Elul On My Mind

Baruch HaShem the “summer vacation” isn’t quite over yet for our school children (or our American Yeshiva boys, who haven’t quite decided yet if they are still “school children”….) but the month of Elul is here. It waits for no one.

I have been extremely busy over the “bein ha’zmanim” what with trying to give quality time to my beloved wife (who is – with HaShem’s help! – finishing up the eighth summer of “Camp BeYahad”, (for more on this truly important camp please click on this link)), my wonderful children, all of the things around the house that need to be fixed and have been pushed off all year, some learning in preparation of the new zman, and lastly, the crowdfunding platform to prepare Core Emunah for publication and distribution by Feldheim, B’H. Oh, yeah. I also wrote a megillah.

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It’s been really busy and if there is anyone out there who enjoys the blog I’m sorry to have ignored you for so long. It’s your turn now.

For me, and I hope for many others here, Elul and the Yamim Norayim (the “Days of Awe”) that follow is a time during the year to stop and take note of what I did with my year and where I want to go during the coming year.

With HaShem’s help, having given me the lungs to be a blow-hard, and the voice to inspire, I have some big “jobs” that come up during this time of the year, and I am fearful that I am not worthy of them.

On Rosh HaShanna for many years now I have been the “Ba’al Tokeah” (the guy who “masters the Tekiyah” (blows the Shofar)) in my kehillah in the holy community of Beit Hilkiya. On Yom Kippur in the Yeshiva that I merit to teach in, Ohr David (www.ohrdavid.org), I am the “Ba’al Tefilla” (“master of prayer”) for most of the prayers of the day. I am representing many other people, yet I don’t really feel worthy of these exalted positions.

My question is: Who am I?

Who am I that I, little old lowly me, a ba’al teshuva, and not very good one at that?

Who am I that I should shoulder the responsibility on these great and holy days, to represent my communities and, indeed, the Jewish people in front of the Creator of All? Are there not people who are tzadikkim (holy, righteous men) who use their time more diligently? Who pray with more kavannah (intent and concentration)? Who do mitzvos with more intensity? Who are unblemished in the eyes of HKB”H?

Of course, there are! Yet for some reason, I was asked to do these jobs.

It is one of the most basic of all emunah beliefs that things don’t happen for nothing. It has been my hanhagah (practice) for many years now that I do not ever request to daven for the tzibbur (the public) or to give a derasha (sermon) in the beit ha’knesset (Shul). I see a clear correlation between my spiritual status and the times that I am asked to do these things.

Therefore, if HaShem sent these people to ask me to perform for them – it is a calling. It’s HaShem saying “it’s time to up your game, Shlomo.” It’s HaShem’s way of saying that even if right now I am not worthy of these lofty positions and responsibilities, I now have the time to prepare so that I can be.

Looking back, I can remember the time that I was young and ignorant of life, it’s ways, and the truth of HaShem and His Torah. I would look around during selichos in Elul, or during davening on Rosh HaShanna/Yom Kippur, and I would see the Rabbi’s davening. Tears would be pouring down their faces, and I would look quizzically at the machzor (the Days of Awe prayer book) and wonder what it was that we were saying that would cause grown men to cry? Most of the prayers on Rosh HaShanna aren’t even about our asking for forgiveness, yet here were the Rabbis crying away.

B”H, I have seen much personal improvement in my own prayers since then, but there is still so much more to prayer than I have achieved yet. I have only begun to scratch the surface. But today there is a depth and an intensity to the prayers that I pray during these holy days that I never knew when I was young. To think that in my ignorance I could have let it stay that way to this very day…

This year I hope to achieve an even greater connection to HaShem through Tefillah.

Looking back at my high school days, and the early days of my Yeshiva experience, I remember how I thought I was applying myself diligently…ish. I remember after my army service how I made a commitment to myself to learn harder – as hard as I could! And then I actually did it! I remember how difficult it was to learn as a young kollel man, the sacrifices that my wife and I made in order to be there. The commitment to goals that I had set for myself and their achievement. Looking back, I miss those days as an avrech. They were the best days of my learning life. Unfortunately, they were also very difficult for a number of reasons. B”H, my tzadekes wife and I have found ways to grow together and overcome most of those problems.

WH”h, as Bereshis comes around I will share with you some emunah ideas about marriage that I found very helpful.

In any case, as far as my own personal Torah growth is concerned I feel that I have been negligent this year, and I fully hope (wH”h) to make several changes and commitments to further my own personal Torah growth this year.

I don’t know about you, but everyone that I know, (myself included), is not getting any younger. Yet despite this, the demands on me and my time are only getting bigger. Yet I need to take care of myself, as well. The mitzvah of v’ahavta le’re’acha cah’mocha (Love your neighbor like yourself), concerning which there is a lot to say, but it’s not the time and place, also includes a mitzvah to love oneself, and to take care of oneself. After all, you can’t ask me to love someone else like myself if I don’t love myself, can you? This in addition to the issue of v’nishmartem me’od le’nafshoseychem (and you shall guard your soul (life force) diligently). I used to be in tip-top shape. Guess what? Not anymore! It’s time to change that.

Lastly, there are several issues that I have with my middos that I need to change.

The reason that I am writing all of this up as a blog is two-fold.

First, because I want to show that I am doing introspection and that I am making plans to make changes in the upcoming year to become an even better oved HaShem.

Second, because I fully expect people to come up to me over the course of the year and say “Rabbi Shlomo! How are your commitments coming along? Have you done any of them?” which should be an impetus for me to work on them so that I can say next year… that it’s finally time to work on my other problems!

Don’t worry! As long as you are still alive – there’s more room to improve!

I hope that this introspection and commitments will help me to be deserving of the responsibilities that were given to me, and to help me, my family, and all of you to have a Shanna Tova u’metukah, (a sweet and good year).

Have a great Elul, and use the time wisely… to gain awe!

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