Thoughts for the beginning of Elul
"Only union with Hashem constitutes true perfection, as Dovid Hamelech
said, `But as for me, the nearness of Hashem is my good', and, `I asked one
thing from Hashem: that I will seek to dwell in Hashem's house all the days
of my life . . . '." With these words, the Mesillas Yeshorim (chapter
one) is conveying to us that the main component in the fulfillment of man's
duty in the world is the striving for perfection, namely union with Hashem.
He continues, "For this alone is the true good, and anything besides this
which people deem good is nothing but emptiness and deceptive
During these days of introspection and judgment we should all be concerned
with this topic of "true perfection." If union with Hashem and nearness to
Him are elevated goals in our avodoh, we must have them in our minds
and endeavor to attain them. We are duty-bound to do this throughout the
year, how much more so during the current period.
If we look further into the matter, we will discover that the days of Elul,
the yomim noraim, as well as Sukkos and Simchas Torah, present a
special opportunity for closeness to Hashem and union with Him.
"Elul," as we know, is hinted at in the posuk, "Ani ledodi vedodi
li." This posuk is full of mutual closeness between us and
Hakodosh Boruch Hu. If we use this month to get close to Hashem, He
will repay us middoh keneged middoh by coming close to us.
Elul is followed by a period about which it says, "Seek Hashem while he may
be found, call upon Him while He is near." The ten days between Rosh
Hashonoh and Yom Kippur present even more possibilities for attaining
closeness to Hashem, for during that time He makes Himself available to us,
so that we can draw ourselves closer to Him.
The yomim tovim which follow the yomim noraim make their own
unique contribution to our feelings of closeness to Hakodosh Boruch
Hu, especially Sukkos, when we sit in the tzilo demeheimenuso
(shade or shadow of faith). If we make full use of the potential of this
wonderful time of the year, we can attain further closeness to Hashem and
deveikus with Him every year.
During Elul we get ready for the coronation of Hashem on Rosh Hashonoh,
when we recognize Hashem's absolute sovereignty. On that day we form a
closeness to Hashem and subject ourselves to His authority, either as sons
or as slaves.
After having crowned Him on Rosh Hashonoh, we are ready to enter the gates
of repentance on Yom Kippur. The enjoyment that accompanies the atonement
and purification on this holy day is followed by seven days of sitting in
the shadow of the Shechinoh. The climax of this process of increasing
closeness to Hashem takes place on Simchas Torah, when we declare, "Unto
you it was shown, that you might know that Hashem, He is G-d, there is none
else beside Him," after which we dance for the honor of the Torah and union
It is not for nothing that throughout this period we say the mizmor,
"Ledovid Hashem Ori Veyish'i" in our prayers, since it is all about the
elevated topic of deveikus with Hashem and the yearning to draw
closer to Him more and more. In this article we shall attempt to elucidate
the simple meaning of this mizmor.
In the first part, Dovid Hamelech gives expression to his feelings of unity
with Hashem. He then goes on to make requests for further closeness and
For us, the recitation of this mizmor constitutes a lesson in
deveikus. When we reach the second part of the chapter, we can join
Dovid Hamelech and beseech Hashem, "Your face, Hashem, will I seek."
Closeness to Hashem as a Shield and Protection in the Milchemes
It is well-known that references to war and enemies in Tehillim have
a double meaning: 1. The plain meaning of war against flesh and blood
enemies; 2. The spiritual war, where the enemy is the Evil Inclination. Let
us then embark on an explanation of this perek in the light of its
spiritual message. We will see how the first part deals with Dovid Hamelech
o"h's battles with his yetzer, and how he overcomes his
yetzer by his desire for union with Hashem.
The Ramchal tells us in Mesillas Yeshorim (chapter 3) that walking in
the ways of the yetzer is like walking in darkness. He explains there
that someone who walks in the dark is likely to get into trouble for two
different distinct reasons: 1. Because he does not see the pitfalls at all;
2. Because of distorted vision, a pillar will look like a person and vice
Similarly, materialism and the yetzer hora darken a man's path in
life, creating a double stumbling-block. They have the effect of preventing
him from making out obstacles, and they also make him think that bad is
good and good is bad.
How do we get rid of darkness at night? We increase the supply of light.
That is also how we dispel the fog cast by the yetzer hora over our
lives. Therefore Dovid Hamelech o"h opens the mizmor with the
words, "Hashem is my light" -- Hashem and His Torah illuminate the paths of
my life, and that is how Hashem brings my "salvation." Therefore, "whom
shall I fear?" For with His help I will find a refuge from the machinations
of the yetzer, who threatens to catch me in his net. He reiterates,
"Hashem is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?"
"When evildoers (mereim) came upon me" -- "mereim" could also
mean friends, as in "va'achuzas meirei'eihu" (Bereishis ch.
26). According to this, the reference is to the yetzer hora who
pretends to be our friend with man's good at heart, whereas his real
intention is "to eat up my flesh" -- to harm the person and put obstacles
in his path, as the Chovos Halevovos (in the "Treatise on Wholehearted
Devotion," beginning of chapter 5) describes it: "He enrobes himself in the
garb of friendship for you, adorns himself with the adornment of love for
you; joins the circle of your confidants, counselors and choicest friends .
. . but in fact he is shooting deadly arrows at you, to pluck you from the
land of the living."
About this Dovid Hamelech says, I know very well who are "my adversaries
and my foes": this is referring to man's real enemies, as the Chovos
Halevovos says (ibid.), "The greatest enemy you have in the world is
your [evil] inclination." However, since I walk in Hashem's light, says
Dovid, "they stumbled and fell" -- and could not defeat me. (The
explanation of this posuk and the one after is based on the Sefer
Hatefilloh of Rav A. Weissblum, who bases himself on Rabbi Avrohom, the
son of the Vilna Gaon.)
Even "though a host should encamp against me, my heart shall not fear." In
other words, not only do "my adversaries and my foes" -- private
nisyonos stemming from a person's nature and character traits --
fight against me, but also the "host": the world at large with its pull
towards the depraved street life. All these stand in the path of a person
and try to nullify his spirituality. Of all these "I shall not fear," even
"though a war should rise up against me, in this I will trust."
What is the source of this confidence? The next posuk tells us: "One
thing have I asked of Hashem . . . "
Here Dovid Hamelech reveals to us his "secret" and what an enlightening one
it is: he ascribes his confidence in victory to his burning desire for
closeness to Hashem and union with Him! "One thing have I asked of
Hashem,that I will seek after; that I may dwell in the house of Hashem all
the days of my life, to behold the graciousness of Hashem and to visit His
house!" The phrase "that I will seek after," which seems to be repetitious,
following on "One thing have I asked," comes, according to the Malbim, to
make it explicitly clear to us that this request was not made for external
considerations, not even for such a pure motive as the previously mentioned
victory over his enemies.
"That will I seek after," this is my only internal desire, my sole
motive: "that I may dwell in the house of Hashem all the days of my life."
Despite being preoccupied with royal affairs, Dovid prays for union with
Hashem, the anchor of his salvation and the strength of his life. Well he
knew that "anything besides this is nothing but emptiness and deceptive
The Chofetz Chaim explains that the repetition expresses the idea that
Dovid's request remained valid throughout all periods of his life, unlike
other peoples' requests, whose contents tend to change in accordance with
their age, job, environment and so on. Dovid's entreaty remained constant:
"One thing I asked," in the past, as a shepherd, and "that I will seek" --
even in the present and future, as king. This request was the principal
motif of his life in all situations, and serves as an indication of the
extent to which it was a deeply integral part of his personality.
These two explanations regarding the repeated phrases express the deep
connection Dovid Hamelech o"h had with what the Mesillas Yeshorim
calls "true perfection." Dovid knew that if he would merit "to behold the
graciousness of Hashem . . . and visit His house," he could be confident of
victory over his spiritual enemies, of a situation where Hashem "conceals
me in His pavilion on the day of evil," protecting him from enemies. "He
hides me in the covert of His tent; He lifts me up upon a rock." This forms
the conclusion to the elaboration on the words, "In this I will trust."
Since he ascribes his trust to his request for closeness to Hashem, he sees
himself achieving victory over his enemies: "And now shall my head be
lifted up above my enemies round about me; and I will offer in His
tabernacle sacrifices with trumpet-sound; I will sing and praise Hashem."
Prayer and Outcry
This concludes the first section, in which we listened to the words of
Dovid Hamelech, the sweet singer of the Jewish people, and acquired
valuable advice for our avodas Hashem. We gained an insight into the
personality of someone who strives to attain perfection and how he uses
this request for closeness and perfection in the war against his spiritual
The second section opens with the call, "Hear, Hashem, when I call with my
voice, and be gracious unto me, and answer me." This call we can relate to
fully, and join in with the supplications.
After experiencing Dovid's request for perfection and how it benefited him,
let us also arouse ourselves to attain closeness to Hashem and union with
Him. Let us all cry out, especially during this auspicious period, "Your
face, Hashem, will I seek."
After the opening of "Hear Hashem, when I call . . . ," Dovid Hamelech
o"h reveals the motive for his turning to Hashem: "In Your behalf my
heart has said, `Seek My face.' " The Metzudos explains, "My heart,
serving as Your messenger, tells me, `Seek My face.'." The heart reaches
our innermost selves acting as Hashem's agent and tells us to seek Him! We
answer this call; the very act of saying these things with full intention
is a step towards further closeness to Hashem and union with Him.
We continue to beseech Hashem, "Hide not your face from me." We ask for
he'oras ponim and not hester ponim. "Do not turn your servant
away in anger, for You have been my help." Since His mercies have come to
our assistance until now, we ask Hashem also not to forsake us in the
present and future: "Cast me not off, neither forsake me, O G-d of my
salvation. For though my father and my mother have forsaken me" -- even
parents, who are closest to a person, are limited in their abilities to
help; at a certain stage, their assistance diminishes or stops. Then
"Hashem will take me up" -- He is the real Provider of a person's needs
throughout his life.
Therefore, "Teach me Your way, Hashem, and lead me in an even path --
illuminate for us the path of truth, and guide us in it, "because of those
that lie in wait for me" -- in order that the desire of those who wish to
witness our downfall shall not be fulfilled.
We again request, "Deliver me not unto the will of my adversaries" -- the
Evil Inclination which plots to corrupt us using "false witnesses and such
as breathe out violence" -- futile and deceptive figments of the
imagination. "If I had not the faith that I would look upon the goodness of
Hashem in the land of the living" -- if we did not have a belief in the
good awaiting the righteous and a belief in the existence of an afterlife,
we would not be able to resist the false witnesses tempting us to sin.
Therefore, "Yearn for Hashem!" Dovid Hamelech o"h is telling us to
always have faith in Hashem, and to strive to achieve closeness with Him.
"Be strong, and let your heart take courage" -- do this with your full
abilities and strength, then, "yearn for Hashem" -- the very act of
yearning and striving for Hashem, of requesting His closeness, brings us
closer to deveikus with Him.
How do we merit union and closeness with Hashem?
After having received chizuk from this mizmor, it is incumbent
upon us to translate our good will into actions.
For practical guidance on this, let us return to the Mesillas
Yeshorim (chapter 1): "For a man to attain this good [deveikus
with Hashem], it is fitting that he first labor and persevere in his
exertions to acquire it. That is, he should persevere so as to unite
himself with Hashem by means of actions which result in this end. These
actions are the mitzvos."
Observance of the Mitzvos With a View to Achieving Closeness to
The Ramchal writes more on this in Derech Hashem (section one,
chapter 4): "The essence of divine service consists of man constantly
turning to his Creator, and of his knowing and understanding that he was
only created in order to cleave to his Creator, and that he was only put
into this world in order to conquer his inclination and to subjugate
himself to his Creator using his mind, in direct contrast to his material
desires and inclinations. He must direct all his activities towards
achieving this end, and not turn aside from it."
Every mitzva and every act of overcoming the yetzer constitute links
in the long chain of man's service of his Creator. With every good act and
with every avoidance of a bad act, man comes a step closer to his Creator.
If we add to this the power of tefilloh, which by its very nature
brings us closer to Hashem, we end up with a recipe for spending all our
days climbing the ladder of avodas Hashem in the spirit of "Your
face, Hashem, will I seek."
May Hashem help us and illuminate our path, so that we may merit the
fulfillment of "my light" on Rosh Hashonoh, "my salvation" on Yom Kippur,
"He hides me in his sukko" on Sukkos as well as other relevant
blessings on the remaining yomim tovim of the year, omen.