Parsha Shoftim and Elul
Reb Shlomo Carlebach On Parshat Shoftim
Shoftim Vshotrim Titen Lecho Bchol Sheorechu (The torah commands us to put Judges and guards at the entrance to all of our gates.)
The Shelah HaKaddosh, The Holy Shelah, explains that the gates we are talking about this week, are the seven gates we all have, Two eyes, nostrils, ears and one mouth, when we know how to guard them, keeping away from hearing, seeing and talking bad on one another, so listen to me my sweetest friends, the Torah calls it Shaar a “gate”, the deepest depth is that they open for us all the gates of heaven, Hashem wants to give us so much we just have to take care of the gates, like in jewllery shop they have the doors, they only open the inside door when the outside door is secured, when we talk and hear only good on one another, The Ribono shel Olam is mamesh opening all the gates of heaven for us, I bless you and me, when Hashem opens gates, we should take advantage of it. And even more so, I bless you and me we should open gates for each other
Elul – Opening the Gates
Every time I do a mitzva every time I do something good, G-d opens the gates for me to do another mitzva. Why don’t’ I go in? I never do. The Tanach writes that wicked people are always walking around, always circling, never going in. On the first Shabbos of Elul we always read Shoftim. "Appoint judges and officers in all your gates." What is Elul all about? Doing good. G-d is opening all of the gates.
I want you to know that the Tshuva of Elul is not Tshuva for sins. That is for the ten days between Rosh Hashana & Yom Kippur. In Elul the important thing is, I am doing Tshuva for all the gates that were open to me and that I didn’t enter.
Let me say something very deep. Can you image what kind of gate G-d opened to us on Mt Sinai? The deepest gate in the world. The gate was so wide open, the Gemora says, that there was no longer any death in the world. We could have gone straight into Eretz Yisroel. We could have fixed the entire world. But instead what did we do? We made the Golden Calf. We said to G-d, we are not interested in Your gates. Gevald! How could we do that? How could we do that to G-d? So Moshe had to go again to Mt Sinai to re-open all the gates.
In former good days, every city was closed with gates. When they were opened, they blew the shofar. In Elul we blow the shofar to let the world know, to let ourselves know, G-d is opening all the gates, G-d is re-opening all the gates. And we are saying "Appoint judges and officers in all your gates which G-d gave you.
אני לדודי ודודי לי
“I AM UNTO MY BELOVED AND MY BELOVED IS UNTO ME.” Song of Songs 6:3.
Reb Shlomo Slichot
THE KING IS IN THE FIELD
The holy Bal Shem Tov taught that during the month of Elul, the KING IS IN THE FIELD. Every one of us can approach Hashem, directly, informally. We don't need to pass through guarded gates and chambers of inquiry and examination, in order to get to the King. The King is in the field! When you approach "the King" in the field, you approach Hashem, as Hashem whom you, the real inner you, relates to.
Relationships [of all kinds] and behaviors are very much determined and affected by formality and structure [which to be sure are also very important]. However, during the month of Ellul, we are not approaching Hashem through the veils of formality, in which one can hide from one’s inner self. The palace, the guards, the entourage, the grandeur are not there to give definition to your belief in Hashem, and to your relationship with Hashem.
The King is completely approachable; you can discover what Hashem
really means to you, in your insides, in your ‘kishkes’. Hashem is in the field to meet you, the real you, to relate to you in the deepest way. He welcomes your greeting with a cheerful face. It is from this friendly deep encounter that you receive the encouragement and the strength, the arousal and the love to do the fixing of your inner-self.
Hashem comes out into the field and is so to speak letting us know "Rachmana leeba ba'ee"-- the compassionate One desires the heart! Hashem is longing for a deep personal and intimate connection with us.
What does it mean that Hashem is our King? What is the positive aspect of ‘kingship’? Unfortunately, because of a lengthy history of evil and abusive kings, many of us have a hard time with the title ‘king’.
Reb Shlomo zt”l explained: You know what a king is? You know what it means that Hashem is my King? . . . It means I am waiting every second for G-d to enlighten me. Nobody and nothing in the world can tell me what to do. After the king [Hashem] is appointed by choice, I can say, "Hashem Malkeinu, Hashem our King, I’m begging you, let Yiddishkeit shine so deep [into me] that I’m free to do what the depths of my heart wants." I stand before G-d and I say, "Ribbono Shel Olam, by my choice I want to be Your true servant."
In the glossary of Rav Steinsaltz’s “Opening the Tanya” it explains malkhut as follows: “Malkhut” (“kingship” or “the word of G-d in His kingship) The 10th and lowest of the sefirot. The sefirah of malkhut of Atzilut is the attribute by which G-d expresses and exercises His Kingship ovber the lower worlds.
Just as a Jewish king should be completely subservient to G-d, even as he riules over his subjects from a position of superiority, the attribute of malkhut of Atzilut is completely subservient to the higher sefirot, adding nothing of its own to the divine energy it receives from them. At the same time, when G-d uses the attribute of malkhut to give existence and life to the lower worlds of Beriah, Yetzirah and Asiyah, He maintains a “distance” from them, which allows the beings of the lower worlds to perceive their own existence as separate from G-d. (Rav Steinsaltz, Opening the Tanya, p.313-314)
When we say “Blessed are You Hashem our G-d, melech ha’olam - King of the universe” we recognize that it is this attribute of malkhut with which Hashem ‘distances’ Himself from us, that allows us to be the unique individuals that we are. In this way Hashem allows to grow and develop with free choice. With His Torah and mitzvot we have the opportunity to manifest ourselves to be the highest and most beautiful people that Hashem dreamt of, when He dreamt of us before Creation of the world
We are בני מלכים - the children of Hashem’s kingship; we too possess some degree of royalty and we too are expected to act with royalty. Just like Hashem believes in us and in our ability to manifest our beautiful highest selves; just like He focuses on the good in us, so too, as royalty, we are to look at the good in another, we are to help and encourage our brothers and sisters to achieve their best. And as Rebbe Nachman and the Rebbe zt”l taught this is achieved mostly by focusing on their good points. In this context take note of Shammai’s words in Pirkei Avot:
Shammai said: Set a fixed time for your study of Torah; say little and do much; and receive every person with a cheerful countenance. (Avot 1:15)
May we be blessed to exercise our royalty properly in the holiest of ways.
MAKING HASHEM THE REALITY OF YOUR LIFE
The command to appoint judges and officers applies to us both as a community and as individuals.
JUDGES AND OFFICERS, YOU SHALL APPOINT FOR YOURSELF, IN ALL YOUR GATES… (16:18)
The holy Yid from Pshischa asks, why does the Torah say "appoint for yourself, and why does say in all your gates? He explained with the teaching from the holy Zohar that says, every Jew must be a master of of accounting.
"appoint for yourself - Each night before going to sleep we are to do a personal accounting of all that we did during the day, the good and the bad. Before judging anyone else we need to judge our own selves. But when it comes to judging another, remember the teaching of Rabbi Yehoshua ben Prachya הוי דן את כל האדם לכף זכות - judge each person favorably [Pirkei Avot 1:6].
in all your gates - Evaluate yourself properly, regardless of whatever 'gate in life' you may be at. Do not use your 'gate' as an excuse for not living up to your highest self. Whatever station or gate i am at, that is exactly the place from which i need to proceed and go higher.
And should you be in a position of leadership and authority, large or small remember the following aphorism:
(קשוט עצמך ואחר כך קשוט אחרים (ב"ב ס:ב First adorn yourself and then adorn others --- before you rebuke anyone else, make sure that you take care of your own blemishes first.
The Baal Shem Tov interpreted this verse as follows: The ‘judges and officers’ refer to "Ahavah and Yirah" – love and fear of Hashem. ‘In all your gates’ refers to all your thoughts. I.e., appoint judges and officers to ensure that your thoughts are guided by your love and fear of Hashem.
[‘Sha-arecha’ is the Hebrew word for 'your gates’. ‘Shaar’ is a gate. ‘L-sha-eir’ also means to estimate and evaluate – hence ‘sha-arecha’ – your gates, is further extended to mean your thoughts and considerations.]
This then is the deeper meaning of the verse "Her husband is well-known at the gates, as he sits with the elders of the land." (Proverbs 31.) (found in the Eishet Chayil [Woman of Valor] song that we sing on Friday nights at the Shabbos table before Kiddush.) The "Woman of Valor" is 'knesses Yisrael' – the community of souls of Israel, and "Her husband" refers to Hakadosh Baruch Hu, The Holy One Blessed Be He; He is well-known at the gates, meaning that Hashem is recognizable in the way she- [the souls of Israel] evaluates and makes decisions. In all her decision making it is apparent that her vision of Hashem guides her footsteps. G-d is the evident reality in her life.
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MASTERING YOUR THOUGHTS
Rebbe Nachman zt"l taught the human mind is like a horse that moves in whichever direction you pull the reins. Often we think that we don’t have control over our thoughts, as if our minds have minds of their own. However, this is not so.
Learning to meditate is to learn how to master one’s thoughts – to think about what we want to think about and to think in ways that we want to think. Love and fear are the two primary motivators of all human behavior. Our thoughts can and should be determined by our love and fear of Hashem.
POLICE NOW AND THEN
Our holy Torah is eternal. That being true, we understand that when the Torah says, "Shoftim v'shotrim titein l'cha … appoint for yourselves judges and police officers" we will do so even after the arrival of Moshiach. The question is asked, why would we need "shotrim" – police officers, in the times of the ultimate redemption?
Reb Shlomo zt"l answered as follows: What's the difference between a police officer now and then? Today police officers look for the bad in people. If someone breaks the law, the police come after him. But in Moshiach's times we won't be committing crimes, so what will be the role of the police? Reb Shlomo explained that if a teacher will learn Torah with children and not show them the greatest of love; if friends will not be best friends, if parents won't be showing utmost love to their children, the the police will come and ask "what's wrong brother, how can we help you be your best?"
RESTORE OUR JUDGES
In the daily 'Amiddah' prayer which we recite three times a day, we ask of Hashem:
"Restore our judges as in former times, and our counselors as of yore; remove from us sorrow and sighing; and reign over us, You alone, O Lord, with kindness and compassion, with righteousness and justice. Blessed are You Hashem, King who loves righteousness and justice."
"Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel said: The world endures by virtue of three things- justice, truth and peace, as it is stated: "Administer truth and the judgment of peace in your gates."" (Zechariah 8:16)
We need real judges who are ready to guide us truthfully. We are full of sorrow and sighing. We read the newspapers and we sigh (sincerely? politely?) as another crime and another have been committed. We sigh (a sigh of relief) over small reductions in the crime rate, as if it is okay to live with a 'respectable' crime rate.
In a 'sicha'-talk that the Lubavitcher Rebbe gave in 1954 he admonished his Chassidim against having televisions in our homes. He warned against the corruption of our values that would be wrought upon us by TV and focusing on evil- by watching 'murders' and violence on the screen. Back then we were seduced into thinking that we must have televisions. Back then we watched Howdy Doody and Mickey Mouse, the News and Ed Sullivan; but what are we watching today? The Rebbe had great foresight, as we all now realize. And so . . .
APPOINT JUDGES FOR YOURSELF IN ALL YOUR GATES
“Judges and officers, you shall appoint for yourself, in all your gates, which Hashem your G-d is giving to you, for all your tribes, and they shall judge the people with righteous judgment. You shall not pervert judgment, you shall not recognize a face [in judgment], and you shall not accept a bribe, for the bribe will blind the eyes of the wise and make just words crooked." (Devarim - Deuteronomy 16:18-20)
Though these mitzvot pertain to the community and its judges, they also relate to each one of us individually for we are all judges. We discern and we judge. We support and we condemn. We judge ourselves, but mostly we judge others. It is a very human trait to discern and judge; indeed, our survival depends on our abilities to judge correctly and justly. Correct judgment is an essential skill for self-improvement.
However, we are generally poor judges. We are quite frail in our ability and resolve to stay far away from a lie and to pursue justice with justice. We are easily deceived; we bend the rules for ourselves and for those whom we recognize because we allow ourselves to be bribed, and when really corrupted, we even desire to be bribed. Bribes come in all sorts of forms and currencies; they can be vulgar or ever so subtle, physical, psychological and even spiritual.
The very same mitzvot that were given to the judges, also apply to each one of us personally. The Netivot Shalom (Devarim p. 99) brings us the following teaching from the holy gaon, Reb Chaim Vital z"l and from the holy Shal"a - The individual person is compared to a city with a number of 'gates' – passageways for information and emotions to enter and exit. There are the gates of seeing, the gates of hearing, the gates of breathingsmelling, the gate of speech and the gate of touch. Man has to appoint (make himself) a judge over all his affairs, and has to open his eyes to discern the truth. This is why the verse says, "appoint for yourself" in the singular, because the Torah is speaking to each individual of the Jewish people, instructing him/her to erect fences and appoint judges at all his/her gates.
It is taught in the holy books that each person has seven gates of the skull, two eyes, two ears, two nostrils and the mouth. Concerning this the Torah says: "Judges and officers you shall appoint for yourself in all your gates", meaning that a Jew should ‘raise’ all the gates of these limbs and organs, to utilize these faculties solely to serve Hashem alone, by appointing judges and officers for yourself.
Everyone knows that the judges at the ears are there to judge whether we should listen to everything that we hear. We have to be extremely careful not to listen to 'lashon hara' evil talk. We also understand the roles of the judges at the gates of vision and the judges at the gate of the mouth. But what about the judges at the gates of the nostrils, what is their task?
Reb Shlomo zt"l once said that just like with the physical sense of smell, you know what is "cooking" without being in the kitchen, likewise if you have a well-developed spiritual sense of smell, you can already sense the coming of Moshiach.
Then Reb Shlomo zt"l said a most amazing thing: he said that when he meets a fellow Jew who is not yet observing the mitzvot, he can already scent the beautiful fragrance of this person's first Shabbos. Gevalt! We mammash need to take some time to think about the depth of this teaching.
The role of the judges at the gates of the nostrils is to be cognizant of what you smell. Concerning one's self, and concerning others, are you smelling the past, the odor left behind by the wrongdoings? Or, do you smell the fragrance of their portion in the Garden of Eden? Sometimes, before committing a transgression, our sense of smell, which is the only sense that was not implicated in the eating from the Tree of Knowledge, warns us "this does not smell good." Smell, is a sensitive instrument that we have relegated to the physical domain, and have forgotten how to use it in the spiritual domain. We have to learn how to smell the good in ourselves and in others.
The nostrils are also associated with anger. חרון אף – ‘charon af’ is translated as ‘anger’, a deep anger which is usually followed by retribution of one sort or another. Literally, ‘charon af’ would translate as, ‘anger of the nose’.
Consider the Rambam’s statement in Hilchot Deyot 2:3, The early ‘chachamim’- sages, said, “whosoever gets angry, it is as if he is worshipping like those who worship the stars.” Consider that we do not say the same about telling a lie for example, or hurting someone or stealing. What is it about anger, that led the Rabbis to compare it to idolatry? Possibly its association with the nostrils, can explain this.
Anger manifests through the breath of the nostrils, the very organ through which Hashem breathes the soul of life into man, as it says “And He breathed into his nostrils רוח חיים the breath of life; and man became a living soul.” Unholy anger is a tragic abuse of the “breath of life”.
Know that there is a big difference between anger and righteous indignation. Anger, like all the other emotions, has both a positive and negative side. Anger is a very powerful energy, and when there is a need to call it up as righteous indignation that moves you to overcome evil and do good, then it is holy. However, anger at another because you feel that they didn’t give you proper respect, or because they didn’t agree with you or do as you wanted them to do, such anger is not only unholy, it is even considered idolatrous. It is all a question of how are you using the breath of life; are you appreciating life at each moment, are you appreciating its holiness? When necessary, call up your holy anger – righteous indignation, and act to make life good for the poor, for the abused, for example. Breath the gift of ‘life’ energetically and restore your family and your community to ‘good life’.
JUDGING OTHERS – WITHOUT ANGER
In a 'sicha' delivered on Rosh Chodesh Elul 5742, the Lubavitcher Rebbe zt"l addressed himself to the Rabbis who at this time of the summer are preparing their sermons for the High Holy Days. Rabbis want to raise the levels of commitment to Hashem and Torah among the members of their communities during these Days of Awe.
This they should do, but they should do so in correct and useful ways. Hence the Rebbe admonishes as follows:
Some [rabbis] make the mistake of thinking that since during the month of Elul we are getting ready for the Days Of Awe, it is appropriate to educate their congregants with anger. They think that their anger proves that they are truly devoted to the truth and that they are expressing the real truth. They scream at the people and are not afraid of offending them, because they believe that their words are completely true and sincere! Meanwhile inside himself he is proud of himself and his ability to 'tell them off', for he is an excellent orator.
To these Rabbis the Rebbe admonishes that they should remember the principle, "the words of the wise are heard with tranquility." Without serenity and tranquility, his words are not heard and the people will eventually leave him standing all alone on his pedestal. "Even if you are not a big 'chacham' [wise one], there is no need for you to announce it from the 'Bimah', [by screaming at the people] so that all should know that you are not included amongst those concerning whom it says: The words of the wise are heard with tranquility!" Furthermore, they [the rabbis who scream at their congregants] know of their own poor levels in serving Hashem, yet they permit themselves to angrily put the people down.
We learn that Hashem was displeased to hear Isaiah express himself negatively about his people and He immediately punished him for doing so. This teaching, that Hashem does not want to hear anyone talking badly about his people is true now just as it was then, for the Torah is eternal.
Most people experience a desire to rebuke and criticize others, from time to time. And they think that this desire arises from their love for their fellow man. Thus, says the Rebbe, we need to learn from Isaiah, who truly loved his people, the consequences of expressing oneself badly about Hashem's children. That Isaiah did so, though it truly was not according to his character and stature as a true prophet of Hashem, occurred so that we should learn from him how serious a wrongdoing it is.
Especially now that we find ourselves in the month of Elul, we must be very careful about how we speak about our fellow Jews, for these are 'the days of compassion'. It was during these days that Hashem, with a joyous and complete heart, accepted Moshe's prayers, that He return to us and bring us close to Him again.
This is the time of year that according to Halacha we already bless each other to be inscribed and sealed into a good and sweet year, whose goodness will be revealed and apparent. This is the time of year that everyone can approach the King for He is in the field. And the King greets all who approach Him with a gracious and loving countenance. Especially at this time of the year we should be pointing out all the good points in our fellow Jews.
If we must rebuke, then we should do so by pointing out the great benefit and advantage of doing the mitzvot. If we must tell our friends or our children to improve in their behavior and service of Hashem, we should do so by showing them how beautiful they are and can be, by doing that which is good and righteous.
The Rebbe Reb Zusha and the Rebbe Reb Elimelech zt"l, would rebuke those who needed to hear rebuke, by rebuking themselves. Reb Zusha would go near to the person and rebuke himself saying to himself, "Zusha nebech did such and such a sin..." and he would cry over it. In this way this fellow would also be aroused to do tshuvah. And should you ask, why would Reb Zusha rebuke himself, if he was not the one to have done the transgression? We have learned, if you see a fault in another, it is a reflection of yourself.
If you want to fulfill the mitzvah of rebuking your friend (Leviticus 19:18), you must do it according to the rules of the Shulchan Aruch, the Code of Jewish Law. Rebuke must be done privately between four eyes and spoken in a tranquil manner that will be accepted.
Instead of pointing out the bad that the person is doing, point out the great reward of doing the good. Encourage the person to conduct himself in a way that will bring great blessings upon him. And if you must mention the negative, says the Rebbe, do so very briefly, only alluding to it. Speak about the negative traits only if necessary, to emphasize the positive.
Do not mention the other person's weaknesses to them. The most effective way to bring about positive change in another is by focusing and building on the good that they already possess.
YOU SHALL NOT ACCEPT A BRIBE … For The Bribe Will Blind The Eyes Of The Wise And Will Make Just Words Crooked. [Alternatively– For the bribe will ... pervert the words of the just.] (16:19)
Reb Shlomo zt"l taught us in the name of the Ishbitzer, that as long as we are taking bribes, we are not capable of judging ourselves honestly. The only way that we can have true free choice, is by ensuring that we do not allow anything to bribe us. According to the Gemara (Ketubot 105a) the word "for" in this verse, is not to be understood as the 'reason' as to why it is wrong to take a bribe. Rather, the Torah is teaching us that it is impossible for a bribe not to pervert justice, " For The Bribe 'Will' Blind…"
Furthermore, the Torah is also forewarning any judges who may take a bribe, that they will not leave this world without suffering – even the wisest of judges will suffer blindness of the heart, even a judge who is [was] a complete tzaddik will suffer [some degree of] insanity.
To be bribed does not mean only that someone else comes along and entices you to go astray, or to pervert justice by offering you a bribe. As Reb Shlomo zt"l put it, "As long as you’re crazy about hot dogs, as long as you’re crazy about Acapulco, don’t tell me you’re [capable of] judging yourself [honestly]. "
YOU SHALL BE 'TAMIM' PERFECT WITH HASHEM YOUR G-D. (Devarim 18:13)
The Hebrew word Tamim means complete, whole, simple. To be Tamim with Hashem, Rashi explains, is to walk with Hashem wholeheartedly, constantly seeking to be close with Him, without questioning what will be tomorrow – rather you are simply and wholeheartedly receiving whatever is coming your way now. If you do this then you will "be with Hashem," and you will be His portion.
*Note the two readings of the verse:
a) Tamim teeheyeh im Hashem Elokecha
– Be whole/perfect with Hashem your G-d.
b) Tamim teeheyeh --- im Hashem Elokecha
– Be whole/perfect in your trust and acceptance
– then your portion will be with Hashem your G-d.
The holy Baal Shem Tov taught that whenever your love, fear joy or pleasure are aroused by external causes, be wise and realize that all these are messages from Hashem to arouse you to come closer to Him in love, fear and joy. By raising every experience, even the most distant ones, up to Hashem – think about the source of each experience – Hashem – in that way we can be whole/perfect with Hashem.
SOM TASIM ALECHA MELECH – APPOINTING HASHEM AS YOUR KING OVER YOURSELF
The Torah says "Som tasim alecha melech – appoint a king over yourself." (17:15)
The Alter Rebbe zt"l taught, the kavvanah-intention when enrobing ourselves in the Tallis, is the aspect of "Som tasim alecha melech – appoint a king over yourself," – to appoint Hashem as your King over yourself.
The Sfas Emes  explains: Having a human king is actually shameful. The prophet Samuel admonished the people “But Hashem is your King!” when they asked to have a human king. That being so, we wonder why is there a mitzvah in the Torah to appoint a king?
If the people would have had ‘yirat Hashem’- fear of Hashem, they would not have needed a king. When there is insufficient fear of Hashem, there is need for a ‘king’ [government] that will inspire fear. For as the Mishna [Avot 3:2] states, “If not for the fear of the kingship, one man would swallow another alive.”
The point of kingship and government is to inspire fear. But the fear they inspire is only fear of retribution. Fear of Hashem is much higher and deeper than that. Honest and real kingship inspires us to be in awe of Hashem and to come closer to Him.
A real king who meets the criteria of the Torah is always in a state of fear and awe of Hashem. He is always conscious of Hashem. Through him, his people are also inspired to raise their fear of retribution to the awe of being conscious of Hashem and bonding with Him.
The Children of Israel are called ‘b’nai melachim’- the children of Kings. This means that every Jew has the capability and needs to attain exalted fear and awe of Hashem, to such an extent that others will be inspired to fear and come closer to Hashem.
And so it is shameful when we have fallen so low that we need the fear of kings and governments and even of their ministers to inspire us to fear Hashem. But when we need it, we need it; and so Hashem gave us the mitzvah of appointing a king.
May we all be mindful of this mitzvah on the highest levels. Let us never misuse or abuse our kingship.
Psalm 27 Ori vYishi
Hashem Is My Light My Salvation, The Stronghold of My Life
As mentioned above, it is customary to recite and meditate on Psalm 27 twice a day from the beginning of Elul until Hoshana Rabba, the last day of Sukkot. I was fortunate this week to learn the following teaching from the Lubavitcher Rebbe zt"l on the opening verse of this Psalm 27 תְּהִלִּים.
א לְדָוִד: ה', אוֹרִי וְיִשְׁעִי--מִמִּי אִירָא; ה' מָעוֹז-חַיַּי, מִמִּי אֶפְחָד.
1 [A Psalm] of David. Hashem ismy light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?
Hashem is the source of my life-strength; of whom shall I be afraid?
King David, the Talmud tells us, would arise at midnight and pray to Hashem. That is when he composed the Psalms. Reb Shlomo zt"l once told us that the reason our prayers consist mostly of his Psalms is because before praying, King David prayed that he should 'hear' and 'feel' the prayers that were in the hearts of all his brothers and sisters. He also prayed that he should 'hear' Hashem's prayers. And then he composed the Psalms, which actually consist of the heartfelt prayers of all of Israel.
In this opening verse we find three descriptions of the help that Hashem provides man in his service: "my light", "my salvation", and "the source of my life-strength." We absolutely need these three types of help, says the Rebbe, in serving Hashem. We need Hashem to help us make the right choices in life, to overcome the obstacles that we will face along the way and to give us the necessary strength to keep on moving forward.
"Hashem is my light" – we need Hashem to enlighten us so that we can make the right choices. Making the right choices is not always a simple matter. In fact the more important the decision, the more difficult it likely will be to make the correct choice. And so we pray to Hashem for His light.
"Hashem is my salvation" – we need Hashem to give us the strength to overcome all the obstacles that we will encounter along our journey. Even after we make the right choices and we know in which direction to go, the journey is fraught with obstacles. Just because you make a good decision, it doesn't mean that the 'yetzer hara' gives up on his task to derail you. One thing is sure, expect obstacles. If you don't encounter any obstacles, it may be that you aren't doing anything that is really important.
Pray for Hashem's salvation, to give you strength, to keep your heart open and to realize that the obstacles are there only to make you go higher. Stop for a moment and concentrate on שויתי ה' לנגדי תמיד - "Shiviti Hashem l'negdi tamid- I place Hashem before me, at all times." (Psalm 16) This meditation will/should give you the strength to rise above the obstacles that are both in 'front' of you and 'behind' you.
"Hashem is the stronghold of my life" The third thing we need to proceed further in serving Hashem, is the strength to continue moving forward- not to stop at any point and say I've gone far enough. If a person 'stops growing', stops moving forward and higher, he is setting limits on his connection with the Ein Sof Baruch Hu- the Infinite One, blessed be He.
SHUVAH—RETURNING - THE TSHUVAH OF THE MONTH OF ELUL
There are many aspects in the process of doing Tshuvah, and our learning today will touch on some of these.
Tshuvah means to return, to return to your source, to your mission and purpose. And it is to be done with Joy. Like one who has gone astray and lost his way, wandering about trying to find his way back home, to the home of his soul. When he will finally finds his way back home he is filled with joy. True, he has to clean himself up and discard the many blemishes, which he picked up along the way; this too is a very integral part of doing Tshuvah, but ultimately there is great joy in returning home!
The Lubavitcher Rebbe zt"l says that the very fact that we can do tshuvah and that Hashem accepts our tshuvah – that itself is the source of joy. When one sincerely regrets his wrongdoings he will truly experience joy in knowing that he can do tshuvah and that Hashem makes it possible for us to turn our willful transgressions into merits. The days of Elul are 'days of compassion' – don't forget the joy!
THE NESHAMAH… IS PURE
But is it really true that we can do Tshuvah? Yes, it's true. But, after so much evil- how can it be?
Every morning we declare that our souls are pure in the following blessing which we recite every morning:
"My G-d, the soul which You have given within me is pure. You have created it, You have formed it, You have breathed it into me, and You preserve it within me. You will eventually take it from me, and restore it within me in Time to Come. So long as the soul is within me, I offer thanks to You, Lord my G-d and G-d of my fathers, Master of all works, Lord of all souls.Blessed are You, who restores souls to dead bodies.
How can I say every morning that my soul is pure, knowing what I did yesterday? The Kaballah explains that there are five levels of the soul. Working our way upwards they are:
Nefesh- the aspect of soul which animates the body;
Ruach- the aspect that relates to emotions;
Neshamah- the aspect of consciousness;
Chayah- the aspect of life source; and finally
Yechidah- the part of the soul which is constantly in union with Hashem
Normally, only the three lower levels of the soul, Nefesh, Ruach and Neshamah manifest in This World. Chayah and Yechidah, the upper levels of the soul do not manifest in this world. On rare occasions, Chayah does manifest here.
When we say "... it is pure", this refers to the Yechidah of our souls, the aspect of our souls which cannot be blemished by our wrongdoings. The Yechidah of the soul is beyond this world and so it cannot be affected by the world. In doing Tshuvah we return and reconnect to that place within our souls where we are always pure . It is from that place that we derive the strength to mend our ways and restore our souls completely.
‘FIXING’ OUR SUBCONSCIOUS
Reb Shlomo zt"l taught: The month of Elul, according to Sefer Yetzirah, is associated with the left hand and also with the letter "yud". In a Torah teaching delivered, in 1990, Reb Shlomo, zt"l explained that the left hand and the letter "yud" signify that during the month of Elul, we are ‘fixing’ our subconscious.
On Yom Kippur, we were asking Hashem to forgive us for the sins that we committed on a conscious level. But then when the end of the year comes around, we realize that though we may have succeeded in fixing our external behaviors, there is still much work to be done on the 'in-side' of our selves. We continuously need to work at getting the Torah and mitzvot to reach us deeper and deeper inside.
As long as we still have anger inside, within our subconscious selves, as long as we still have to deal with jealousy and attachment to physical pleasure, the Torah and the mitzvot have not yet reached the depths of our being. For example, it is easier to stop eating non-kosher foods, than to stop having negative thoughts about yourself and others.
The letter "yud" is the smallest letter and it is a part of every letter, for as soon as you put the quill to the parchment, you have already written a "yud". The letter "yud" represents the innermost point – your innermost point of being a "yid".
The left hand represents your subconscious actions. In the month of Elul, we are able to access the energy needed for doing the inner work which needs to get done before the year ends. The 'work' which we tried to accomplish on Yom Kippur – the tshuvah done on a conscious level, needs to become real on the subconscious level. This is the spiritual task that we need to complete before the year is over.
"Sure, you can modify your external behaviors from time to time, but it won't last! Because inside you are still the same and you'll never really change!" So goes the ongoing claim of the Evil Inclination. Sometimes we even believe him a bit. Most of the world does not share in this belief that we can actually accomplish deep change.
The Torah teaches us that that we really do have free choice. Hashem liberated us from our bondage in Mitzrayim; He liberated us from our 'meitzarim'- from our narrows. Consequently we are responsible for our actions.
The 'yetzer hara' tries to prove his point that we do not really have free choice by arguing that we find ourselves repeating the very same behaviors again and again, no matter how many times we have repented over them and promised G-d that we would not do these things any more. That was Cain's argument when he said "am I my brother's keeper?" If You Hashem did not want me to murder, why didn't You prevent me from doing so? Why did You create me to be a jealous and angry person? And Hashem's response is- you are responsible for what you do.
Hashem created the 'yetzer hara', not to lead us astray, but so that we should serve Him out of free choice. If Hashem would have wanted us to serve Him as angels, then we would have been created as angels The Torah teaches us that the 'logic' of the 'yetzer hara' is not the truth. He and his arguments exist only to afford us free choice.
In the month of Elul we are given strength to go beyond the worldly logic of the 'yetzer hara'; when the King is in the field, we are given strength to do more than just make temporary changes in our external behaviors- we are given the strength to reach deep within and make real changes in the depths of our beings.
Reb Sholom Ber of Lubavitch, the fifth Lubavitcher Rebbe, went to see a doctor in Vienna. The doctor noticed that the Rebbe was very weak and tired. Wanting to know why he was so weak, he asked the Rebbe what he does for a living. The Rebbe replied that he builds bridges. The doctor was very surprised at this answer; the Rebbe was frail and didn't have the body or look of a construction worker!
He asked the Rebbe, "So please tell me, what kind of bridges do you build"?
To this the Rebbe replied: "I build bridges between the mind and the heart." The doctor who was intrigued by this answer further asked: "Is it really possible to do that"? The Rebbe replied: "Now you can understand why I am so tired."
So what is different about Elul that enables us to really do this inner work?
THE LAWS OF EGLAH ARUFAH - THE TORAH OF THE VICTIM
"If one be found slain in the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee to possess it, lying in the field, and it be not known who hath slain him: Then thy elders and thy judges shall come forth, and they shall measure unto the cities which are round about him that is slain: And it shall be, that the city which is next unto the slain man, even the elders of that city shall take an heifer, which hath not been wrought with, and which hath not drawn in the yoke; And the elders of that city shall bring down the heifer unto a rough valley, which is neither eared nor sown, and shall strike off the heifer's neck there in the valley: And the priests the sons of Levi shall come near; for them the LORD thy God hath chosen to minister unto him, and to bless in the name of the LORD; and by their word shall every controversy and every stroke be tried:
And all the elders of that city, that are next unto the slain man, shall wash their hands over the heifer that is beheaded in the valley: And they shall answer and say, Our hands have not shed this blood, neither have our eyes seen it. Be merciful, O LORD, unto thy people Israel, whom thou hast redeemed, and lay not innocent blood unto thy people of Israel's charge. And the blood shall be forgiven them." (Chapter 21:1-8)
The laws of Eglah Arufah pertain to dealing with the 'victims' of society, of life. If a corpse were to found in the field, somewhere between two cities and no one knows who committed the crime, then the people of the city closest to the corpse are obligated to take responsibility for what happened.
According to the Talmud, this person was not necessarily murdered as we see from the following Mishanah:
MISHNAH. …. THE ELDERS OF THAT CITY THEN WASH THEIR HANDS WITH WATER … AND DECLARE, OUR HANDS HAVE NOT SHED THIS BLOOD, NEITHER HAVE OUR EYES SEEN IT. BUT CAN IT ENTER OUR MINDS THAT THE ELDERS OF A COURT OF JUSTICE ARE SHEDDERS OF BLOOD! [THE MEANING OF THEIR STATEMENT IS], HOWEVER, [THE MAN FOUND DEAD] DID NOT COME TO US [FOR HELP] AND WE DISMISSED HIM WITHOUT SUPPLYING HIM WITH FOOD, WE DID NOT SEE HIM AND LET HIM GO WITHOUT ESCORT.
Thus the dead person may have died of starvation. How so? He is a poor beggar and he left from one city to go to the next one and along the way he died of hunger. Why? Because they inhabitants did not make sure that he had at least enough food for two meals before he set out on the road.
Even more surprisingly – the dead person may have died simply because he was allowed to leave the city without escort. Even for this the Torah holds the community responsible!
THE IMPORTANCE OF ESCORTING THE GUEST
The following selection of quotes from the Talmud, reveal the great importance of escorting your guests and companions. Basically we learn from all of these teachings that our fields of responsibility extend far beyond our bodies. There is a certain mystical aspect to these laws in that by escorting your guests a minimum of four cubits, you are providing them with a significant measure of protection, so much so that if you don't do so, it is considered as if you shed blood, heaven forefend.
"It has been taught: R. Meir used to say: We may compel a person to escort [a traveller], because the reward for escorting is limitless!"
"R. Joshua b. Levi said: Whoever is on a journey and has no escort should occupy [his mind] with Torah."
"Rab Judah said in the name of Rab: Whoever accompanies his neighbour four cubits in a city will come to no harm [when on a journey]. Rabina accompanied Raba b. Isaac four cubits in a city; danger threatened him but he was saved."
"R. Johanan said in the name of R. Meir: Whoever does not escort others or allow himself to be escorted is as though he sheds blood."
Even though no single individual might be responsible for this person's death, the Torah nevertheless holds the community as a whole responsible. The elders of the community must therefore do the ceremony of Eglah Arufah on behalf of the community to cleanse and atone for the tragedy.
Now the question is raised, if the Torah is holds the community responsible for the death of this poor man, how then can its leaders declare - "our hands did not shed this blood"? The answer is that they can only say this once they have ensured that such a tragedy will not occur again in their midst, by ensuring that the poor and the wayfarers will be sufficiently provided for with food and escort. Once they do that they can say "our hands – the hands of ours today, are no longer the same hands of yesterday – did not shed this blood." "Our eyes – the ones we 'did not see with' yesterday – are no longer the same eyes – with our new eyes we see, we see the plight of our brethren!
Thus the Torah in the parsha of Eglah Arufah teaches us that society needs to take responsibility for its victims, and when a tragedy does occur, heaven forefend, the leaders have to make the necessary changes in their communities to ensure that such things will not happen again. The entire community has to do Tshuvah – to the point that they can proclaim – "our hands did not shed this blood."