Sunday, August 28, 2016
Week 47 (From the Book): Time for Teshuvah (Return to G-d)!
This week marks Rosh Chodesh Elul. Elul’s main characteristic is teshuvah, repentance. The Alter Rebbe explains that the King (G-d) spends most of the year inside his palace, where it is more difficult to reach him. During the month of Elul, the King goes out to the field to speak to His people and to listen to their pleas. During this time, He greets everyone with a smiling countenance. In Elul, we can have greater direct contact with G-d by increasing our Torah studies, prayer and repentance, as well as good deeds.
During this month, we have the opportunity to be extremely close to G-d. Through teshuvah and asking for forgiveness, we can properly prepare ourselves for Rosh Hashanah. Elul is represented by the tribe of Gad. Gad was a very powerful and courageous tribe. Its name literally means "luck," and indicates that the Jewish people are completely above luck and chance – everything depends on our teshuvah.
How appropriate then it is that the animal to sing this week in Perek Shirahis the snake, who declares that G-d supports all the fallen, and straightens all bent. (Psalm 145:14) The snake, from the story of Creation and beyond, has always been associated with sin and the evil inclination. Its verse perfectly embodies the spirit of teshuvah with which we begin the month of Elul.
The number forty-seven is the gematria of the name Yoel (Joel). The Book of Joel contains many parallels to the month of Elul. Like several other books of the prophets, the book speaks profoundly about the need for repentance. Joel specifically refers to the need for teshuvah before the “great day”of judgment. The book also describes the Jewish people’s closeness to G-d, and makes many mentions to the sound of the shofar. During almost the entire month of Elul, we blow the shofar every day after prayer as a preparation for the Day of Judgment, Rosh Hashanah.
In Pirkei Avot this week, Rabbi Yaakov states that this world is like an antechamber for the World to Come; one must prepare oneself in the antechamber in order to enter the banquet hall. He also states that one moment of repentance and good deeds in this world is better than the entire life of the world to come. Similarly, a single moment of pleasure in the World to Come is better than all the life of this world. (IV: 16-17) This teaching is perfectly suitable for Rosh Chodesh Elul, when the Jewish people begin the process of teshuvah. Similarly, just as the purpose of this world is only to serve as an ante-room for the World to Come, the month of Elul also serves as a preparation for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.
This week, the combination of sefirot results in hod shebemalchut, glory and gratefulness within the context of kingship. It is time to bring our service of Hashem to fruition in a tangible and real way.
A lesson in self-improvement that we extract from the snake is that even if we fall to the lowest possible levels, we can still repent and be forgiven and uplifted by G-d.
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