August 2020

Of the Book: Elul

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By Rabbi Daniel Bortz

The Jewish Mystics liken the Hebrew month of Tishrei and the High Holidays to a king being in his palace. The villagers prepare themselves, dress in their very best, and with a mixture of joy and awe they visit the palace to crown their king. But in regards to the Hebrew month of Elul, they describe it as the king leaving his palace to enter the fields to visit his people as they are. In a spiritual sense, this means that at this time God is granting us easy access to feel our connection and deepen our relationship with Him.

In the late 18th century there lived a Hassid by the name of Shmuel Munkis. Every year, during the month of Elul, Shmuel wanted to maximize this special time and would travel to his teacher the Alter Rebbe for the inspiration and guidance he needed. One year he encountered a problem: He was broke. Anyone who wanted to travel a great distance in those days without a wagon had to travel by foot, even in the freezing Russian winter. Undeterred, Shmuel set off on the long journey.

As he trudged along the side of the road under torrents of snow, a wagon pulled up beside him. The driver called out to him and asked his destination. Seeing as they were heading in the same path, he offered him a ride. As excited as he was to find a lift, Shmuel had to sit on the back of the wagon under the cold open sky among barrels of vodka the driver was transporting. Freezing, he called out to the driver and asked permission to take a drink. He filled a small cup and as he drank, Shmuel finally began to feel warmth flow through his body.

When he reached his Rebbe’s town, Shmuel ran straight into the central synagogue and gathered his friends. “I understood a powerful insight on my journey here. I came to realize that we can be surrounded by warmth, but if we fail to internalize it into our beings, we will remain cold.”

Special moments of inspiration and wisdom are presented to us. It can be standing at the Western Wall or taking in a sunset at the beach with a loved one. The months of Elul & Tishrei are full of these unique opportunities to connect to something higher and greater. The key is to first be aware of this special moment, to then feel it deeply, and then to internalize it. To take in that warmth into our beings so that it affects who we are after it’s over. To implement changes to our daily schedule that reflects the impact and truth of those moments.

We have access to oxygen everywhere, but to enjoy its benefits we have to actually breathe it in. Standing by the pool on a hot day will not cool us off. The first step is to open ourselves to deeper connection to others, to ourselves, and to G-d. The next level is to decide that this is something we want as part of our entire lives.

Emunah – faith, stems from the word amon – craftsman. Like a silversmith who works on his sword continuously to form it, we need continual awareness and effort if we hope to internalize a spiritual truth. If we’re moved during a special moment, let’s try and bring that awareness into our daily lives. We know that any relationship worth having needs consistent nurturing. Through our efforts, may our souls feel satiation like a warm drink on a cold winter’s night.

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