Elul 5770 – True Existence – Inner Reality

Elul 5770
True Existence – Inner Reality
Rabbi Meir Kahane

Rabbi Kahane is menahel of Chedvas Bais Yaakov in Yerushalayim. Originally from Memphis, Tennessee, Rabbi Kahane is a dynamic and sought after speaker. With a mix of deep machshava and meaningful messages, Rabbi Kahane appeals to a wide range of audiences. He teaches in every level of Jewish education from frontline kiruv at Aish HaTorah’s Discovery Seminar and JEWEL program, to Bais Yaakov. Besides Chedvas, Rabbi Kahane teaches in a number of schools including Bnot Torah Institute (Sharfman’s), Pninim Seminary, Lahav Bais Yaakov, Seminar Yerushalayim HaChadash and others, and lectures in almost every major Jewish institution in Yerushalayim including Hebrew University. He also teaches Gemara in Aish HaTorah’s Bais Medrish program and formerly taught machshava in Yeshivas Ohr Yerushalayim and Yeshivas Ohr Dovid. Rabbi Kahane lives in the Maalot Dafna neighborhood of Yerusalayim with his wife and family.

One can’t help sensing that there is deep significance in the fact that the month of Elul follows the month of Av. The theme of self introspection is clearly visible throughout them both. Indeed, sforim point out that “Av” is rashei tevos “ellul ba”, clearly indicating an inherent connection. Deeper sources constantly emphasize that time is not simply a matrix through which we pass and play out the details our lives but rather an entity in and of itself that exists and effects. We sense intuitively that the av/ellul connection is in fact something significant and powerful. It is worth while to look into it more deeply.

Chazal understand the pasuk in Eicha (1:3) which uses the phrase “bein hamitzarim” “between the boundaries” to refer to the time period between shiva asur b’tamuz and tisha b’av (see Rashi there). It is interesting that this is the description they felt most fitting. On a basic level one wonders what Chazal saw in that phrase that expresses the intense tragedy and mourning of that period. Certainly one would have thought of a more descriptive and dramatic title to describe it. But churban and galus is far more intricate than one might think.

In Pirkei Avos (4:3), Chazal point out, “ein licha davar sh’ein lo makom”. “There is nothing that does not have a location.” Everything has a place. If everything must have a place, Chazal is expressing to us that the very lacking of a location is a lacking in the very thing itself. And, thus, the churban habayis and subsequent galus was not a simple dislocation from a homeland, but rather a destruction of the Jews at their most essential level (see Maharal, Tiferes Yisroel, perek 7). Now we have no place. But every thing has a place. The churban left us lacking as an entity and a reality.

And Klal Yisrael now lives an existence of non-existence. We are not fully a “thing”, yet still exist. We dwell at the point where existence meets non-existence- “bein hamitzarim”, “between the boundaries”. Our lack of location is a lack of self. The title “Eicha” for the sefer which quintessentially describes the churban, says it all- :”how?” “How”, is a word which questions an ability to be. How? Existence that should not be, but is, “how?” Post churban we live in realm of non-reality, a place that doesn’t exist- a realm of “how?”- bein hamitzarim. Klal Yiroel is a people with no place yet every thing has a place.

Life is hectic. And in the craziness of life we often lose ourselves. If at a truly honest moment we ask ourselves how much of us is really us, the answer might be disheartening. Are we doing what we really want to do in life? Are we becoming who we really can? Do we act in the way we really want to act? Are we davening the way we really want to? Are our brachos the way they should be? We can probably recall points in our life when our davening was the way we really want it and our berachos were the way they should be. What happened?

We got lost. We got lost in the chaos of life. Exiled in existence. We lose ourselves in details that are insignificant and meaningless and lose focus on the goal- Olam Haba. Circumstances become more a determinant of our behavior than conscious choice. How much of our actions are much more reactions than real actions. How much of what we do is in response to the stimuli of our surroundings and much less a reflection of our deeper self. How much of me is truly me? Am I simply caught up in the insanity of non-reality? We live “between the boundaries”.

And this very exile from existence is a lacking in our very self, the very essence of who we are and who we can be. Every thing has a place. But we get exiled into the craziness of life and lose our selves in the process. We lose our connections to what is true. We lose our connection to what is meaningful. We become more a body than a neshama and lose track of our chelek aloka mimaal. We are individuals without a location and individuals without a self.

And that is a tragedy. Because the world needs each and every one of us. The world needs our davening to be intense and brachos to be powerful. The world needs our chesed to help end the rampant pain and suffering. The world needs us and our self. Yet we spend our life exiled in the chaos of life and we simply do not exist. We are not in the world that needs us so desperately, for we are in essence non-existent. The more intense our exile, the more intensely the world is lacking …us.

Chazal tell us that every person has his role in this 6000 year long world history. After Adam did is chate it is for us to fix it. And after the chate, Hashem came to Adam and said “ayeka?” (Bereishis 3:9) – “where are you Adam”. Adam was lost. He was lost in an exile of non-reality. Hashem said “Where are you? You have no place”. Adam was living “between the boundaries””. In the chaos and confusion of life Adam literally lost his self, and destroyed the world. And each one of as microcosmic Adam (see Michtav MeEliyahu, vol. 1, pg. 249), have to fix it. But we must find ourselves or we are just like him. We must locate our selves amidst the chaos and stimuli that control us. It is with this self that we can change and affect the world. It is with this self that we fulfill our potential in ruchnius and in kiyum hamitzvos and earn Olam Haba. It is this self that helps us daven and say brachos the way we should, and give to others as Hashem wants. Every person’s essence is essential for the world. But we get lost in the exile and confusion of life, lost in a world of reaction not action, bouncing from circumstance to circumstance, from incorrect philosophy, to inane ideology. From bad mida to bad habit. Exiled into a life where we truly aren’t alive. We are lacking ourselves. And the world is lacking us, for we are stuck “between the boundaries”.

Hashem began the creation of the world in Ellul with its climax, the creation of man on Rosh Hashana. And with the creation of the world comes our obligation to fix it. But if we are in exile, we won’t, for we don’t exist to do it. Ellul asks us to find ourselves, to leave the exile and to perfect the world that is now being created.

And we begin to soul search, to analyze who we are and what we are accomplishing. What we can do better, where we can improve. Can I work on my bein adam l’chaveiro and fine tune my bein adam l’makom. Can I daven better and make brachos with more kavana. In Ellul we try to understand why we do things we really don’t want to do and don’t do things we know we should. We work for a month finding ourselves amidst the chaos of our lives; redeeming ourselves from our exile and revealing the essence we lose while lost as a thing without a place. Creation of the world begins in Ellul and in Ellul we find ourselves, and we hope to perfect it.

We build for a month, until the creation of man. Rosh Hashana is the day man is created, the day that self was originally found. It is on this day that the Adam before the exile of ayeka emerges. It is on this day that our exile is over.

Ellul is the month of transition from exile to redemption. Where the national loss of self that we feel in Av begins to shift towards one’s personal loss of self, and the chaos that exiles all of us begins to reach its end. Ellul is the month when we strive to grasp that the ultimate root of eicha is really ayeka (see kina 14).

Throughout the month of Ellul we blow the shofar. Sforim explain that the shofar is an activation of the very nishmas chaim that Hashem blew into Adam. That is the avoda of Ellul- to free ourselves from the exile of our lives and rediscover and activate the nishmas chaim within. To resolve the ayeka of Adam HaRishon and the eicha of the Jewish people. We must allow the sound of the shofar to inspire us to end our personal galus as the “Great Shofar” will one day do for us as a nation.

Let us remember the power we have to become who we can. Let us use the power of Elul to find ourselves, to free ourselves, to change this world, and to earn the next. Hatzlacha.