A Rosh Chodesh Elul Letter from our Mashpia, Rav Burg
Updated: Jan 19, 2021
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Dear Nitzotzos Community,
A gutten Rosh Chodesh Elul!
We are now beginning a period of forty days beginning with Rosh Chodesh and culminating in Yom Kippur. Every morning in davening we will blow the shofar which the Rambam writes in Hilchos Teshuva (3:4) calls on us to "Wake up you sleepy ones from your sleep and you who slumber, arise. Inspect your deeds, repent, remember your Creator. Those who forget the truth in the vanities of time and throughout the entire year, devote their energies to vanity and emptiness which will not benefit or save: Look to your souls. Improve your ways and your deeds and let every one of you abandon his evil path and thoughts."
For forty days Moshe Rabbeinu davened to Hashem that Klal Yisrael should be forgiven for the cheit haeigel (which caused the breaking of the first luchos. On Rosh Chodesh Elul Moshe Rabbeinu ascended Har Sinai to receive the second set of Luchos which were ultimately given on Yom Kippur signaling that Klal Yisrael had been fully forgiven.
The Tur writes (Orach Chaim 581) in the name of the Pirkei D’Rebbi Eliezer (46): "A shofar was sounded throughout the encampment of Yisroel on the day that Moshe ascended the mountain for the third time. This served as a warning that they should not stray
again. According to the possuk in Tehillim (47, 6), HKB”H also ascended with the sounding of the shofar. To commemorate these events, our blessed sages instituted the blowing of the
shofar annually throughout the month of Elul, beginning on RoshChodesh. This is a warning for Yisroel to perform teshuveh and also acts to confuse the satan."
The Avudraham explains the possuk in Shir HaShirim (6:3) א‘ני ל‘דודי ו‘דודי ל‘י, I am to my beloved as my beloved is to me, to allude to the month of Elul (The Roshei Teivos of the passuk spell out Elul). Hashem accepted our Teshuva because we are his beloved.
The Bnei Yissaschar makes a beautiful addition to this Avudraham. He notes that the sofei teivos of א‘ני ל‘דודי ו‘דודי ל‘י are fours Yud's which are a Gematria of forty alluding to the days that Moshe Rabbeinu went up to Har Sinai to receive the second luchos. These forty days of teshuvah are the Mikvah that restores us to a state of innocence and purity. Just as a Mikvah has forty seah of water which is 960 lug, so too these forty days of Teshuva have 960 hours with which we can return to Hashem and be restored to our state of innocence and purity.
The is in line with the Mishna in Yoma which states:
"אמר רבי עקיבא, אשריכם ישראל לפני מי אתם מטהרין ומי מטהר אתכם אביכם שבשמים, שנאמר (יחזקאל לו-כה) וזרקתי עליכם מים טהורים וטהרתם, ואומר (ירמיה יז-יג) מקוה ישראל ה‘, מה מקוה מטהר את הטמאים אף הקב"ה מטהר את ישראל".
Rav Akiva said, You should be happy, Oh Israel. In front of whom do you purify yourselves and who purifies you? Your father in heaven. As it says, "I will toss pure waters on all of you and you will be purified." (Ezekiel 36:25) And it says: "HaShem is the hope of Israel." (Jeremiah 17:13) Like a mikvah purifies the impure, the Holy One Blessed Be He purifies Israel. The Chasam Sofer explains this Mishna as follows. There are 50 levels of Tumah. As long as a person has not reached the 50th level he can still do teshuva and be returned to innocence. However once he reaches the 50th level it is impossible for him to return on his own. But all hope is not lost. Through the Chesed of Hashem a person can return even from the 50th level of Tumah. The word"Mi" in the Mishna is spelled Mem and Yud which is the Gematria of 50. "Lifnei Mi" before 50, "Atem Mitaharim" it is still within your power to purify yourself. However "U'Mi" the person who has already sunk to the 50th level, he cannot purify himself. So what happens to him? "Mitaher Es'chem Avichem ShebaShamiym", his caring father in Heaven purifies him even if he has fallen into the lowest depths of Tumah.
This is why the Mazal of Elul is a besulah, a virgin. The first time in the Torah (and the only time in regard to a particular person) that the Torah uses the word Besulah is with regard to Rivka Imeinu prior to her marriage of Yitzchak. Rivka is the Gematria of 308 and Yitzchak is the Gematria of 207 which totals 515, the same Gematria as Teffilah. From this union of Rivka and Yitzhcak the twins of Yaakov and Eisav were born. Interestingly, the month with the zodiac of twins is Sivan, the very same month in which the first luchos were given and destroyed. In other words, Elul is the month in which the innocence (virginity) of Rivka is totally restored. Through our Teffilos we channel the energy of Rivka and Yitchak and restore the twins (even Eisav), the first luchos, bringing us once again to a state of innocence in which we are worthy of receiving the second luchos.
The Seforno in Shemos (24:18) uses this concept to explain the Gemara in Bechoros that teaches us that the formation of a fetus takes forty days. It takes forty days to go from being a soul to becoming a person. So too it takes forty days to go from being one who sinned to being totally renewed.
The Toldos Ahron gives another beautiful explanation of the name Elul. He says the name Elul is a contraction of the letter Aleph and the word Lul. What is a Lul? The Gemara in Pesachim (34) teaches that there was a small cavity (a Lul) in the floor of the Beis HaMikdash between the ramp (on the west side) and the Mizbeach. Into this Lul they would dispose of the invalidated korabn chatas. In our avodas Hashem there is also a Lul. If our Teffilos are ascend to shomayim they need wings to fly. A teffilah that is not davened with Ahavah and Yirah (with proper focus) is not capable of making it all the way to shomayim and instead are deposited in the Lul. However, these teffilos are not voided. They remain in the Lul waiting for their tikkun. What was missing from these Teffilos was a feeling of Godliness. It is possible to go through the motions (as many of us do) of serving God without actually focusing on God at all. To put it differently, these teffilos are missing the Aleph, the Alupho shel Olam, God. During Elul we are given the opportunity to gather up all the teffilos that are in the Lul and refocus them by bringing God into our davening. This restores the Aleph to the Lul and like the combined Gematria of Yitzchak and Rivka restores our teffilos to a level in which they can effectively renew ourselves.
The Shvilei Pinchas in connection with the above Toldos Ahron cites another similar idea from the Toldos Yaakov Yosef who quotes his Rebbe, the Baal Shem Tov.
The Gemara in Chagigah (9b) records a conversation between Bar Hei Hei and Hillel.
א"ל בר הי הי להלל מאי דכתיב (מלאכי ג, יח) ושבתם וראיתם בין צדיק לרשע בין עובד אלהים לאשר לא עבדו היינו צדיק היינו עובד אלהים היינו רשע היינו אשר לא עבדו א"ל עבדו ולא עבדו תרוייהו צדיקי גמורי נינהו ואינו דומה שונה פרקו מאה פעמים לשונה פרקו מאה ואחד
Bar Hei Hei said to Hillel: What is the meaning of that which is written: “Then you shall again discern between the righteous and the wicked, between he who serves God and he who does not serve Him” (Malachi 3:18). There are two redundancies here: “The righteous” is the same as “he who serves God,”and “the wicked” is the same as “he who does not serve Him.” Hillel said to him: The one “who serves Him” and the one “who does not serve Him” are both referring to completely righteous people. But the verse is hinting at a distinction between them, as one who reviews his studies one hundred times is not comparable to one who reviews his studies one hundred and one times.
This Gemara is indeed quite troubling. Someone who reviewed his studies 100 times is classified as a lo avdu, someone who doesn't serve Hashem? Someone who only reviews it one more time is classified as someone who does serve Hashem? How could that possibly be?
The Baal Shem Tov explains that the Gemara is not splitting between someone who reviews one hundred times versus the one reviews one hundred and one times. The language of the Gemara is that they reviewed it מאה ואחד. This means that they too reviewed the lesson one hundred times but the learning was connected to the echad, Hashem. Far from being a mere intellectual exercise, the learning was with intent to come closer to the Borei Olam. There are those that review the material one hundred times and yet their learning is disconnected from God. They are going through the motions but they are not in the relationship. That is why the Torah calls them, lo avdu. On the other hand, those who go through the very same motions, they review the lesson one hundred times, but they are connected to the Alupho shel Olam, they are actually in the relationship and are considered among those who serve God.
The passuk in Amos (8:11) says,
הִנֵּ֣ה | יָמִ֣ים בָּאִ֗ים נְאֻם֙ אֲדֹנָ֣י יֱהֹוִ֔ה וְהִשְׁלַחְתִּ֥י רָעָ֖ב בָּאָ֑רֶץ לֹֽא־רָעָ֚ב לַלֶּ֙חֶם֙ וְלֹֽא־צָמָ֣א לַמַּ֔יִם כִּ֣י אִם־לִשְׁמֹ֔עַ אֵ֖ת דִּבְרֵ֥י יְהֹוָֽה
Behold, days are coming, says the Lord God, and I will send famine into the land, not a famine for bread nor a thirst for water, but to hear the word of the Lord.
The Talmidei HaRamchal explain that in the times of Mashiach people will be learning exceptional amounts of Torah. This is the meaning of the passuk when it says that there will be much bread and no thirst for water. However, there will be a deep yearning for the word of God. The learning that precedes the coming of Mashiach will be missing the voice of God.
As we look around in the world today this is exactly what is happening. Thousands upon thousands of people are learning. Our Shuls and Yeshivas are packed. What is missing is the word of God.
I once landed in America on a Sunday morning and was able to make it to the 6am minyan. When I arrived there were around 100 people in attendance. I was blown away!!! 100 people at a 6am minyan on a Sunday!!! I was inspired by the attendance and the mesiras nefesh of those that prioritized their davening. Sadly and much to my chagrin, the minyan finished at 623. A couple of years ago a talmid told me about a minyan factory in his neighborhood that has a 9am Matzah Minyan. I had never heard the term before so I asked him what that meant. He explained that a Matzah Minyan is one that finishes in 18 minutes or less.
What is missing from our Yiddishkeit is God Himself. The feeling that God is our beloved. The feeling that we are beloved to Him.
This needs to be our focus in these Yemei Ratzon. Knowing that God loves us gives us the confidence that he will cleanse us in the Mikvah of these days. That even those of us who feel that we have reached the lowest levels of tumah will be personally restored by God. Our job is to return God to our Judaism. To stop simply going through the motions and participate in the actual relationship. To take those empty teffilos that are sitting in the Lul and fill them with the Godly Aleph. If we do so we are assured that we will be worthy of renewal and the the restoration of the feeling of innocence that we once had.
With blessings for a meaningful Elul,