjusts the balance by showing which of the two sides is right and who is master.

A person's status, level and gradation in his fight between the powers of physical vs. spiritual is determined through justice. His deeds prove and clarify who is, in effect, the boss, what dominates what. Therefore, when a person determines this beforehand, when he, through his deeds, empowers the side of the spiritual and weakens the rule of the physical, he has already passed judgment. And once justice has been served below, it need not be served in heaven.

A person's G-dly service during Elul is to reach the point of clarification, to determine clearly who has supremacy over him: His body or his soul. His actions and the regulation of the balance benefits him on the Day of Judgment.

There is no end to the conflict, the contention, the battle. Never can life proceed smoothly without trials and hurdles. But with his deeds, a person can strengthen the good side and balance his score, thus obviating a judgment in heaven.

And thus will he determine his status on the Day of Judgment itself.

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