Rabbi Avi Goldberg
Former Rosh Kollel in Memphis
Elul – the month of forgiveness and penitence – has just begun. While the Sephardim started reciting the Selichot (literally, penitence) prayer on Rosh Chodesh, the Ashkenazim wait until closer to Rosh Hashanah. Yet, everyone begins to focus onteshuvah (repentance) as soon as Elul commences.
Even during Moshe Rabbenu’s time, Elul was devoted to teshuvah. According to the Gemara (BT Taanit 29a), Chet HaEgel (the Sin of the Golden Calf) occurred on 17 Tamuz, forty days after the Torah was given on Har Sinai. Moshe Rabbenu broke the luchot and burned the egel, and then he stood and prayed for an additional forty days as atonement for the sin. When the forty days concluded, Hashem told Moshe:
“Hew for yourself two stone tablets like the first ones; and I will inscribe upon the tablets the words that were on the first tablets, which you broke.” (Shmot 34:1)
Moshe then returns to Heaven for another forty days of receiving the Torah. These forty days – which served as a rectification – began on Rosh Chodesh Elul and ended on Yom Kippur.
During Elul, we strive to correct our deeds and thoughts. Indeed, two separate p’sukim famously serve as acronyms for the word “Elul”:
· “Ani l’dodi v’dodi li.” (“I am my Beloved’s, and my Beloved is mine.” – Shir HaShirim 6:3)
· “Ish l’ray’eihu u’matanot l’evyonim.” (“One to another and gifts to the poor.” – Esther 9:22)
The first pasuk represents our relationship with HaKadosh Baruch Hu. In his commentary on Shir HaShirim, Rashi explains that the Beloved is a metaphor for HaKadosh Baruch Hu. During the month of Elul, we must work on our connection to the Makom.
Yet, there is another aspect to this month. Interpersonal relationships, which are represented by the second pasuk, are just as important – and perhaps even more so.
During this annual period of introspection, we recognize that we must improve our actions in the bein adam l’Makom (between man and God) sphere. However, we must also remember to work on our bein adam l’chavero (between man and his fellow man) deeds as well. As Chazal (Yoma 8:9) state:
“Sins that are bein adam l’chavero – Yom Kippur does not atone for them, until he appeases his fellow man.”
Rav Soloveitchik observes that Yom Kippur does not atone for any sin – even those which are bein adam l’Makom – unless he first obtains forgiveness from his fellow man. Elul is certainly a time of “ani l’dodi v’dodi li” – a time for rectifying and strengthening our relationship with HaKadosh Baruch Hu. Yet at the same time, we must realize that it is impossible to get closer to Hashem without simultaneously working on the interpersonal aspects – the “ish l’ray’eihu u’matanot l’evyonim” component. Rav Soloveitchik adds that this is the reason the Machzor refers to Yom Kippur as “the day of inserting love and friendship.”
We are in the midst of a unique process. During most of the year, the haftara is usually connected to the parsha. However, beginning with the Three Weeks and continuing until Yom Kippur, the haftarot are not based on the parshot hashavua. Instead, on these eleven Shabbatot, we read first the three haftarot of calamity, then the seven haftarot of consolation (i.e. the shiva d’nechemta), and finally the haftara of Shabbat Shuva. Each stage in this progression leads directly to the one following it. Hashem promises us that the calamities will lead to consolation, and the combination of the calamities and the consolation must bring us to teshuvah.
On Tisha B’Av, we fasted as a result of five tragedies – including the destruction of both Batei Mikdash. The First Beit HaMikdashwas destroyed because of bein adam l’Makom issues – idolatry, sexual immorality, and bloodshed. However, during the era of the Second Beit HaMikdash, people apparently scrupulously avoided these transgressions, and therefore, the Gemara (BT Yoma 9b) wonders why there was a second destruction. The answer is that although the people learned Torah, the Beit HaMikdash was destroyed due to sinat chinam (baseless hatred). In other words, negligence in either sphere – bein adam l’Makom or bein adam l’chavero – leads to destruction cv”s. We must understand that the Beit HaMikdash will only be rebuilt when these two components are combined into a seamless whole.
Similarly, in Parshat Shoftim, we read about the different roles within the social justice system – the shoftim (judges) and theshotrim (law enforcement officials); the king and the navi (prophet). The entire system is precisely delineated by HaKadosh Baruch Hu, and thus, the social leadership is provided with Divine guidance. Avodat Hashem (serving Hashem) is not limited to shul or thebeit midrash. Rather, it pervades every facet of our lives.
May we soon be privileged to witness once again the Kohein Gadol’s Yom Kippur service – both with interpersonal love and fraternity and with a sincere devotion to HaKadosh Baruch Hu.