We’re counting up. It’s nearly 5774. The shuk is filled with pomegranates, the schuls, both Ashkenazi ands Sephardi, are filled with supplicants reciting Selichot, and the airport is preparing for visitors. We hear the sound of the shofar in the morning and smell honey cakes baking in the afternoon. At night, we witness the excitement of children who know about the approaching Yomim Noraim.
Yet, no mater the nature of our external preparations, they’re not enough. Aunt Selma’s brisket might be prize-worthy. The new chazzan in the community might have a voice that makes angels cry. Little Joseph might be adorable in his new suit. Tiny Rachelie might look gorgeous in her special, frilly skirt. However, those facets of our making ourselves “ready” are, by themselves, insufficient.
The King is in the field. Hashem is approachable. He is near. Now is the time to dress our neshemot, to render our most intimate yearnings into actualities, to adorn ourselves with teshuva and additional mitzvot. There are mere days, just short sets of hours left until the end of Elul, until we stand before the royal throne and receive His judgment. Whereas it is both nice and customary to beautify our experiences of the Hagim, it is essential that we enhance our innermost selves.
Consider, for instance, that on Rosh Hashanah, when we deck ourselves in finery and eat delectable bits, we simultaneously stay clear of reciting Hallel, Songs of Praise. Since getting judged is a serious business, we approach the Hagim with awe, with fear, and with apprehension. We are not sad, but we are rightfully cautious. While most of us, Im Yirtzeh Hashem, will merit receiving: a new year, twelve full months devoid of serious illness and of impoverishment, and fifty-two weeks worth of loved ones, such major blessings ought not to be taken for granted.
During the quick passage of time that was this previous cycle, we never figured, literally, in our calculations that our chance to change would expire. We promised ourselves that we’d “get around to” various forms of self-improvement next week, next month or whenever. We forgot that we live in the here and now so busy were we with imagining great futures and embellished pasts. We forgot the constructive steps we were empowered to take, during every immediate moment, to better ourselves. Most of our intentions got sloughed off. We remained, despite our cognitive protests to the contrary, imperfectly human.
Blessedly, we still have a few days of Elul left. That is, we still have a short span in which to take practical steps to change up our lives, to impact how we are assessed in terms of our relationships to each other and to The Boss.
Per mitzvot Adam l’chaveiro, how we treat each other, there is much we can still do during this sensitive period. We can call or visit relatives and friends confined to hospitals, rehabilitation centers, and nursing homes. Similarly, we can contact those institutions to see if there are residents there, who are without family or other dear ones, and we can make a point to share a measure of cheer with them.
We can become humble. That is, we can consider that in circumstances about which we feel indignant, it is likely that we have been equally culpable or even fully responsible for any resulting breakdowns in communication. Although it causes us dissonance to believe that we have wronged the folks with whom we are at odds, it causes us even greater problems not to own up to and take responsibility for our personal garbage. Acts can remain hidden; guilt can’t.
We can give charity. Charity saves from death. In this season of sincere lament over our wrongdoings, we might yet receive, has v’shalom, the harshest of verdicts. Fortunately, most of us can “buy” more favorable judgments by extending our resources, for which we are only the guardians, anyway, to yet other individuals. Shiny cars, expensive jewelry, big houses, and similar “collectables” mean so much less to our eternal good than does insuring hungry family receive food, Torah scholars can continue to learn, and physically broken people can access surgery and other medical care. When we give charity, not only do we safeguard the wellbeing of other folks, but we safeguard our own interests, as well.
There are many other deeds of loving kindness we can actualize. There are doors to hold open for the elderly, windows and divorcees to invite to our tables, children to shower with hizach, and neighbors at whom to smile. Our garbage collectors deserve our “Gut Yom Tov” as much as do our bankers. Our rabbis and other teachers deserve our sincere acknowledgement and appreciation. Our forgotten “brothers and sisters” deserve our emails and our other ladders to worshipful lives.
As humans, we have no access to Heavenly weights and measures. We can’t know which of our deeds, words, or thoughts will help us when our security is evaluated against our bad choices. So, we ought to, even in these final days leading up to Rosh Hashanah, “purchase” entire bouquets of mitzvot.
Elul is likewise the time for us to reinforce our relationship to The Aibishter, to improve how we actualize mitzvot bein Adom l’Makom. He, Who fashioned all out of nothing, doesn’t need our prayers, but wants them. He wants a full relationship with us. Hashem has been and will continue to be there for us whenever we come to Him with requests; He is and always will be our Tatty in Shamayim. However, it would superlative if we could, even this late in Elul, come to Him with a big parcel of thanks. It’s with words of gratitude that we build even deeper relationships to HaKadosh Baruch Hu.
Our thanksgiving ought not to be limited to moments of rescue; to the fire we escaped, to the attempted bombings we avoided, or to the births through which we passed. We ought to similarly be thankful for the hummingbirds at our windows, the rosemary and lavender that beauties, and for each and every other aspect of creation. The world is ours. We ought not to value it or its Fashioner too lightly.
However, more significantly, we ought to articulate how much we are indebted to Hashem for our “troubles and tribulations.” On the one hand, a broken finger is not an amputated arm, a lost investment is not a passage to welfare, and a chuppah upon which rain falls is not the loneliness of being spouseless. Our tests are given to us, in part to gift us with perspective.
What’s more, because our Creator is loving and kind, our challenges are tailored to each of us. One man’s cancelled business contract is another man’s fight with his son. One woman’s fallen cake is another woman’s deceased parent. One child’s exclusion from a special clique is another child’s torn, stuffed toy. The trick to elevation is to thank G-d for the hardships we receive. In doing so, we recognize The Almighty’s supremacy, wisdom, and compassion. There is still time to give ourselves over in this manner, to make this tough, but valuable transformation.
As Elul closes, we hunt for our High Holiday Machzorim, air out our extra bedrooms, and try to decide whether we should cook lime-infused or silan-glazed chicken. More considerably, as Elul end, we must reach to close the gaps between ourselves and other Jews and between ourselves and our Maker. There is still time.
L''shanah tovah tikatev v''taihatem