As we enter the new lunar month of Elul – the month
of love and compassion – it is a bit difficult to
feel beauty and hope.
No doubt, there is much
beauty in the world. Humans continue to demonstrate noble acts of gallantry.
In many little corners of the globe unsung heroes shine and illuminate their
But collectively we are
living in very troubled times. A deep cloud of fear and uncertainty hangs
over the globe – not only for millions of people in the Middle East, but for
populations in virtually every hemisphere. The toxic air can ignite a new
attack at any moment, in any place. No one knows when and where the next crisis
will strike. Iraq’s growing toll of deaths is a daily reminder of the upheaval
around us. Iran is rattling its saber with its nuclear plans, the Muslim world
is seething, Israel is surrounded by enemies, every airport is on alert –
affecting millions of daily travelers. “Are we about to enter World War III”?
is the question on people’s minds.
The compassionate power
of Elul seems very distant.
But what else is new?
Elul was never an easy process. The source of this month’s history and power
goes back 3318 years ago, and tells the entire story:
Moses climbs Mount Sinai
to receive the Torah. After 40 days Moses returns, only to find that the Jewish
people defied G-d by building the Golden Calf. Moses breaks the tablets and
returns to Sinai to pray that G-d pardon the people for their grave betrayal.
He spends another 40 days on Sinai and his efforts are unsuccessful. But Moses
does not give up. Determined, he climbs the mountain for a third time and
pleads another 40 days. This time Moses is successful. He elicits not merely
Divine forgiveness, but a newfound depth, a more intense dimension in the
relationship between G-d and the people.
To Moses’ entreaty, G-d responds with an unprecedented gift:
He reveals His Thirteen Attributes of Compassion—thirteen secrets of G-d’s
“personality” that carry the mysteries of life and the power to repair whatever
This third period of 40
days began on the first day of the month of Elul and concluded on Yom Kippur.
Elul is therefore a potent month filled with the power of hope, love and reconciliation.
The mystics tell us that the Thirteen Divine Attributes of Compassion radiate
during the month of Elul, when we relive Moses’ experience.
By way of analogy, the
Alter Rebbe explains, that in the month of Elul “the King is in the field.”
The king had been traveling; he had left his palace and gone to a far off
land outside his kingdom. And now he is on his way home. He is about to enter
his palace (on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur) and he stands outside in the field
greeting his people. When the king is in the field every person has the opportunity,
without petitioning for an audience, to greet him and ask for whatever he
or she needs. The king is smiling, he is in his informal mode, and he is predisposed
to grant all requests.
All year round there are
many layers that conceal G-d’s presence, that shroud your own essence from
yourself; there is a split between your inner self and your outer self—who
you truly are and what you do, your spirit and your activities. In Elul many
of these layers are stripped. You can access, if you wish, your true self,
since it is part of the higher reality and the essence of all of existence
Elul is not a simple month.
It is a complex period in time when we have the power to find hope even after
loss, to discover love even after betrayal and to rebuild even after we have
destroyed. All people make mistakes. The question is whether we repeat them
and whether we repair them. A trusting, loving relationship is built not on
perfection but on accountability. In Elul we can correct our errors and reclaim
our true legacy.
Elul’s message is relevant
today more than ever.
As a frightened world,
fearful of an ominous future, enters the compassionate month of Elul, is there
any more appropriate message? There is much to fear. Many mistakes have been
made. The future seems uncertain. But Moses – the one and only Moses – blazed
a new path: The road to hope.
The month of Elul, which
begins today – and the ensuing 40 days concluding with Yom Kippur – gives
us the power to begin anew, to learn from the past, to dig deeper and come
up with new reservoirs of clarity and strength.
Ahh, Moses. He paved new
paths, tread new roads, opened new doors, pioneered new possibilities. All
for whom? For... us.
Elul awakens our inner
faith, hope and belief in a better future. We may not have an exact strategy,
but if we assume a resigned attitude, we will lose even before we begin. Every
challenge, every war must begin with absolute fortitude and belief in victory.
Faith that we will prevail. Thus it was 3318 years ago, and many times after
that, and thus it will be.
The gusts of Elul have the power to counter the winds of
war. So open your window, breath the fresh air, smell the
flowers and feel the hopeful breeze waft through your life.
* * *
Question of the week: Do you believe
that we are in midst, or at the verge, of a major war
between the Muslim and Western worlds? If yes, how should
we fight the battle and how can we achieve peace?
a question for future weeks.