"Sound the Great Shofar"
Elul - a month for taking stock. A season for drawing near to G-d, for doing teshuvah - repentance. Isn't every day a good day for returning to G-d? "Repent the day before you die!" we are told in Pirke Avot (The Ethics of the Fathers 2:10). As we don't know the day of our own death, every day is the day for repentance. What makes Elul different? The door is always open for teshuvah - for overcoming our weaknesses, redoubling our efforts to follow G-d's commands and for distancing ourselves from bad associates and bad deeds. What, in fact, makes Elul different?
Every morning during the month of Elul we receive a wake-up call: the sound of the shofar. What are we waking up to? The fact that we could be better people? The fact that we've grown complacent with who we are? Yes, but more to the point we are waking up to the fact that we have grown distant from G-d! Or more precisely, that we have allowed ourselves to become neglectful of the fact that G-d is right here beside us. Elul is the season when the King is in His field, reminding us that He is nigh. The shofar can be likened to His voice whispering in our ear: "I am here."
And where are we? Are we "here" where we ought to be? Or have we drifted, strayed from the path? Elul is the opportunity to recalibrate ourselves, to rededicate our lives, to renew our tight connection to G-d: "I am my beloved and my beloved is mine" (Song of Songs 6:3). Sometimes we veer from G-d's plan out of the very best of intentions. We are taught by Midrash that Amram, the future father of Moses, in response to Pharaoh's evil decree to drown all the Israelite newborn boys in the Nile, divorced his wife Yocheved. They could not bear the thought that they might give birth to a son who would be murdered by Pharaoh. Their six year old daughter Miriam castigated them for this decision: "Father, your decree is more severe than Pharaoh's. Pharaoh decreed only against the males; you have decreed against the males and females. Pharaoh only decreed concerning this world; you have decreed concerning this world and the World to Come. In the case of the wicked Pharaoh there is a doubt whether his decree will be fulfilled or not; in your case, it will certainly be fulfilled." (Talmud, Sotah 12a) Chastised by their daughter, Amram and Yocheved remarried. The day was the sixth of Elul. Moses, their subsequent offspring, would go on to redeem the Jewish nation.
We can never know G-d's intentions for us. But keeping distant from G-d, even if we feel inadequate or unworthy of His embrace, is not the answer. Just as we must not deny bringing children into the world for the purpose of saving them from possible pain, so we must not deny ourselves the intimacy that G-d desires to bless us with, for fear that we might not measure up. All steps forward, large and small, as individuals and as the chosen people of G-d, involve risk. From doing teshuvah - repenting, to building the Holy Temple, the dangers are always lurking in the shadows, but the reward is great. As the month of Elul shows us: G-d is always by our side. It is up to us to let Him in.
Tune in to this week's TEMPLE TALK, and join Rabbi Chaim Richman and Yitzchak Reuven as they discuss the power of the shofar that we sound throughout the month of Elul. Elul, the opportunity of a lifetime that comes but once a year.
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