The navi (Amos 3:8) says, “Aryeh sho’ag, mi lo yirah – The lion roared, who is not afraid?” These words homiletically refer to the fear and trepidation we should feel during the Days of Awe. The first word in this verse, “aryeh,” is an acronym for Elul, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and Hoshanah Rabbah.
Rav Chaim Kanievsky, shlit”a, asks, Why does the navi say “roared” (past tense)? Why doesn’t he say “roar” (present tense)? He answers by explaining that in order to really fear the Days of Awe, one needs to review the previous 12 months.
This past year, 5779, we experienced the horrific Pittsburgh massacre, tragic drownings during the summer, and the recent passing of such great people as Rav Gissinger and Rav Bluth. All these events were decided on last year’s Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. That realization should fill us with a sense of foreboding and urgency regarding our mission for the coming new year.
Targum Onkelos translates “vayasuru” in Parshas Shelach (“Viyasuru es haaretz – And they spied [inspected] the land”) as “va’alilu.” Thus, we see that the word “Elul” means to inspect. Elul is a time for introspection.
The yetzer hara, however, tells us there’s no point in trying to do teshuvah. He wants to be filled with despair as we think about all the times we’ve swallowed our berachos, haven’t concentrated while davening Shemoneh Esrei, wasted time, put on tefillin without thought, lost our temper at home, or not spent time with our loved ones. He wants us to ask ourselves: “Whom am I kidding? I’ve been promising to be better in these areas for the last decade.” Doing teshuvah almost seems like an exercise in futility.
Rav Chatskel Sarna, zt”l, says that combating this attitude is precisely why we say “L’David, Hashem ori v’yishi – A psalm of Dovid, Hashem is my light and my salvation” after we blow the shofar. He says it’s normal to feel a sense of yi’ush – of giving up – when thinking about all of our repeat offenses. Therefore, says Rav Sarna, we say “L’Dovid, Hashem ori v’yishi” right after the wakeup call of the shofar to remind ourselves that Hashem is standing right by us. He is proud of our efforts and ready to help us do teshuvah.
Rav Sarna then says that Elul is an acronym for “Efshar Lehiskaiyem U’laamod L’fonecha – It is possible to be established and to stand before You [Hashem].” The great Kotzker Rebbe cleverly translated the Talmudic phrase of “yi’ush shelo midas” as “To give up hope is to act illogically.”
Rav Tzadok HaKohen of Lublin points out something fascinating. He writes that the birth of Klal Yisrael came about only after yi’ush since Yitzchak – who carried on Avraham’s legacy – was only born after Avraham and Sarah gave up hope of having a child. Hashem arranged matters in this manner to make it clear that Klal Yisrael lives above yi’ush. There is no giving up for a Jew.
The Noam Siach provides a beautiful mashal. A spider spins its web and then goes into a corner to wait for a hapless victim. When a fly gets trapped in the web, it thrashes around, but the spider does not move. It waits until the fly gives up and then comes in for the kill. Says the Noam Siach: So it is with the yetzer hara. As long as we continue fighting, he doesn’t pounce. It’s only when we give up that we fall prey to it.
Let’s remember what we say in Yom Kippur davening, “Ki lo yachpotz v’mos hameis, ki im v’shuv mi darko.” Hashem doesn’t desire anyone to die. He just wants to see a little turn and effort from us. Once he sees that, He will grant us life.
I’d like to take this opportunity to wish The Jewish Press, my dear readers, and their families a new year of good health, happiness, serenity, and everything wonderful.