Elul 5760 – Re’eh and Preparing for the New Year

1 Elul 5760

From the Desk of: Rav Chaim Pollock

Chasam Sofer helps us prepare our outlook as the coming year approaches. Commenting on the opening Posuk in Parshas R’eh, he directs us to read as follows: R’eh! See, understand and contemplate. Onochi nosein lifneichem hayom brocho u’kloloh. Hashem places before us each and every day endless choices about which we must determine our behavior. Each choice has two possibilities, blessing and curse. R’eh! Reflect upon it. (A similar idea is expressed in Kli Yokor.)

Certainly this reminds us of the words of Rambam in Hilchos Teshuva which have us look at every action we wish to undertake and to perceive that we can make a difference. We can add to our merits, and those of our community and the entire world, or Chas V’Shalom, we can detract. The Torah says, R’eh! Think about what you do and you will choose appropriately once you are aware of the consequences of your actions.

There is a difficulty, though. We have heard this message many times, perhaps in different ways, so often it seems beyond our reach.

The anticipation of the month of Elul is often joined with a sense of trepidation; so it should be. When we anticipate something we are aware of the newness, of the freshness of a situation or event. At the same time, we know that we cannot really fathom a situation until we live it, and, thus, a feeling of unease.

For young children that anticipation and trepidation focus of the new school year. On the one hand, we are promoted to a new grade level, we are older and more mature. On the other hand, we will have new challenges, perhaps we will be unable to meet them.

At an older stage of life we know that the responsibility of the new season extends far beyond new classrooms, teachers and friends. We are very aware that, again, we are faced with personal choices that we are bound to make.

What is fascinating is the way the Torah prepares us for the new. We do not enter the new unprepared, from a vacuum. Rather the new is escorted to its place by the old, completing its own era. Tishrei, the onset of the New Year, does not come upon us by surprise. We do not awaken one morning and say, “I cannot believe it is Rosh HaShanah again.” We say instead, “I cannot believe it is Elul again.”

There is a decided advantage in this method. One need not begin from scratch. One need not have to reinvent the wheel. We have a model to look at and a track record to contemplate. That is the purpose of Elul – to allow us to operate within a framework and not in a vacuum.

That purpose serves us well when we remember the interpretations of Chasam Sofer and the halochos of Rambam. We have significant preparation for the choices we make. We have amassed much experience throughout our lives, experience that can guide us, either by its success or its failure. The Cheshbon HaNefesh that Elul allows us is not merely for multiple recitations of Al Cheit, knocking ourselves for our sins. The Cheshbon HaNefesh of Elul allows us to plan our next step and to truly ponder what we are to do next.

We are told, R’eh. We are provided the tools by which we can study our decisions and their outcome from the vast amount of experience we have garnered. Elul is a time for review and evaluation. We learn from our past and we prepare ourselves for our future. There will always be trepidation as we approach a New Year, not knowing that which awaits us. On the other hand we can have confidence that we are capable of meeting the task with the month of Elul serving as the means of dealing with what the future will bring.

May we have the Siyata Dishmaya to have the vision to choose the life of Brocho.

Ksiva VaChasima Tova!
Rav Chaim Pollock