We are now in Elul and Rosh Hashanah is looming. We know that we should be preparing, but so many of us find it overwhelming. Please don’t wave a white flag and give up. If you keep on reading, you will discover that it is not as hard as you think. (Many thanks to my friend Rabbi Tzvi Rabinovicz for the beautiful approach outlined below.)
Let us begin with a parable based on the Mechilta (Parshas Yisro – Aseres Hadibros).
The citizens were up in arms! No one understood why the country was slowly deteriorating. The roads were full of holes, the cities did not have enough water, and marauding gangs were terrorizing the populace. Haven’t we been paying taxes – why aren’t matters being taken care of? And then the great discovery: The king had been pocketing tremendous amounts of money for years. His extravagant private balls and parties had been at the expense of the nation. “Death to the king!” they shouted. Not wanting to find out what a guillotine felt like, the king and his family escaped in the middle of the night.
The people were happy to be rid of this evil and self-centered person, but what should they do now. Who would undo the damage and return the country to its previous state?
Suddenly, the prince of a neighboring prosperous country appeared. “Will you take me as your king?” he asked. “My father taught me how to fortify and govern a country.”
“We know you are an intelligent and talented person,” they said, “but how do we know that you will care for our country?”
The prince did not answer and returned home. A few days later he showed up with hundreds of workers and began repairing the wall around the kingdom. He renovated the dilapidated water canals and fixed the roads. Then his soldiers rounded up the bandits and returned law and order to the land.
The prince then turned again to the citizens and asked them: “So, will you take me as your king?”
This time they all shouted unanimously: “Yes! Yes!”
Days of Good Will
The purpose of a king is to gather all the assets and talents of his nation and use them to ensure a happy and safe country for everyone. Therefore, by definition, a king must rule with the consent of the citizens. The first king in our parable abused his position and was only interested in himself. The second one proved that he cared for the people, and that is why they willingly accepted him.
Every year on Rosh Hashanah we proclaim that Hashem is our King. If we want that declaration to be completely true, we must make sure that we really want Him. We do that by knowing how good He is to us and that there is no better king.
This is what we have Elul for. The famous acronym for Elul is “Ani le’dodi v’dodi li – I am to my beloved and my beloved is to me.” At first glance this acronym seems difficult. If Elul is the month of preparation for the Days of Awe, why is it symbolized by our loving relationship with Hashem? Wouldn’t it be more appropriate for an acronym for Elul to focus on something that makes us shake in our boots?
According to the above, however, the question can be readily answered. The best way to prepare for the coronation of our king is to strengthen our desire for His rule. Hashem, in His great and overwhelming kindness, opens the gates of heaven and bestows upon us warmth and love. Hence, these days are called “Yimei Ratzon – Days of Good Will.” This allows us to feel his goodness and see how much He does for us. All it takes is a little contemplation and we will feel His closeness.
The Great Luminaries and Torah
One of the best times to do so is when we recite birchos krias Shema. In the first blessing, we describe the greatness of the luminaries and light. Then we continue and thank Hashem for giving us the Torah. These blessings were established by Chazal as a preparation for and introduction to krias Shema, where we accept upon ourselves the reign of Heaven. How do these seemingly unrelated matters prepare us for this?
The acceptance of Hashem’s sovereignty is only complete if it is done out of love and admiration for Hashem. Therefore, before we accept His Majesty, we must arouse in ourselves those feelings by contemplating the greatness of His special presents: the luminaries, light, and the Torah.
We begin with the wonderful creation of light. Without light, it would be close to impossible to benefit from this world, for in utter darkness we wouldn’t be able to see! In addition, the Chovos HaLevavos (Shaar Habechina) explains how one merely needs to open one’s eyes to notice the wisdom in the universe. Light is what gives us the ability to see this wisdom!
The sun radiates non-stop warmth. For 5777 years, the earth has kept faithful to its precise orbit around the sun. If the sun were any further from us, we would instantly turn into icicles, and if it were closer, we would burn up in a fiery flash of smoke.
Then we describe the enthusiasm of the angels. Even they, with their vast and deep understanding of the many wonders of the universe, are dazzled by the greatness of the sun and light. Each day they praise the Creator in a never-ending symphony of ecstasy. All this is meant to influence us and make us aware of the greatness of these creations, as we join in and praise Hashem for them.
We then say that Hashem takes care of us on a constant basis: He alone effects mighty deeds, makes new things, is Master of wars, sows kindnesses, makes salvation flourish and creates cures.
Finally, we arrive at the greatest kindness of all – the Torah. Over and over, we say that He gave this present to us only out of His great love. Indeed, learning Torah is the way in which we develop a close and intimate relationship with Hashem. Not only that, one who delves even slightly into the Torah is amazed at the unfathomable depths of knowledge it contains. We study the words of Chazal and the Rishonim and are amazed by the wisdom they reveal to us. Last but not least, the life of a Torah-abiding Jew is so much more exalted and happier than one who does not have this wonderful gift. Our hearts now swell with love for Hashem!
Thus, when we proclaim, “Shema Yisroel, Hashem Elokeinu, Hashem Echod,” we can do it with love and admiration. We are so fortunate to have You as our King! Then when we say, “V’ahavata es Hashem Elokecha – You shall love Hashem, your G-d,” we will truly feel that love!
Every blessing we recite is another opportunity. When we take a fruit in our hand, we say “Baruch atah Hashem.” We speak directly to Hashem and we say, “Elokeinu Melech Ha’alom” – our G-d – the Master of the World – borei pri ha’eitz. You created this fruit and gave it to me! I definitely accept You as my king!
If we use these days of goodwill properly, when Rosh Hashanah arrives and Hashem asks, “Shall I be your king?” we will shout, “Yes! Yes!” from the depths of our hearts!