June 23, 2024
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The Month of Elul: Taking Advantage of a Propitious Time

Last Thursday I told my kids I was going to the Bike4Chai event. “What? You are going to bike over 100 miles? How are you going to do so without having prepared?” they asked. “No, I am not biking,’’ I replied. “I’m going to the finish line to greet the riders and show my support for completing their 108-mile ride.” Bike4Chai is a fundraiser for Camp Simcha, a camp for children suffering from severe illnesses. The 600 cyclists train vigorously for two to three months to complete their one-day ride to raise funds for this amazing organization.

Elul is also a “training month.” Sefardim start saying Selichos at the beginning of Elul. The Chofetz Chaim explains that the reason for the Sefard custom is that Elul is an eis ratzon, an auspicious time to entreat Hashem, since Moshe Rabbeinu went back up to shamayim (heaven) for 40 days beginning on Rosh Chodesh Elul to receive the second Luchos (tablets).

When a time period is ending, it’s an eis ratzon. We see this when the Torah is taken out during Shabbos Mincha (the last prayer of Shabbos) and we say, “V’ani tefilosi lecha Hashem—May my prayer to You, Hashem, be at an auspicious time.” The time when Shabbos is about to end is an eis ratzon. Similarly, Elul is the last month of the year and is an opportune time for requests to Hashem. However, Harav Simcha Bunim Alter (Gerrer Rebbe from 1977-1992) provides a different perspective. He explains that these times are an eis ratzon because we are about to start a new time period. At Shabbos Mincha we are about to enter into a new week, and at Elul, we are about to enter a new year.

Having an eis ratzon means we have a window of opportunity to capitalize on. So how should we take advantage of this?

There are many remazim (hints) to the time period of Elul from various pesukim. The Sfas Emes says in the name of his grandfather, the Chidushei Harim, an incredible hint relating to Elul from a pasuk in Tehillim. Every weekday morning we say in Mizmor Lesoda, “Hu asanu v’lo anachnu,” it is Hashem who made us and we are His. The word “lo” can be spelled in two ways, changing the meaning entirely. “Lo” spelled with an aleph means “no,” while “lo” spelled with a vav means “to him.” Here, “lo” is spelled with an aleph, yet it is understood with the meaning of “vav”—to him—as in “v’lo anachnu”—we belong to him (Hashem). When we combine the “lo” with an aleph (lamed, aleph), with the lo with a vav (lamed vav—the way it’s understood), those four letters spell Elul! This is not just a cute play on words. The pasuk is teaching us a formula for Elul to help us get closer to Hashem through self-improvement. If we act as “v’lo (with an aleph) anachnu—we are not just for ourselves,” then that achievement will create “v’lo (with a vav) anachnu—we belong to Him (Hashem).” Negating ourselves somewhat, in favor of others, brings us closer to Hashem.

Often, when we think of teshuva and improving ourselves, we consider areas involving bein adam lamakom—between man and Hashem, e.g., davening, brachos and learning more or in a better manner. But why is it that bein adam lechavero, between man and his fellow man, is not the first area we think of for self-improvement? Rav Wolbe explains that the former approach makes us feel good and holier. However, areas involving us and our relationships with other people are often put on the back burner, since positive change requires us to negate our own interests and place the interests of others before our own.

Rav Wolbe asserts that focusing first on bein adam lamakom can be a dangerous approach. Feeling holier as a result of our efforts to feel closer with Hashem can inflate our egos, which could offset all the gain we achieved from this area on which we concentrated.

The key to meaningful change during this propitious time of Elul is to focus on others, not ourselves. That will open up new pathways of closeness to the Almighty.

Remembering the Bike4Chai cyclists, the time to train is before the ride. The month of Elul is the training time for the New Year. Hashem gives a special boost to all those who start training now to improve themselves.

Of course, we will also plan to strengthen ourselves in Torah, as these are the days Moshe was receiving the second Luchos. Of course we will improve our tefillos, as tefillah is so powerful during these days. Of course we will take full advantage of these days of eis ratzon.

But remember the important formula: Negating our own interests and thinking more of others will bring us closer to Hashem.


Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim is the associate rosh yeshiva of Passaic Torah Institute (PTI)/Yeshiva Ner Boruch, where he leads a multi-level Gemara-learning program. PTI has attracted adult Jews of all ages from all over northern New Jersey for its learning programs. Fees are not charged but any contributions are always welcome. Beyond PTI, Rabbi Bodenheim conducts a weekly beis midrash program with chavrusa learning in Livingston plus a monthly group in West Caldwell. Rabbi Bodenheim can be reached at [email protected]. For more info about PTI and its Torah classes, visit www.pti.shulcloud.com.

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