HaRav Aharon Kotler zt”l highlighted in a very strong way the extraordinary opportunity and gift of the month of Elul, which Hashem has granted to us. He wrote:
ונפתחים שערי חסד ורחמים, ואפשר להשיג בין בתשובה ובין בתורה ועבודה במעט עמל מה שצריך עמל רב בזמן אחר
…and the gates of chesed and rachamim are opened; and perhaps one can achieve, between repentance and Torah and service, using a small measure of labor, compared to the significant amount of labor that would be required at a different time.
Elul is a month infused with great compassion, chesed, love, and power to come closer to Hashem through t’shuvah, improving our Torah learning, mitzvah observance, tefilah, brachos, refining our character, and more. Where does the power to achieve growth in all of these areas with minimal toil and effort, in degrees we cannot attain the rest of the year, come from?
Moshe Rabbeinu went up to Shamayim three times consecutively, each time remaining there for 40 days and nights. The first time, when he came down after 40 days and nights, he witnessed the golden calf and broke the Luchos [Tablets] that he had brought down. The second time was to beg Hashem to forgive klal Yisrael. He came down at the end of the month of Av with forgiveness from Hashem. Then he went back up on Rosh Chodesh Elul and came down for the last time on Yom Kippur with the second Luchos. This time, Rashi says that we were reconciled with Hashem with joy. When someone in a close relationship hurts the other party deeply, sometimes after the offending person begs forgiveness, he is forgiven, though the relationship is not restored. There is a truce with forgiveness, but no further close relationship. However, sometimes they reconcile so strongly that the relationship is completely restored and possibly even grows as a result. These 40 days, starting with Rosh Chodesh Elul, are the days in which Hashem restored the relationship with love, compassion, and joy. Therefore, it is a time of “אני לדודי ודודי לי–Ani l’dodi, v’dodi li (I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine).” It is a time of tremendous opportunity.
HaRav Itzeleh Blazer zt”l was delivering his Elul drashah on Rosh Chodesh Elul in the shul. He opened up the aron ha’kodesh and, before the sifrei Torah, he cried out:
“מודה אני לפניך ה’ א-לוקי, השבח וההודיה שנתת לנו את החודש האלול הזה, רבונו של עולם, אנו מקבלים את האלול באהבה ובשמחה,” וגעו כל העם בבכיה.
“I gratefully thank you, Hashem my G-d; the praise and the thanksgiving that you enabled us with this month of Elul, Master of the Universe, we accept this Elul with love and joy,” and all of the people broke out in tears.
We can understand his thanking Hashem for the great gift and opportunity of Elul, but why did he feel the need to “accept Elul with love and joy”?
HaRav Aharon Kotler zt”l writes that if one disgraces Elul, he certainly forfeits the special powers of Elul. What does it mean to “disgrace” Elul? Since the purpose of life is to come closer to Hashem, and since the month of Elul provides us the opportunity to do so to an extent not possible the rest of the year, Hashem has given us a most precious gift and opportunity. If we ignore that opportunity by thinking, speaking, and acting, the same way we do all year, and waking up a couple of days before Rosh HaShanah, then we have indeed disgraced the gift of Elul. That is why HaRav Itzeleh Blazer wanted the people to declare acceptance of Elul with love and joy.
For many of us, it is not only a great opportunity but a great challenge, as well. Many people are on the last leg of summer and may feel that Elul presents a conflict. They may decide to “defer their Elul” until they get back and resettled. By that time, it is likely that at least more than half of Elul will have been “disgraced.” Let us consider rising to the challenge. Being away with others is the perfect time to refine our midos and come closer to Hashem through the mitzvos of emulating His Ways and loving our fellow brothers and sisters. When we are with others, there are generally many opportunities to exercise patience, tolerance, kindness, and love. How we speak to others and what we speak about is another area of potential growth.
We may have less time to learn Torah when away, but we can still make certain we keep our minimum daily learning time with devotion and diligence. We are still making brachos, davening, and performing chesed. All of those areas can be strengthened while we are enjoying the last part of our summer.
May we merit to embrace Elul with love and joy, and show Hashem how much we appreciate His magnificent gift.
[This segment was based in large part on the sefer Yerach L’Moadim by HaRav Yerucham Olshin shlita.]