I can probably read your thoughts: “Elul? I’m still in the Catskills! We haven’t even gone shopping at the Back-to-School sales yet!” That is true, but on the other hand, this week is Shabbos Mevorchim Elul, when we announce Rosh Chodesh Elul. Before you know it, we will be deep into Elul! Let us see how we can utilize this Shabbos to start getting ready.
Rav Chaim Brim zt”l, an exceptional Yerushalmi talmid chochom and tzaddik revered a generation ago, describes Elul with the following parable: The high walls surrounding the King’s palace loom over you, warning: “Do not even attempt to climb over!” The gates are securely locked, with soldiers armed to the teeth guarding them. Being granted permission to enter is something only the extremely wealthy and powerful can even hope for – and then only after months of efforts and special connections. This time, though, as you stand outside all the guards disappear. The doors swing open and a voice announces, “Beginning today, for the next 40 days, anyone who wishes may enter the palace.”
This is the drastic change that takes place beginning on the first day of Elul. Throughout the year, we have created barriers between us and Hashem, like those great walls around the palace. As a result it is very difficult to get close to Hashem, and change our ways. But once Elul starts there is a great transformation. In one swift moment all the doors open, and a voice calls out, beckoning us to enter. These days are called Yimei Ratzon, “Days of Goodwill.” In these days we are able to freely enter the King’s Palace. We will be welcomed with open arms, like a prince who has been away on a long trip. When he finally comes back, they are so happy to see him that any request he makes will be fulfilled. So too, any small action we do in Elul will be accepted with love by Hashem. Not only that, once the barriers have been lowered, it will be easier to accomplish and do mitzvos.
But you may be thinking, I have been through Elul many times in the past and didn’t feel anything unique. What is the reason for that?
In The Palace The answer is that you may have been lacking two important steps: First, the desire to enter. We all know the famous acronym for Elul: “Ani L’dodi V’dodi Li – I am to my Beloved and my Beloved is to me.” Before our Beloved turns to us, we must first turn to our Beloved. Therefore, the first step is to turn to our Beloved, Hashem. In the parable note above this can be compared to coming to the palace and desiring to enter. This is what we should be doing now, when the chazzan announces in shul that next Shabbos will be Rosh Chodesh Elul. Let us yearn with all our hearts for that great moment, when we will be able to enter the palace. This coming week should be one filled with great anticipation.
The second step is to actually walk in. This means imagining ourselves in the king’s palace and recognizing that we are now in a special environment. Even the simplest person realizes that in the palace we must act differently. Before he comes into the king’s inner chambers, he is awe-stricken by the fabulous surroundings. He sees massive halls and archways, expensive rugs and fabulous tapestries. Servants scurry from place to place in hushed silence and guards stand in every corner. Automatically, just by being there, he is stimulated to act with dignity. After a month of living in this dignified manner, he will finally be ready to meet the King himself. So too, we must enter the palace in Elul, and realize that we are getting ready for the big meeting with the King on Rosh Hashanah. By acting in an uplifted manner, we will have begun the preparations for that great and terrifying moment, when we pass one by one in front of the Master of the Universe.
Hashem Is My Light And My Salvation During Elul, we say a special mizmor of tehillim twice a day, which unfortunately is not always appreciated. Some people say it as they run out the door or while folding their talis. And even those people who say it properly sometimes run out of steam by the time they get half way through. Let us examine parts of this special tefilla, in light of our parable.
Rabbi Eliezer M. Niehaus