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A CALM ELUL

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A CALM ELUL

It has been said that one who says Psalm 27 every day in Elul is promised that he will live his full amount of allotted years and days in a good way, and he will overpower all the prosecuting angels against him, and will merit in judgement.(Siddur Arizal)

What is the meaning of this Psalm?

Psalm 27 is a psalm that says that G-d is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear? G-d is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? When the evil approach me to devour my flesh… it is they who stumble and fall. Even if an army would besiege me, my heart will not fear. Even if war would arise against me, I would still remain confident. Trust in G-d, strengthen yourself and He will give you courage, and place your trust and confidence in HaShem. Be strong and he will make your heart strong, so that you can continue to trust in G-d. The Midrash explains the words: אורי My light, this is Rosh Hashana. ישעי My salvation, this is Yom Kippur. (Midrash Shochar Tov)

A few questions. Why is Rosh Hashana referred to as my light? If anything, the darkest night of the month of Tishrei is Rosh Hashana, for there is no moon on that night! And why is it wrong to fret about the judgment on sin? Didn’t Amos write אִם־יִתָּקַ֤ע שׁוֹפָר֙ בְּעִ֔יר וְעָ֖ם לֹ֣א יֶחֱרָ֑דוּ If a Shofar will blow in the city and the people will not fear?(Amos 3 6) אַרְיֵ֥ה שָׁאָ֖ג מִ֣י לֹ֣א יִירָ֑א A lion roared, who will not fear (Amos 3 8) א’- אלול ר’-ראש השנה י’- יום כיפור ה’- הושענא רבא! Why should the sinner not fear that he may receive the punishment he deserves? Why is it important for a person not to fear his enemies, and to know that G-d will be there for him, no matter the strength of the enemy? Isn’t fear a good thing, when you are outnumbered? When you deserve punishment?

Kind David is singing throughout all the Eluls that will ever be, for every Jew, that nothing will ever scare us, not even our greatest enemies; not even a judgment summons for a repentant on Rosh Hashana. Because I have a G-d I can always trust. בזאת אני בוטח. G-d is on my side, so Rosh Hashana judgement is my light, despite the fact that I have no moon to shine in my darkness.

Why is this calm mindset crucial for Elul? Without being calm, a person’s soul cannot soar. As the Sephardic custom is to say in Selichot דלפה מתוגה נפשי הענוגה וחלץ מדאגה נפש עבדך My delicate soul drips from grief, Release the soul of your servant from worry. Because more important than serving G-d out of fear, is the calmness and security that comes from knowing you are in G-d’s Hands. You cannot serve G-d, you cannot connect to Him, when you are not calm. You can really serve G-d, only when you are really happy. (Devarim 28;47)

We need to learn how to become calmer. The National Institute of Mental Health estimates that one in five adults in the US will experience a mental health issue over the course of a year. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America claims anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the country.

Calmness does not mean being complacent, indifferent, apathetic, unconcerned. Calmness does not mean lying on a hammock between two palm trees, sipping a Pina colada. That calmness is artificial. Calmness means to be totally in control of all your senses, even when you are working towards your goals, maximizing your capabilities and strengths. Contrary to popular belief, Teshuva and calmness are not opposites: they are one and the same. The only way to real Teshuva, begins from a point of calm. That is the only Teshuva that lasts. Fear of G-d is not anxiety. It is recognition of what is real. It is awareness of the reality of the world.

Lack of calmness is the underlying reason why so many people have a hard time to fight their Yetzer Hara, to take out time to learn, to pray, to connect in Elul, to forgive in Elul. Tension, anxiety, and lack of calmness are the Yetzer Hara’s three most failproof ammunition. Just think about it. The whole year, you are so busy running from fear to fear, you don’t even have a second to hear your soul! Financial fear, Social status fear, F.o.m.o. ( fear of missing out), Fear of the unknown, fear of what people might say, fear of being vulnerable, fear of change, fear of sickness or loss, fear of death, fear of retirement, fear of loneliness, fear of being rejected, or fear that I might miss another deal…The list does not end. And when you are not calm, you can’t hear your soul. Soul can only be heard when subconscious is silent.

In Parashat Shoftim, the Kohen takes out the fearful from the army before battle. Even though the lives of all the soldiers are at risk, and everyone had fear, any added fear, fear of loss of a new vineyard, loss of new house, loss of a new wife… could cause the soldier a drop more stress than needed. Calmness is the only way you can fight, pray, learn, do Teshuva, and most importantly, be a healthy person to be around. Fear is actually something you can catch from your colleagues. It is called “secondhand stress”. Extra tension or anxiety has no place at the front lines of battle. Neither does it have any place in Elul.

Fear is an emotion that is almost always inaccurate. The statistics of the danger, the percentages quoted by the one who is afraid, are mostly off. Most anxieties are just misinformed emotions. Are you scared of sharks when you swim in the ocean? If you said yes, are you afraid of bathtubs? I don’t mean to scare you, but did you know that more people die from drowning in bathtubs than from sharks? Deer collision are more common to cause death than airplane crashes, and still people are more afraid of flying than of driving. Why? Because people fear the unknown. People fear not being in control.

The fear that David was talking about was real, imminent danger. In David’s every blind spot lay war, enemy, ambush. From his youth, David’s brothers would send him to shepherd the family flock out in dangerous areas of the wilderness, so that he would be eaten alive by the bears and lions. They suspected that he was mamzer, and they wanted him dead, not to bring shame or suspicion to the prestigious Ben Yishai family. Kind David was chased to near death by his own father-in-law, who David respected so much. Later, he entrusted the Moabite king to watch his family. He thought he could trust the Moabites, for his grandmother Ruth was a Moabite princess. But King of Moab killed all of David’s family, instead! (Imagine the trauma, the guilt that David could have felt, for mistakenly trusting Moab! Nonetheless, he did not let his mistakes take over his life. He was never afraid!) David was chased to near death by his beloved son, Avshalom. David’s rabbi, Achitofel, advised David’s rebellious son Avshalom how to kill David. David was cursed a horrible curse from the Gadol Hador, Shimi Ben Gera. Still, David stuck steadfast to his mantra, בזאת אני בוטח. In this G-d I will trust.

Although King David is speaking about fear of imminent danger, David’s trust in G-d turns fear to light. For King David, fear was like oxygen. Because that is what made him close to G-d. G-d brought the fear, and G-d can bring His salvation. This is Bitachon, this power of זאת, the power of calm, Midat Hamalchut, is what Moshe Rabbenu prophesized will be the superpowers of David. וְזֹ֣את לִֽיהוּדָה֘ וַיֹּאמַר֒ שְׁמַ֤ע יְקֹוָק֙ ק֣וֹל יְהוּדָ֔ה וְאֶל־עַמּ֖וֹ תְּבִיאֶ֑נּוּ יָדָיו֙ רָ֣ב ל֔וֹ וְעֵ֥זֶר מִצָּרָ֖יו תִּהְיֶֽה: )Devarim 33: See Rabenu Bachye )

Rosh Hashana, also, is imminent, the “statistics of danger” are accurate. There is so much at stake. As Mishna Berura writes, “Even though we trust that we will come out of judgement with merit, still, we need to be afraid from the fear of judgement, and this will bring us to be remembered for merit.” (584;1)

Calmness is not something out there, dependent on something external or artificial. Calmness results from a decision that you make, from a commitment. It needs to be one of the highest goals you set for yourself. It is something that you need to practice. Because calmness is the only way you can connect to G-d.

Here are the selfie steps, the self-help steps to becoming calmer.
1. Identify and Control. Identify the stressor, and find a way to control it. If you cannot control it, trust in G-d that only He can control it.
2. Slow Down. Especially in Elul. Your life is going too fast. A red traffic light means G-d is telling you to slow down.
3. Be Kind to yourself, first. גֹּמֵ֣ל נַ֭פְשׁוֹ אִ֣ישׁ חָ֑סֶד (Mishlei 11; 17) Make sure that you eat well (quality over quantity), sleep well (even if you are saying Selihot), and listen to your body, so that you know what it can handle.
4. PRAY! Talk to G-d. If you are afraid, if you want to cry, speak to Him. He brought you the danger, that is just the way He opens up a conversation sometimes.

About the author, Yosef

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