Is it Elul Yet?
Sometimes you just feel you need some kind of book or text to put you in the right frame of mind. This is especially so during a Yom Tov season, and even more especially so during Elul and the Yamim Noraim. Your kids are coming home from school each day singing “Dip the Apple in the Honey” and “The Shofar Goes Toot-Toot-Toot”; your mailbox is overflowing with shanah tovah cards; your freezer is doing nicely, slowly but surely becoming fuller and fuller with all the simanim and other Yom Tov foods that you (or your wife) has cooked; you (or your husband) have begun contemplating how and when you’ll be building your sukkah (unless you’re one of those early birds whose sukkah is already standing, proud and erect, even before Selichos has begun)…and yet, you might be feeling sort of…empty inside.
It’s Elul now! you berate yourself. Time for inspiration! Time for introspection! Time for inner changes! How can I access these feelings within myself?
Could be all you need is the right “booster shot” to put you squarely in the Yamim Noraim mode. Torah Tavlin Yamim Noraim does a really effective job providing that “booster shot.” It’s got everything you need to enter this time period feeling spiritually recharged: divrei Torah, meshalim, mussar, hashkafah, and of course poignant stories, all on the timely topics of Elul, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkos, Shemini Atzeres, and Simchas Torah. One of the nice things about this book is that it’s really got a flavor of everything in it—so whether you’re Litvishe, Chassidishe, Sephardic, or whatever (as long as you’re Jewish!), you’re sure to find something that will “speak” to you.
Another great plus is that you can take Torah Tavlin Yamim Noraim with you to shul, or to the Yom Tov table. It actually contains in it the Hebrew text of many of the important tefillos and brachos that we usually say from the machzor or from the bencher, so it has the added benefit of giving you inspiration “on the spot” – right when and where you need it!
Here is a sampling of what Torah Tavlin Yamim Noraim has to offer…
יְהִי רָצוֹן מִלְפָנֶיךָ ה’ אֶלֹקֵינוּ וֵאלֹקֵי אַבוֹתֵינוּ שֶׁנַרְבֶּה זְכוּיוֹת כְּרִמוֹן
May it be Your will, Hashem, our G-d and the G-d of our forefathers, that our merits increase as [the seeds of] a pomegranate.
We eat pomegranates on Rosh Hashanah in the hopes that our merits will be many and the Al-mighty Judge will see that we desire to fulfill His commandments. Pomegranates are known for their plentiful seeds, which are said to add up to 613. By eating the pomegranate, we are showing our desire to fulfill the 613 mitzvos.
In Mezhibuzh, the disciples of the Baal Shem Tov zt”l were melamed zechus and gave every Jew the benefit of the doubt. They ascribed holiness even to an ordinary Jew, citing the words of the Sages: The transgressors in Israel are full of good deeds as a pomegranate with seeds (Eruvin 19a).
In Kotzk, however, the interpretation was inverted. Here they translated this same dictum in the following manner: One can be as replete with mitzvos as a pomegranate is with seeds, and yet remain a transgressor in Israel.
The Beis Avraham of Slonim zt”l suggests yet another interpretation of the above maxim of our Sages. In commenting on the pasuk, And my sin is always before me (Tehillim 51:5), he explains that only those good deeds performed with thoroughly good intentions ascend to the Heavenly Tribunal to be recorded. Those done halfheartedly remain here below. Good people perform mitzvos wholeheartedly, and their occasional misdeeds are done unintentionally; hence the good deeds ascend on High, and their transgressions remain below—before them. On the other hand, the wicked perform their occasional mitzvos without enthusiasm, and their sins with zest. Hence their good deeds remain below, and their transgressions ascend on High.
This is implied in the words: The transgressors of Israel are full of good deeds. In other words, the transgressors are full and left with their mitzvos, because having been performed without the proper spirit, these mitzvos do not ascend on High, but remain constantly with the transgressors on the earth below.
וחיל ורעדה יאחזון ויאמרו הנה יום הדין לפקוד על צבא מרום בדין
Pangs of fear and trembling seize them, and they declare, “Behold the Day of Judgment!” The Heavenly host is arraigned in judgment…
משל: As the terrors of war crept into the tiny village, many people realized that it was time to escape. Inquiries were made and a seasoned guide who knew how to cross the heavily guarded border was located. He informed the escapees that he would meet them at a border village late the following night, and they were to meet him there with their money.
When all were assembled, the group headed out. Trembling with fear and uncertainty, the men, women, and children struggled to keep up with the guide, who, unlike them, appeared calm, cool and totally unconcerned about the danger. The more they traveled, the more frightened they became, while he remained totally unfazed, sitting tall atop his horse.
The moment they reached the actual border crossing, however, even the guide became serious. He took every precaution and nervously glanced back and forth until the entire group managed to cross. Only the horses remained unconcerned and unaware.
נמשל: Rav Chaim Brisker zt”l says that some people begin to feel the terror of the Yom Hadin from the onset of Elul. Others gradually come to feel the spirit of teshuvah during the next few weeks, and by the time Rosh Hashanah actually arrives, there is almost no one left who is not trembling with concern for himself and his family. Only the “horses” feel nothing…!
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