Here we are, set to bentch Rosh Chodesh Elul, right in the midst of our summer reverie – a sobering reminder that we are answerable to our Maker for all our doings and our way of life. And who among us hasn’t gotten carried away to some degree by the distractions of our surroundings and the enticements of our environment?
Luckily, we have been given the month of Elul to take an accounting of our deeds and comportment of the past year, as well as for the opportunity to express a mea culpa with contrition and sincerity. We can yet make amends before the Day of Judgment is upon us. (Rav Uri of Strelisk was heard to say, “Who said one must pray with a whole heart? Perhaps it’s preferable to pray with a broken heart.”)
On Shabbos Parshas Eikev we bentch Rosh Chodesh Elul, which falls on the following Shabbos Kodesh (Parshas Re’eh) and Yom Rishon (August 15 and 16). With humility in our hearts and twinges of regret stirring our conscience, we might best bear in mind that Hashem does not expect us to be perfect, nor for each of us to be a masmid or a powerhouse; He expects us to live up to our G-d-given potential, be a mensch, and humbly abide by His directives.
That is not to say there is a prohibition against being successful, wealthy or brainy. What counts, however, is how one goes about dealing with one’s fame, fortune and intellect. The poorest and simplest of men have, in fact, been known to accrue more “riches” than the most affluent can accumulate in a lifetime.
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A righteous G-d-fearing woman once lamented to Reb Dov Ber of Mezeritch that her husband was not a talmid chacham like she yearned for him to be. In point of fact, he was a tremendous yirei Shamayim who never ever spoke during davening and was scrupulous in his mitzvah observance. Rev Dov Ber assuaged the good woman’s concern by revealing to her that Hashem would grant them a son who would light up the world.
Rav Uri (so named for the light he radiated) of Strelisk, also known as the Seraph (burning angel, for his fiery avodas Hashem), would recall the event of his bris in vivid detail. His parents had lived in a small village where his father had barely eked out a living as a wagon driver and as a poor tailor in his later years. Besides their dire lack of means to suitably celebrate the event, a minyan was hard to come by in their small enclave.
When the eighth day dawned, the poor father stationed himself at the outskirts of town where he hoped to sway wayfarers to join in their simcha and be counted on for a minyan.
By early afternoon the desolate man was in bitter tears and praying that Hashem send him the individuals needed to make up a quorum.
As he stood there crying, a wagonload of people rode by. Seemingly puzzled by the sight of the forlorn figure on the roadside, they stopped to ask him about the reason for his dejection. When told about the bris that was being held up due to the lack of a minyan and a dearth of funds to prepare a seudah, they advised him not to fret for they were on their way back from a wedding and would be more than happy to contribute their plentiful supply of cake and schnapps for the occasion. They added that there was a rav, as well as a singer, among them. Rabbi Uri the Seraph finished by saying that the sandak at his bris was Avraham Avinu, the rav was Moshe Rabbeinu and the singer none other than David HaMelech.