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15 Elul 5764 - September 1, 2004 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Opinion & Comment
The King Sits upon the Throne of Judgment
Thoughts on Elul

by Maran HaGaon R' Dovid Povarsky ztvk'l

In the month of Elul, it is the custom to blow the shofar every morning after shacharis. This is designed to awaken us, to rouse us to the realization that we are in the midst of Elul.

And if we are in the midst of Elul, we must clarify for ourselves what this means.

What is the nature of Elul? It is a time when we must cleanse ourselves, purify ourselves from the grime that has accumulated and adhered to us. We must occupy ourselves with this activity throughout these days.

Rosh Hashonoh approaches. It is inconceivable that we arrive at the Day of Judgment as is, without the proper purification, with the layers of accumulated dirt intact.

Chazal tell us in Erchin 10b that [on Rosh Hashonoh] the King sits on the throne of judgment, with the Books of Life and Death ready before Him. On Rosh Hashonoh they are opened. We would think that this observation applies only to Rosh Hashonoh but that this has nothing to do with Elul.

The truth is that we must thoroughly comprehend what Chazal imply. We must ask when the entries are written and by whom? When a person performs a mitzvah, he is virtually inscribing himself, by his own hand, in the Book of Life. And when he backslides and stumbles over a mitzvah, transgressing a commandment, he is inscribing himself in the Book of the Dead. Every sin he commits is another entry in the Book of Death.

So we see that the matter of the two Books does not only relate to Rosh Hashonoh but to the entire year, for day-by- day and minute-by-minute, he is recording himself in either one of the two Books, for the good or the bad.

Let us take a topical example. We are all acutely aware of the sin of embarrassing someone. When a person is extremely careful not to do so, not to cause his friend any public distress, he is -- through his caution -- recording himself in the Book of Life. And conversely, if he happens to witness a scene in which his friend is the object of embarrassment and feels any degree of satisfaction and pleasure, he is actually transcribing himself in the Book of the Dead. This applies to the very days of Rosh Hashonoh themselves, for during them, at all times, through his deeds he writes himself for the good or the bad.

Bearing this in mind, R' Itzele ztvk'l said that it were fitting for one to begin doing teshuvoh, to activate the cleansing process, already from the month of Shevat. It is dreadful to think that a person could be misled into thinking that he is following the path of the righteous when in truth, he is sadly mistaken and does not know which is the right path. Without the proper knowledge, a person can actually be inscribing himself in the Book of the Dead.

When we speak of what it means to know about the essence of Elul, it is certainly not enough to just know that Elul has arrived; this realization must be steeped in his very essence. He must feel Elul, body and soul, to the extent that if he is asked what day it is, he won't automatically reply, "Today is Monday, etc.," but will say, "Today is Elul."

The personal doctor of R' Yisroel Chaim Kaplan zt'l claimed that he was able to see on his patient, by examining him, that Elul had already begun. The patient felt and exhibited Elul, and it was discernible through actual physical, physiological symptoms.

On Yom Kippur, our awareness is also primarily that this is Yom Kippur, as opposed to it being a Monday, Thursday or Shabbos. This same cognizance should begin in Elul; one must be steeped in Elul.

Yom Kippur is a wonderful gift from Hashem for the benefit of the Jewish people. It is, after all, a day of atonement and pardon. To our regret, as twilight approaches at the end of the day, most people cannot help but think how hungry they are and when will they finally be able to break the fast.

If we were elevated to some degree of purity, we should be happy if more time was added to the fast. Indeed, in Kelm they would finish Ne'illah very late, and then they had a break to allow those who felt particularly weak to make Havdoloh and to eat something. And then they would daven the weekday ma'ariv of motzei Yom Kippur just as if it were still Yom Kippur . . .

The Chofetz Chaim once went up to address the students of Yeshivas Radin. He expressed wonder over the dread which grips everyone right before Rosh Hashonoh. He said: "Is not the essence of teshuvoh remorse over the past and resolution for the future? So why don't we just go about doing that -- evoking remorse for the past and making firm resolve not to repeat those sins -- and then everything will turn out just fine? Wherefore all the anxiety and trepidation?"

The yeshiva students begged R' Naftoli Trop zt'l to explain this astounding statement. He went up front and said, "True, all that is required of us is to achieve remorse, to be truly regretful for our past sins. But that remorse must be genuine remorse!" And he repeated himself, "Charotoh! Charotoh! And the same applies to kabboloh al ho'osid. It must be thorough, real and genuine. This is what the Chofetz Chaim meant, that remorse not be superficial, but permeated throughout the person's awareness."

With real remorse and real resolution for future improvement, one will surely not need to be afraid. One will be able to rest assured that everything will turn out all right. This, then, is our obligation, our work for the days of Elul, to, "Launder your heart from evil."

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