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Parshas Ki Savo - The Purpose of Elul                 19 Elul 5779

09/18/19 17:58:38


There is a famous story told of the Chofetz Chaim, Reb Yisrael Meir Yisrael Meir Kagan, Zt”l and his student Reb Elchonon Wasserman Zt”l. The story relates how Reb Wasserman spent the month of Elul with his Rebbi the Chofetz Chaim. The story goes that when Rav Elchonon Wasserman’s son was born, he approached his Rebbe, the Chofetz Chaim, and asked his permission to travel home for the baby’s bris. The Chofetz Chaim responded, “Will you be the Mohel?” implying that it is more important to remain in Yeshiva and not to interrupt his learning. Rav Moshe Shmuel Shapiro, zatzal, in his sefer laments the fact that in today’s generation every single simcha - be it a bris, wedding, or sheva brachos, is a reason to take a week off from yeshiva, even to travel out of the country, just to attend the event.

The month of Elul is critical to properly approaching the Yemai HaDin, the Days of Judgment. Today many people shy away from those words, implying the upcoming days are viewed as being harsh and full of exacting punishment. In truth, the days of Elul and the days of Awe are opportunities to get back into a better, more focused routine of the cycle of mitzvos, applying conscientious effort to growing closer to Hashem. It should be likened to an adult son who left home and keeps brief contact with his parents, but later in life recognizes he has the opportunity to call his father and mother on a daily basis and reignite the closeness he had as a child being loved and nurtured by his parents.

Last weekend I attended a very special wedding of a very close friend of mine. A relative of mine asked me, “How are you able to leave your Shul just a few weeks before Rosh Hashana?” Looking back, the timing of being in Lakewood New Jersey for a few days during the month of Elul was mind opening. Lakewood, including its expansion to surrounding areas, has become one of the largest Jewish communities in the country, not only known for the array of kosher food in supermarkets, but also for the numerous eateries for breakfast, lunch and dinner and everything in between. It is a city no doubt wrought with challenges, but equally no doubt it is a place where a Jew can flourish and become a Ben Aliyah, a person of spiritual growth. In a few weeks the words ותשובה ותפילה וצדקה מעבירין את רוע הגזירה:“Repentance, Prayer and Charity remove the evil decree” will be upon our lips and minds. I found myself inspired and witnessing ways to shape the days of Elul and its purpose, just by being in a setting surrounded by this powerful focus. The following description of how and why helped me to grasp a little more deeply on this month of Elul, transcended to the level of an everyday life experience. Shuls are packed for Shacharis, Mincha and Maariv; everyone goes to Shul to daven - the grocer, the butcher, the investment banker, the plumber, electrician, and H-vac guy, the Rebbi from the Cheder and the young men learning in Kollel. Today, Lakewood consists of men and women in all facets of work trying to make a living while simultaneously immersed in a full, spiritual, observant life. In the morning, Shuls are filled with young and some middle-aged men, who come to learn for an hour or so before Shacharis. With fresh, hot, brewed coffee filling their veins, the sound of Torah learning reverberates throughout the building. Mothers and wives share equally in their husbands’ learning of Torah, davening with a minyan three times a day. The sacrifice the wives and the mothers make creates an environment of beauty and commitment from the home, clearly transmitting the message to reinforce that which girls and boys are taught in school - that Torah is the primary ingredient of a Jewish home; it must be central to every family’s core values. The amount of chessed seen and the opportunities for everyone to learn and do are endless. The art to becoming a true Baal Chessed and to be successful at it will be featured in a future article. For me, seeing it during this powerful month of Elul opened my eyes to something we can all work on with proper education and a fresh outlook. The vast number of Jews who do not reside in Lakewood or other large, dense, Jewish communities may not weave this deep connection to Torah or worse, we may be left out. This concern is addressed in the Torah itself, clearly stating that no one can say the Torah is exclusively mine. Rather, the Torah is meant for each one of us.

In this week’s Parshas Ki Savo the Torah states in Devarim 29:3 "ולא נתן ה לכם לב לדעת ועינים לראות ואזנים לשמוע עד היום הזה": “And God did not give a heart to understand, nor eyes to see or ears to hear until this very day.” HaRav Simcha Maimon, in his sefer Shiurei Chumash, quotes Rashi on the words “until this very day”. Rashi states: “he heard and explains that very day that Moshe gave the Torah to the sons of Levi… Later, it states in 31:9 that the Torah was given to the kohanim, the sons of Levi, and all the rest of the Jewish people came to Moshe and cried, “We also stood at Har Sinai and received the Torah. You gave it to us as well”. Why is it now that you give it only to your tribe of Levi, and they, the tribe of Levi, will come to us tomorrow and say Moshe gave us the Torah and not you, referring to the rest of the Jews? At his, Moshe was ecstatic and rejoiced on the matter and went on to say to Klal Yisrael, “On this day we have become a nation,” 27:9 "היום הזה נהיית לעם" ,Indeed,Moshe is saying, “Today I understand that you want to cling to the Torah and to have a desire in the Torah”. Up until this time the Jews observed the Torah, but at times we find people observing and keeping the Torah because they feel and know they have to do it, but maybe they don’t really want to do so. There may be “other” reasons why they stay observant and go through the motions of keeping the Torah, but in fact, they are not really a part of it. On the other hand, there are those who have a different approach and understanding of why they fulfill the Torah’s words. It is because their hearts desire to keep and observe the mitzvos. The difference between these two approaches to serving Hashem and keeping the mitzvos as commanded is recognized and identified when a challenge to do a mitzvah or to fulfill an edict of the Torah is only when they are forced to do so for some reason other than their clear and focused desire to do so. If a person’s heart motivates and drives the individual to observe the mitzvos, that person will want to do them even if not commanded for the sole purpose of getting closer to God. In other words, for some people, any excuse or reason not to observe a mitzva, even when it is something beyond their control, will be enough; they did what they could and are therefore content. By contrast, those who are committed to observing the mitzvoth would be deeply upset, seeking to do anything in their power to be able to fulfill the mitzvoth in order to fully observe the Torah.

Moshe, upon hearing the people demand the rights to the Torah become upset at the thought that Moshe was not giving it to them, that they could be removed from such obligation, made Moshe rejoice. Recognizing that the people exclaimed their desire to possess to also embrace the Torah gave Moshe cause for rejoicing. Torah learning, intense observance of the mitzvoth, a feeling of desire to grow in Torah and Yiras Shamyim is not exclusive to the Lakewoods, Borough Parks, and other such communities. We here in San Diego need to stand up proudly not just espousing lip service, proclaiming that the Torah is ours as well as theirs. We all need to make this Elul a defining moment in our growing closer to Avinu She’Bashamayim, our Father in Heaven.


Ah Gut Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Sun, May 24 2020 1 Sivan 5780