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22 Av 5766 - August 16, 2006 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network

Opinion & Comment
Otzros Yemei Elul
Selections from the Sefer Otzros Yemei Elul

by S. Yisroel

Who is Afraid of Elul?

In opposition to the call of the shofar that echoes these days in our botei medroshos, the Soton raises his voice and seeks to decrease and weaken the influence of the shofar's call. As the shofar's call arouses our hearts to strengthen ourselves in avodas Hashem, the Soton claims there is no reason for this strengthening. Many Eluls have passed, followed by Rosh Hashonoh and Yom Kippur, and yet I have remained the way I am; I have not progressed. If so, why should the hoped-for change occur precisely this year?

This thought weakens all hands and all hearts that beat with the avodoh of the days of Elul -- our sincere avodoh in the days of Elul. In search of an answer to this difficulty we should ask the Soton himself: What are you afraid of?

As is known, when the Soton hears the shofar's blast he is afraid that perhaps his time to be eliminated from the world has come. Despite the fact that many Eluls and many Rosh Hashonohs have passed, he is still afraid and becomes afraid again anew each year. "Maybe the Great Shofar" has arrived; maybe his time to disappear from the world has come!

But did he not hear the shofar last year? Did they not sound the shofar blasts two years ago, and three years ago, and four? Why is he still afraid this year?

Maran HaRav Chaim Shmulevitz zt'l said that this teaches us that the Soton himself knows and understands correctly that "an awakening of the slightest amount is liable to nullify him from the world. This is the reason for his great fear!" (Sichos Mussar, 31, p. 105).

The Soton is aware of and understands the value of every spiritual awakening. From the Soton we can learn that an Elul and another Elul, a Rosh Hashonoh and another Rosh Hashonoh, a Yom Kippur and another Yom Kippur have the power to nullify the Soton from the world.

Every day in Elul, every moment in Elul, every deed in Elul, every action and progress, whatever it is, even the slightest, is inscribed on the toiling person's heart, on his spirituality, and nullifies his inner Soton, until all the evil disappears like smoke.

Tefilloh and Mussar of Elul

Maran HaRav Shach zt'l gave a talk in mussar in Elul in which he emphasized that Elul is not a "certain thing" in a person's behavior, but rather, everything about the person needs to be different. All of our behavior needs to change. Tefilloh in Elul needs to be in the special way of Elul, a strengthening of the tefilloh and the study of Torah, and also to keep a steady time for learning mussar.

We have to understand that learning mussar is not a gezeiroh that someone decreed to learn mussar. Learning mussar is a matter that we should understand on our own. A person has to make a spiritual accounting. If someone found himself in the wilderness, he would have to think carefully what lies before him and where he needs to direct his way. So too we need to think about ourselves on our own accord to know what lies before us. We do not need a gezeiroh for this; it is obvious.

Every person lives in society; everyone has some kind of surroundings. Maybe you have harmed someone? Maybe you are not okay? If he does not check he will not know.

The Sages decreed to pray three times a day, and the mitzvah of reciting the Shema is twice daily because one time is not enough. It is not enough. We need another time in the evening, another strengthening. Elul is, "Seek Hashem when He is found." HaKodosh Boruch Hu brings Himself closer to us. If regarding the Ten Days of Teshuvoh it is said that it is: "When He is found," then this means in Elul He is bringing Himself closer. This is these days. Now. This moment.

Elul the Way It Was

Outside of the beis medrash as well, in mundane affairs, we need to understand the meaning of Elul, added Maran HaRav Shach zt'l, and not only in the beis medrash should Elul be recognizable.

I remember in my youth, in Slutsk, when I was a guest with a family for Shabbos. If the family would begin to speak mundane words during the Shabbos meal, the ba'alas habayis would say, "Today is Elul, we don't speak about such matters."

This was the way a woman spoke back then. And today?

We need to strengthen ourselves!

Have We Seen?

We have seen. We, the residents of the Holy Land, have seen the past year, in which many young lives were cut short R'l in tragic events and difficult, terrible loss of life. [This year with the Lebanon War this is an even stronger sentiment. - Editor] Young men left their homes and never returned. They walked the streets in perfect health and found their death suddenly -- suddenly with no natural explanation: Horrific traffic accidents; difficult, terrible illnesses. "The eyes of flesh and blood have seen as well that on almost every Rosh Hashonoh young men are judged R'l for death, chas vesholom" (Ohr Yisroel, Igerres 7).

We have seen. Have we learned a lesson to improve our ways? Have we inscribed on our heart the vanity of this world and its desires? Have we seen the judgment of Rosh Hashonoh: "Who in his time and who not in his time?"

Or perhaps we have stiffened our neck, preferred not to look, not to think about what happens, not to turn the head, and to just continue in our way. Stiff-necked?

Our Rabbis have explained that stiffness of the neck is not only a transgression. Stiffness of the neck is the drug of a situation, of an unwillingness to change, of a sinking into and a making permanent of an improper way, without the hope of teshuvoh, R'l.


Someone who tries to exercise his ability to do something in the days of Elul seeks to "strengthen himself" (lehischazeik) in his spirituality. However, the word chizuk sounds so heavy and difficult, to the point where we think twice before we are prepared "to come to chizuk" . . . And the reason for this is a mistaken understanding in the meaning of chizuk.

What does chizuk really mean?

A building whose foundation is feeble, or a table whose joints are falling apart -- what do they do? Do they build a new building? Or buy a new table? No. They simply strengthen what they have. They strengthen the existing structure and are careful to use it properly. In this way they return it to stability.

The same applies to us. In order to strengthen himself a person is not required to begin any new things. He is not being asked to add on to his deeds. Chizuk means to strengthen what exists! Do what you are doing: better, stronger, not weakly and feebly. Chazak.

The Last Request

The atmosphere in the home was stressful, tense; a severe mood blanketed the entire home. The long, difficult, and complicated treatments did not help. The doctors despaired and left no hope. The files and mountains of paperwork that accompanied the sick person all the time were removed from the table. "The patient only has a week to live," declared the doctor. There was nothing the hospital could do. The patient was brought home to spend his last days.

The suffering family diligently prepared the home to receive the sick one. They had no idea what he would say in this difficult and painful hour. What was there to say? "The only thing I ask," the patient said in a weak voice, "is to have the opportunity for some more mitzvos, as many as possible."

This was his request.

The neighbors and the family joined together for a regular minyan for tefilloh that was held in the sick person's room. Every omein, every brochoh, every answering of borchu was heavy with eternal meaning; every bircas hamozone or omein on a brochoh was done with great exactness and awesome intent at the head of the sick person's bed.

Everyone felt they were providing the sick person with eternal treasures, life in the World to Come. No one was lazy; no one tried to push things off; no one thought of trying to avoid responsibility. They felt and knew that the last days were the last chance to seize more mitzvos, to grab another omein -- for who knows what will be tomorrow? What will be in another hour, another moment?


"There are people who do not feel the matter of death in order to make preparations for the journey, to rectify their deeds. They do not consider the day of death until it comes. They are compared to beasts that do not think anything about death until the day of slaughter" (Shaarei Teshuvoh, 2, 17).

Realization of death or the lack of realization, "Who shall live and who shall die," is like the difference between man and beast.

Resolution for the Future Also in the Last Minute

Until the last moment of Yom Kippur, and including the last moment as well, a person needs to devote himself to making a resolution for the future, what he accepts upon himself and how he intends to keep it. Maran HaRav Aharon Kotler zt'l would bring the words of the Yalkut Shimoni (Tehillim 25, 702) in reference to this:

"To what is this compared? To a king who made a festive meal and invited guests, but they did not come. The fourth hour came but they did not come. The fifth and the sixth hours came, but they did not come. Towards evening, guests began to come. He said to them: `I owe you a great debt, because if not for you I would have to throw the meal I prepared for you to the dogs.'

"Thus Hakodosh Boruch Hu said to Yisroel: "I owe you a great debt, because it was for your sake that I created My world. If it were not for you, to whom would I give all the goodness I prepared for the future?"

Hakodosh Boruch Hu Prepared a "Meal" of Teshuvoh

Hakodosh Boruch Hu prepared for us a "meal" on Yom Kippur.

The meal is ready and waiting. From the point of view of Hakodosh Boruch Hu's direction of the world, everything is prepared. Now everything depends only on us, that we should come even if it is already the "time of evening."


"Elul" for Every Soul / The Sefer

Elul is the month that the very mention of its name causes hearts to tremble. Is it only for those who sit in the beis medrash? How can a man whose time is not in his hands contemplate and awaken himself in these days?

The sefer Otzros Yemei Elul is a fitting answer for these thoughts. This sefer is not just to explain the nature of these days. It also provides practical tools for any person and every soul to awaken and internalize ethical lessons to improve his ways.

Since the sefer has appeared on the bookshelves, it has won broad public acceptance.

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