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THE ART OF GETTING INTO THE ELUL VIBE
Elul is the month of many acronyms, and the most known acronym is, אני לדודי ודודי לי , I am to my Beloved and my Beloved is to me. Elul is relationship time. There are three types of relationships, only three. Between Man and G-d, Man and others and Man and himself. And Elul has got them all, hidden into that all-powerful word, because Elul is the time to improve relationships. The relationship with G-d is the first acronym mentioned above. The relationship between Man and his friend is the acronym hinted in the words איש לרעהו ומתנות לאביונים. And the acronym that refers to Man’s relationship with himself, is, וּמָל יְקוק אֱלֹקיךָ אֶת לְבָבְךָ וְאֶת לְבַב זַרְעֶך.
The reason for these three acronyms is that the three relationships are interdependent. in order to have a good relationship with G-d, you need to improve the relationship with yourself: you need to be calm, happy, positive, and content. And you need to improve your relationship with others, to forgive, to give and to care.
But let us hyper-focus on the first acronym, the one that hints to our relationship with G-d. The first step to become, אני לדודי ודודי לי, I am to my Beloved and my Beloved is to me., is, that I need to know, who אני, is, even before I work on the relationship with G-d. This is a very hard question, if not the hardest question to answer:
Who am I? Am I identified by my strengths and weaknesses, like the workforce will tell me? Am I what I have to offer my family, my community, my social circles? Am I my past, like my psychologist tells me, or am I my future, like my coach tells me? Or – maybe – I am my present, like my yoga teacher teaches me to be mindful and meditate?
The real me is hidden in the word אני. We know, that the word, לאן means, “to where?” Because the word אנה means, “Which direction?” The ה at the end of the word drops, as any dikduk- basics person will tell you the יונה rule, that the יונה letters drop from roots. The word אני, then, means the direction in which I am going. My direction. The י at the end, is like the י at the end of the word שלי, which means the אנה , the direction, that belongs to me. You are not judged according to who you were or who you will be, but by the direction in which you are facing. Even you if you are not yet a Tzaddik or a Chassid, but if you pray כתבנו בספר צדיקים וחסידים, Write us in the book of Tzaddikim and Chassidim, that is where you belong, because that is where you want to be!
I remember, after I was engaged and before I was married, I was nervous of the differences between myself and my wife. But the wise sage I consulted with in Yerushalayim asked me if we both want the same things in life, if we are faced in the same direction. Because true love is not about looking in each other’s eyes, it is looking out in the same direction. To have a relationship with G-d, we need to want the same things as He wants. We know that G-d keeps His own Mitzvoth, as we bless, אשר קדשנו במצוותיו , that He commanded us in His Mitzvoth, that He keeps them, Himself. One of the Mitzvoth is to fear G-d. If so, who does G-d fear? What does G-d fear? The answer is He fears that we transgress His Torah and Mitzvoth! If we want to be אני לדודי ודודי לי, we need to be looking in the same direction, hoping and praying that we keep His Torah and Mitzvoth, just like He hopes that we keep His Torah and Mitzvoth. That needs to be our direction, if we want to be in a relationship with G-d.
If you want a relationship with G-d, the Messilat Yesharim begins to tell you that you need to make sure you know what your goal in life is, your passion. That is the first step to אני לדודי ודודי לי.
We don’t think, the way we think, we don’t decide, the way we decide. We think S4, according to our Social, Structure, State of mind, and the version of our life Story. We need to take responsibility over these, if we want to take responsibility over our lives. Every habit-changing book will tell you that what helps you change your habits is not motivation, alone; it is not self-control, alone. It begins with taking responsibility for your own life, for your own environment, for you own social circles, not waiting for things or circumstances to change on their own, or by other people. Hillel taught us, אם אין אני לי מי לי. If I am not to myself, who is to me? But the first part of responsibility is to identify with the new you, אם אין אני לי מי לי , the direction you are going in. It is not enough to say, “I don’t want to smoke anymore”. You need to say, “I am not a smoker”. It is not enough to say you are going to run, every day, for an hour. You need to say to yourself, “I am a runner who runs an hour a day. This is me. The new me”. Because the first step to taking ownership of your life is taking ownership over yourself, over your identity, your אני.
The problem is that most of us have never just internally silenced all the voices of the people in our life, family, friends, media, etc… We have never stopped to ask ourselves, what is my direction, what is it that I believe in, what is the most valuable thing in my life? How high am I going to aim? We have this herd mentality, never taking out time to find our personal inner truth.
The first step to experience Elul, to experience change, starts with Parashat Re’eh, which is the acronym, ראש חודש אלול הגיע. The first passuk of Re’eh is so strange, for those who understand Lashon Hakodesh רְאֵ֗ה אָנֹכִ֛י נֹתֵ֥ן לִפְנֵיכֶ֖ם הַיּ֑וֹם בְּרָכָ֖ה וּקְלָלָֽה See, I am giving before you, today, blessing and curse. Now, the word See, is written in singular command form, for plural command to see would have been ראו. But the word לפניכם, in front of you, is in front of you plural, because if it would have been in front of you, singular, it would have said, לפניך! Wait a second. Is G-d speaking to the whole nation, or is G-d speaking to one person, telling him to see?!?
For those who claim that Lashon Hakodesh rules are not that important, we can remind them that this question is asked by the Vilna Gaon. If it bothered him, it must be important. And this is what he says: People have a tendency to see things from the eyes of the herd, the community, the family, friends, the news, but, NO! The Torah is commanding you, to have your own perspective! What is your Hashkafa? A perspective that you will take ownership over, responsibility over! To be YOU! Once and for all, figure out why you are here in this world, learn the Messilat Yesharim, and discover your life’s purpose! To enjoy your own personal relationship with G-d, but on one condition. Not only on your terms. On His terms, as well. There is no such thing as a one-way relationship.
The other day, I asked my Rabbi if I should get a new car. My car is a Toyota Prius, the first, awesome hybrid, and it works fine and is extremely inexpensive. B”H, I have more money than I need, and I can buy any car I want. For me, the truth is, I don’t even need a car. I work from home, and my apartment in Jerusalem is less than 5 minutes’ walk to all my kids’ schools, and endless minyanim. One of my life’s blessings is that I don’t need, ever, to be stuck in traffic. But when I was seeing how everyone got new cars, I wondered if I am doing something wrong. I asked my Rabbi, “So many friends have gotten themselves nice cars, like Volvos, Teslas, Audis, etc. Should I upgrade to a brand-name car, or just stay the way things are?” My Rabbi answered me, “The reason why they got the Volvos, Teslas and Audis is because, they are seeing others getting Porsches and Lamborghinis, and they feel that they need to upgrade, so they got the cars they got. You have to ask yourself what serves your needs, and not look around at what other people are choosing.”
So, instead of my putting money into the most expensive, fancy black Audi, I will put my money into the most expensive pair of black Tefillin for my son’s upcoming Bar Mitzvah. That is my Lamborghini. Instead of investing time in the stock market, to gain from a bear market, something I have no control over, I am investing in my health and running in the forest, every day, in the backyard of my neighborhood Bayit Vegan (there are no bears there). Instead of my trying to figure out a way to beat inflation, I am investing in relationships, by giving free services to as many people now who are in need and can’t afford the new life expenses. I try to beat the herd mentality, instead of falling for it. I try to stop seeing the world from the point of view of the news media.
Which brings us to Parashat Shoftim. In order to change and improve, one of the things we need, is to stop lying to ourselves. שֹׁפְטִ֣ים וְשֹֽׁטְרִ֗ים תִּֽתֶּן־לְךָ֙ בְּכָל־שְׁעָרֶ֔יךָ Our Rabbis take a twist to that Passuk. You have to put a guard on all of your gates, even your personal gates, or your senses. You need to be your own policeman and see yourself from outside yourself. The other day, while jogging in the forest, I realized how I lie to myself. For years, I have not been doing the Daf Yomi, claiming I just don’t have the time. But then, I realized, that I have enough time to read the news, even a few times a day! And if I claim to the world that I am an Effective Learning Specialist, it should be a cinch for me to finish the Daf! So, I made a new habit. The first thing after my jog, before opening the news, I need to first finish the Daf!