הנסתרות לה’ אלקינו והנגלות לנו ולבנינו עד עולם לעשות את כל דברי התורה הזאת (כט:כח).
“The hidden things are known only by Hashem; the revealed matters are for us and our children…” (29:28).
The Chasam Sofer (Rabbi Moshe Sofer, 1762 – 1839) interprets this verse in a homiletical fashion. He says that the Torah is teaching us how to act. First he states the concept and then he shows how the verse is expressing this. We are put on this physical earth and must learn to function properly here. Our mission is to become as close to Hashem as possible through Torah, mitzvos and bringing out our potential. One may think that since this is the main goal, it would thus be appropriate to ignore the physical world around us and not interact with it or any people. This however is not the Torah way!
The Outside World
Although one who limits physical pampering and excess pleasures is commendable, the Torah does not want one to neglect the physical in an extreme way. Rather, Hashem wants us to be balanced people. Our greatest leaders were known for just how practical and down-to-earth they were! The Chasam Sofer writes that he knew of some supposed “pious individuals” who ignored their wives and children stating that they would not deal with such trivial matters! He bemoans such misguided and hurtful actions. The Torah’s message is clear and simple: Be normal.
He reads this verse to be stating this explicitly: “In your heart, connect to and pursue closeness to Hashem, but in your outward appearance, interact with the world and your children!”
There was a man who became obsessed with enunciating his every syllable in Shema. The other congregants were disturbed by his loud and distracting noises. They brought him to the Chazon Ish (Rabbi Avrohom Yeshaya Karelitz, 1878 – 1953) for help. “What is the reason that you are reciting Shema in this fashion?”, asked the Chazon Ish respectfully. The man replied by quoting the Gemara in Berachos (15b) religiously, “He who enunciates the words of the Shema properly, in Heaven, they will cool down the fires of hell for him.” The Chazon Ish helped him get the message with his soft yet powerful response, “yes, I understand, but you don’t want to freeze!” The man rethought his actions and understood the sage’s advice!
No one knows the exact reason why the great Gadol Rabbi Chaim Pinchos Scheinberg zt”l wears so many pairs of tzitzis. Many suggestions have been offered, but the matter remains unknown. A man as great as him certainly was entitled to take upon himself what he saw fit. When a student of his decided to follow suit and donned extra pairs of tzitzis claiming that he desired to be like his Rosh HaYeshiva, the other Rabbis decided that Rabbi Scheinberg himself would be the best person to deal with him. Rabbi Scheinberg’s words were characteristically straight and to the point: “be normal!” The student understood.
This is the way of the Torah. We are not asked to be radically antisocial and to avoid all interaction with people. We are told that while it is most noble to spend our time growing and thinking about Hashem, the healthiest and most productive way to carry out this mission is by means of normalcy!
Three Goals of Elul
The Shlah (Rabbi Isaiah Horowitz, 1565-1630) teaches us that the parsha of the week always ties into the Jewish calendar. Parshas Nitzavim is a classic example of this phenomenon as it falls out before Rosh Hashanah and contains many verses about repentance and turning to Hashem.
The month of Elul precedes Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur which are in Tishrei. Elul is spent as a time of introspection and personal development. There are numerous hints to the month of Elul found throughout the Torah. These hints shed light on the most relevant questions of: What are we to work on during this time of the year?
One: Between Man and God
The most famous acronym for Elul is found in Shir Hashirim (6:3), “א’ני ל’דודי ו’דודי ל’י, I am to my beloved and He is to me.” The first letters of the first four letters spell Elul. Additionally, each of those four words end with the letter yud, thus making four yuds which equals 40. This shows that there is a special closeness that one can achieve with Hashem for the 30 days of Elul plus the 10 days of teshuva spanning from Rosh Hashanah thru and including Yom Kippur. Additionally, 40 represents the days that it takes for the initial formation of a child hinting to the fact that teshuva, repentance, leads a person to a rebirth and renewal. Thus, Elul is shown to be a time to connect with God.
Two: Between Man and Friends
Another famous hint to Elul is found in Esther (9:22). “א’יש ל’רעהו ו’מתנות ל’אביונים, Purim is a day of sending gifts to ones friend and donations to the poor.” The Chayei Adam (Rabbi Avraham Danzig, 1748-1820) explains that this verse shows us the importance of working on and amending our relationship with others. If there is someone that we hurt we must apologize in order to receive forgiveness. Elul is not just a time for connection with God, it is a time for us to also contemplate our dealings with others.
Three: Between Man and Himself and His Family
In our parsha (Devarim 30:6), it states, “ומל ה’ אלקיך א’ת ל’בבך ו’את ל’בב זרעך לאהבה את ה’ אלקיך…, Hashem will pierce your hearts and those of your children to love Him…” When one sincerely repents his heart will be opened to love and appreciate Hashem. Most importantly, he will act in a way that he will become a living example for true service of Hashem to the point that his family will follow after him (Rabbi Moshe Feinstein zt”l). This takes great effort and true sincerity.
Elul is a time of personal growth on all fronts. Elul is an opportunity to mend relationships and expand upon the love and peace which one has between Hashem, others, family and self. May we merit to fulfill all of our spiritual goals and be granted a happy and healthy new year.