The summer season we pined for on those dreary, shivery winter days is all but coming to a close. What better way for reality to sink in than the call of the shofar that wrests us from our repose on the first of Elul, reminding us that we have serious work ahead. Luckily we get thirty days to pull ourselves together, so that we have a leg to stand on when we petition Hashem on the Yom HaDin to grant us mechila for our shortcomings of the past year.
On this Shabbos Parshas Re’eh we bentch Rosh Chodesh Elul, which falls on Yom Shlishi and Yom Revi’i (August 6 and 7). Elul may be the last month of the year but it nevertheless has tremendous significance, for it recalls that solemn time in our history when Moshe Rabbeinu pleaded with Hashem on our behalf and aroused divine mercy and forgiveness for Klal Yisrael.
Moreover, the 25th day of Elul commemorates the creation of the world (the first of the six days of creation). The first day of Tishrei marks the beginning of a new year – Rosh Hashanah – as man was created on this (the sixth) day of creation, along with his potential for infusing the world with kedusha.
On the 28th day of Elul (the fourth day of creation) when Hashem created the sun, the moon and the stars to shed light on earth, the moon took exception at having to share the spotlight with the sun. Its Creator’s response was to promptly cut the moon down to size, but in His benevolence Hashem made it up to the moon by designating erev Rosh Chodesh – when the moon is in its smallest phase – as a day of forgiveness for Klal Yisrael. Erev Rosh Chodesh has ever since been known as a day of special prayer and fasting, and an auspicious time for prayer at the gravesites of tzaddikim to channel blessings from Above through the righteous departed souls.
Speaking of righteous souls, the following are some of the yahrtzeits observed in Elul:
• R’ Yitzchak Bar Sheshes (Rivash); R’ Avraham Yaakov Friedman of Boyan-Lvov; R’ Eliezer Hager (Damesek Eliezer) (2 Elul) • R’ Yissachar Dov Bertcha Leifer of Nadvorna; R’ Yitzchok Yeshaya Halberstam; R’ Shraga Feivel Mendlowitz; R’ Avraham Yitzchak HaKohen Kook; R’ Sholom Eichenstein of Zidichov-Tsfas (3 Elul) • R’ Meir Simcha HaKohen of Dvinsk (Ohr Sameach) (4 Elul) • R’ Yekusiel Yehuda Teitelbaum of Sighet (Yetev Lev) (6 Elul) • Dan ben Yaakov Avinu (9 Elul) • R’ Pinchas of Koritz (10 Elul) • R’ Sholom Yosef Friedman of Sadigura; (11 Elul) • R’ Simcha Bunim of Peshischa (12 Elul) • R’ Yosef Chaim of Baghdad (Ben Ish Chai); R’ Avraham Yissachar Dov HaKohen Rabinowicz (13 Elul) • R’ Yaakov Koppel Chassid (15 Elul) • R’ Yaakov Koppel Reich (Rav of Budapest) (17 Elul) • R’ Yehuda Loew (Maharal of Prague) (18 Elul) • R’ Elimelech Alter Paneth (Deizher Rebbe) (19 Elul) • R’ Moshe Aryeh Freund (20 Elul) • R’ Yonasan Eibeshutz (21 Elul) • R’ Yaakov HaLevi (Maharil) (22 Elul) • R’ Uri (the Seraph of Strelisk); R’ Yitzchok Menachem Mendel Danziger (Alexander Rebbe) (23 Elul) • R’ Yisroel Meir HaKohen Kagan (Chofetz Chaim) (24 Elul) • R’ Elazar ben R’ Shimon bar Yochai (25Elul) • R’ Yechiel Michel of Zlotchov (25 Elul) • R’ Sholom Rokeach (Sar Sholom/first Belzer Rebbe) (27 Elul) • Shaul HaMelech and Yonasan ben Shaul (28 Elul).
The most prominent among the names of tzaddikim who passed on in Elul (many more than listed here) is undeniably Shaul HaMelech, the first king of Israel — chosen by G-d and anointed by Shmuel HaNavi.
The intriguing story of Shaul HaMelech lends much relevancy to this time of year. Tanach depicts Shaul as a figure of exceptionally fine character. He was righteous, learned and kind-hearted, and stood “taller than the rest.” But above all it was his very humble nature that moved Hashem to appoint him first king of the Jewish people.
His modesty was such that when Shmuel HaNavi first apprised him of his impending kingship, Shaul felt himself unworthy of such stature and did not speak to anyone of the honor about to be bestowed on him. He was thus rewarded with having Esther HaMalka as his descendant.
During his reign, Shaul HaMelech ensured that no one suffer undue hardship. As an energetic and diligent leader, he tirelessly devoted himself to the needs and welfare of his subjects in every way. So how is it that mere mention of Shaul evokes visions of Dovid HaMelech fleeing for his life from his endless pursuer who is obsessed with doing away with him — to say nothing of the colossal error of a ruler who failed to annihilate Amalek per Hashem’s clear directives?
As consequence of his grave transgressions and defiance of G-d’s instructions, Shaul forfeited the kingship dynasty and was duly informed by Shmuel HaNavi that his sons would not inherit the throne. Divested of the divine spirit, Shaul became increasingly despondent and insanely jealous of the younger Dovid who was to replace him in the monarchy.
How did a beloved king who had so much going for him allow himself to sink so low? Actually, we need look no further than Pirkei Avos where we are taught that envy is a negative trait that can remove one from this world. The Ethics of our Fathers further teach us to distance ourselves from a “bad neighbor” and to not associate with one who is wicked.
During instances when Shaul’s better sense and good heart prevailed upon him to reconcile with Dovid, whom he had once loved and cherished as one of his own, none other than his general and right-hand man, Avner, would turn Shaul’s head and deceptively win him over. Another bad influence came in the form of his corrupt top advisor, Doeg Ha’Edomi, who had in fact persuaded the king to save the cattle of Amalek, and whose vicious slander led to the tragic slaughter of the Kohanim of Nov.
And yet Shaul HaMelech was eulogized as a Tzaddik. Referring to Pirkei Avos once more, we learn that man must repent a day before his death. Shaul HaMelech did just that. While the rest of us need to do teshuvah every day to play it safe, Shaul HaMelech (to whom it was revealed that his end was as close as the next day’s battle with the Pilishtim) accepted his heaven-decreed punishment, repented with all his heart, and courageously soldiered on (knowing of the fate that awaited him and his sons on the battlefield).
Shaul ben Kish, a descendent of Shevet Binyamin, died pure and free of sin — for Hashem had accepted his teshuvah and had wholly forgiven the brave warrior, whose neshama came to rest next to the righteous Shmuel HaNavi in Gan Eden.
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