15 Elul 5759
From the Desk of: Rabbi Yehudah Bulman
Dear Talmida (tichyeh),
For many generations, “Elul” meant cherdat ha-din (fear of the judgement) and cheshbon ha-nefesh. Is that what you feel? Or do you feel dejected that (in your opinion) another year has passed and you haven’t accomplished what you had set out to do in avodat Hashem?
Perhaps you’ve even slipped.
True, we should never be satisfied with our madreiga but that just means that we are expected to aspire to greater madreigos, not half give up and krechtz about it. Let me ask you, what good will it do if you’re despondent? If you are full of yiush and atzvut you certainly cannot serve Hashem properly. “Ivdu es Hashem b’simchah!”
So let’s try to change our perspective. Rav Wolbe writes in Ale Shur, “Rosh Hashana is the day of man’s creation, and that is what is special about the day – that every person can become a new creation” (Alei Shur II, p. 413).
“A new creation.” How much we must thank Hakadosh Baruch Hu for the tremendous chesed of being able to start again! Yet we sometimes feel that we can’t start again, that it’s just too late. The Chafetz Chaim has something to tell us about this feeling:
When the yetzer ha-ra sees someone who did several serious sins and is afraid that [the person] will do teshuvah, he uses the strategy of exaggerating [the seriousness of the sins] way more than they really are and deludes the person into thinking that he no longer has any way of correcting himself and, therefore, he might as well enjoy himself in this world.
This form of yetzer ha-ra is mentioned in Yechezkel, “And you, son of man, tell the house of Yisrael: ‘You say “our sins and iniquities are upon us, and because of them we are rotting away, so how can we live?”‘ Say to them, ‘As I live — the words of my Lord Hashem/Elokim — I do not desire the death of the wicked one, but only the wicked one’s return from his way that he may live; repent, repent…'” (Yechezkel 33:10-11)
The truth is that when someone returns to Hashem, Hashem comes back to him as well and draws him near as if he had never sinned, and none of his sins will be recalled. Chazal say on the possuk, “Hashem, Hashem Kel Rachum”: “I am He before the person sins and I am He after the person sins and repents” (Rosh Hashanah 17b). [Chazal] mean by this that Hashem treats us differently than humans treat each other. If someone offends another human and then returns and apologizes, nevertheless, their level of friendship will never be the same as it was at first, but by the Holy One this is not so, for it is as if the person had never sinned.
So, dear talmida, please remember that this is a time when you can start again and go right back to the madreigos you yearn for.
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But I haven’t spoken with you in a long time, so why should I assume that you’ve slipped at all? More likely you haven’t slipped, but as time goes on, it’s getting harder to “hold on.” Perhaps your environment is pounding on your inner spiritual fortress which you so painstakingly built while you were here. Or perhaps you’re having a hard time remmebering what you’re fighting for.
If this is the case, allow me to share some of the Chafetz Chaim’s advice:
In these [challenging] times, it is a mitzvah for those who fear Hashem to get together sometimes and give each other chizuk in matters of avodas Hashem, and all their words will be recorded in the “book of rememberance” before Hashem.” (Shem Olam (ibid, Chapter 1))
So, if you can, get together with some of your friends who, like you, aspire to avodas Hashem and give each other chizuk. Even if you live (or go to school) far away from your friends, you can “get together” by phone, and you can spend time with them on a Shabbos.
What will you gain by these discussions? The Chafetz Chaim says this is like lifting an object. Most people can lift light objects. A strong person can lift a heavier load. If it’s a very heavy load, even a very strong person won’t be able to lift it by himself. But if he calls a few friends they can lift even that heavy load together. That’s what you’ll gain. Together you will be able to overcome even the “heaviest” nisyonos.
The Chafetz Chaim adds that “the main hischazkus should not be just in thought but in deed.” I must admit that I don’t know exactly what he meant, but perhaps he simply meant that your hischazkus has to be concrete: practice doing something which will make you stronger in your avodas Hashem. For example, if you decide that you want to daven better, then decide which aspect or part of davening you will work on first, and do it.
So strengthen yourself and your friends, take a deep breath, and start again!
B’virkas kesiva v’chasima tova,