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Wednesday, December 6, 2023 - 23 Kislev 5784
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An Amazing Gift
Summer vacation is winding down. This Shabbat marks the first day of Elul, the month of compassion and mercy. As the children prepare to go back to school, in the synagogue we are greeted each morning with the sound of the shofar, urging us to prepare for the new year. It’s a month of reckoning, of reflection, of spiritual awakening.

For some reason, when the topic of teshuvah, repentance, comes up, some people think it does not apply to them. Only other people commit the sorts of sins that demand teshuvah. We read never-ending editorials calling upon political or ideological foes to “wake up,” make an accounting—while ignoring their own glaring faults. Instead of chanting “we have sinned,” instead we hear, “you have sinned.”

When we point the finger at others rather than confront our own flaws, we lose out on the great opportunity. This month is a huge gift from the One above, a chance to correct and refine ourselves with a boost of energy from G-d Himself. Chassidic teachings explain that G-d desired to create the world with the attribute of justice, but saw that it would not be sustainable and therefore he added the attribute of compassion. The ability to correct and improve ourselves, to turn over a new leaf and be granted absolution for our past, is a manifestation of G-d’s compassion.

Elul is the final month of the Jewish year. Just as a businessman conducts a periodic accounting of his business, we need to take periodic personal inventory. We need to press pause on the hectic pace of life, to decide if we are headed in the right direction. In which ways can we improve, be more effective in fulfilling our goals? Are we putting energy in the right things? How can we maximize our potential?

During Elul G-d gives us special spiritual energy to correct the past and make resolutions for the future—ones that will be kept. This power comes from the “13 attributes of mercy” that are fully expressed during this month.

The founder of Chabad Chassidut, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, explains the theme of Elul with a well-known parable. There is a king who lives year round in a palace in the capital. Once a year, the king leaves the palace to mingle among the populace. He changes out of his kingly garments and goes out to the countryside. There he receives all the simple people and greets them with kindness and compassion. When the king is in the palace, not everyone can approach him. They need to first make an appointment and go through his staff. When the king is “in the field,” he is accessible to everyone.

In Elul, G-d is in the field. He greets us all lovingly and responds to our requests. Let’s not pass up the opportunity. G-d is not an exacting task-master looking to find fault with us. He understands our struggles and challenges and is supporting us through them all. Let’s use these days to pull back the curtain on our soul, to let it shine forth with full intensity. Now is the time to ask G-d to be signed and sealed for a good and sweet year, overflowing with spiritual and material blessings.


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