Why is Elul – a month of soul searching – preceded by the summer vacation months? Should the days sandwiched between the Three Weeks of mourning and the season of repentance be characterized by escapades around the globe? Should the prelude to the month of Elul really be a time we spend “airing out”?
The great Reb Nosson Zvi Finkel answered this question in a shmuess introducing the Elul zman in the famed Slobodka Yeshiva one year. He said:
“Right now, we are emerging refreshed after a full month of respite, a month we spent in the mountains filling our lungs with fresh air and the aromatic smell of greenery and scented flowers.
“We went on trips and took outings to the fields and woods, creating an oasis of rest for ourselves. Somehow, we were able to bring everything to a halt. Even though we had many responsibilities and find it difficult to detach ourselves from our numerous daily obligations, we did it.
“Well,” he continued, “not only physically is there a need to unwind after a full year of wearing ourselves out. Our soul in no less eager to recharge its battery and yearns for a break from the mundane. It craves a deep breath to reinvigorate and strengthen itself. That is Elul – a spiritual resort and healing spring for the neshamah. As they said in Kelm, Elul is ‘camp’ for the soul.”
The month of August serves as a parable for us. It demonstrates that even though we have burning activities on the agenda and countless commitments that make breaking away difficult, somehow we are able to stop the race and rest.
When this message has penetrated us, we are ready for “the real thing.” Elul invites us to “stop” just like we did in August. We are called upon to mimic the practice run and apply it purposefully. Elul is when we are supposed to put a halt on the wheels of habit and do some spiritual contemplating and penetrating soul-searching.
Which business owner doesn’t conduct a yearly financial analysis of income and expenses, calculating profit versus loss? This end-of-year accounting, taking stock of the state of the business, is a vital necessity.
But the importance of annual accountings is not limited to worldly matters. It applies to celestial ones as well. Mistakes have a price tag, errors can mark destinies. Do we have a more significant business than our own lives? Elul is our opportunity; we must grab it. The success of our “business” is at stake.
Elul is our chance to establish ourselves and double our return. We must acknowledge the invitation and offer our brain the tranquillity required to reflect on the past year’s events while deciding on what action to take regarding future investments.