Two years before WWII, a talmid from Yeshivas Kelm in Europe visited his parents in Tel Aviv. HaRav Hillel Vitkin had suggested transferring the yeshiva to Eretz Yisroel, and when the talmid returned to Kelm, he presented the idea to HaRav Daniel Movshowitz, who hailed it and said, "If we merit going to Eretz Yisroel, the yeshiva will not be established in Tel Aviv but on Mt. Carmel in Haifa, the site where all declared that 'Hashem is Elokim!'"
The yeshiva gedolah, Nachlas HaLeviim, has been standing for the past forty years on Mt. Carmel. And in expectation of the day when we coronate Hashem, HaRav Uri Weisblum, Menahel Ruchani of the yeshiva, agreed to be interviewed by Yated Ne'eman regarding preparation of the auspicious day when the whole world will stand in judgment.
Rosh Hashonoh is on the threshold. How can we arouse ourselves?
Rabbi Weisblum: HaRav Yisroel Salanter delineated three reasons why the awe and trepidation of Elul has waned and almost disappeared. One reason is routine. The routine of life causes a person to become apathetic, for the better or otherwise.
Daily life is made up of mitzvos to be fulfilled, prayers to be said thrice daily, putting on tefillin, bircas hamozone and so on. One is involved in that all the time and is not aroused to think beyond that, even of his future. That is why we must seek a way to wake up before our judgment and to seek ways to eject us from our apathy and prepare for the judgment.
Regarding this very subject, I received a call from a dear avreich several days ago, before Elul. He asked if he could come and seek my advice. Inundated with urgent matters, I turned him down. He begged, saying that he was scheduled to stand on trial, and needed my counsel. How could I refuse someone in such a situation, no matter if it concerned a dispute between neighbors or financial matters?
When he arrived, he confided that he had a trial coming up on Rosh Hashonoh for all the deeds he had done in the past year. I was very moved by this. If I was eager to help him in a court case, how much more so should I be willing to help him before his judgment on Rosh Hashonoh before Hashem!
One must make a plan and find ways to be acquitted. We, too, must seek methods to wake ourselves up and feel the awe of the upcoming judgment of the Days of Awe.
HaRav Eliyahu Dessler, Mashgiach in Gateshead (before presiding in Ponovezh) once gave a rousing talk on the eve of Rosh Hashonoh before ma'ariv. In the middle, he took out a notebook, revealing that it contained an account of all that had befallen him in the past year, both the good things as well as the sorrowful ones, things which had been already decreed to him on the past Rosh Hashonoh.
Truly, Rosh Hashonoh spells out the decree for what will happen in the coming year. "Unesaneh tokef... for this day is awesome and dreadful." Indeed so, for on this day it will be decided what will happen in the future year. This thought should surely arouse us on how to approach the Day of Judgment.
So what must we do?
HaRav Weisblum: I focus on an important idea. I thought about the aspect of teshuva. It appears, at first thought, that repentance involves the mishaps that a person committed and stumbled individually for which he must regret, and resolve not to stumble therein in the coming year. This represents repentance. But there is something which must precede this: the cause behind the stumbling even before the regret.
The verbal translation of teshuva stems from the root of 'return', leaving behind and returning to a previous stand. One must understand that if a person comes from a non-observant home and does teshuva, one cannot say that he should return to his previous place, an environment where Torah and mitzvos were not observed. So why is this termed 'teshuva' - return?