Elul is here, the month of teshuvah, of repentance.
I had the privilege recently of visiting the gadol Rabbi Moshe Shternbuch in Yerushalayim. He said the following: “What is in the newspapers is of no importance, and what is of importance is not in the newspapers. We have nothing to fear from the president of Iran; God watches over His children. The only matter of importance, the only thing that affects us, is the relationship between the Ribbono Shel Olam and the children of Israel.”
I believe every thinking person understands Moshiach ben Dovid cannot be far away. Every thinking person also knows the Jews are surrounded today on every side by problems. Even seventy years ago, when the Nazi dictator, may his name be ground to dust, was about to launch his war against the world, there were still places where a Jew could run. It wasn’t easy, but the places existed where a Jew was not in danger.
Today, there is no such place. Even our Homeland, which was supposed to be the ultimate safety net for the Children of Israel, is under threat of attack – more so, in fact, than any other place in the world. In general, every Jewish neighborhood is surrounded by enemies, and the world is becoming more dangerous and unstable with each passing moment.
Several weeks ago, there was a terrible story in the news about religious Jews who were arrested. Pictures were featured prominently in the media.
I know a twelve-year-old boy in Lakewood, New Jersey, who is a tzaddik. I do not use the term lightly. It just amazes me how, in this polluted world, there can be such holy children. This boy taught me an incredible thing. We were discussing the quality of dimyon, imagination. He told me his rebbe had taught him that one reason God instilled the quality of imagination in mankind is so that we should be able to use it to find a way to “dan l’kaf zchus,” to judge someone else favorably.
I personally find it very difficult to give someone else the benefit of the doubt. I think to myself, “How could that person possibly be innocent?” I have a very easy time blaming other people. This boy in Lakewood taught me something of great value: he made me realize we have to work hard at trying to judge others favorably and that God even gave us a specific character trait, imagination, to enable us to do it when it seems there are no exonerating circumstances.
I don’t mean we should indulge in fantasy to judge someone favorably; I mean we should exert ourselves to understand just how that person might in fact really be innocent when in fact he or she seems obviously guilty.
I do not know the facts behind the news story, but I do know the media are full of lies. I also know that any excuse to portray Jews, especially religious Jews, in a negative light is seized upon with delight by a world that wants to believe we are worthy of its hatred.
In the month of Elul, we should be learning to look critically not at others but at ourselves. That is the only place where our efforts can have any effect. We can speak about the faults of others until eternity, but it will only create poison and darkness. Sinas chinam, unwarranted hatred among Jews, is, according to our sages, the only reason we are in this seemingly interminable exile. Sinas chinam and its “children,” lashon ha’ra and rechilus, are the reasons we do not have a Bais HaMikdash today, that we are not all together in peace, harmony and safety in our Holy Land.
When are we going to stop?
When are we going to take this seriously?
When are we going to point the finger at ourselves instead of others?
On Yom Kippur we say “Chattasi – I have sinned.” We do not say “you have sinned.”
No one else is responsible for my problems. It’s not the rabbi, the gabbai, the synagogue, the yeshiva, the economy, the president of Iran. It’s not my wife and it’s not my husband and it’s not my parents.