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Shoftim: Elul Whispers

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As we enter the new lunar month of Elul – the month of love and compassion – it is a bit difficult to feel beauty and hope.

No doubt, there is much beauty in the world. Humans continue to demonstrate noble acts of gallantry. In many little corners of the globe unsung heroes shine and illuminate their environments.

But collectively we are living in very troubled times. A deep cloud of fear and uncertainty hangs over the globe – not only for millions of people in the Middle East, but for populations in virtually every hemisphere. The toxic air can ignite a new attack at any moment, in any place. No one knows when and where the next crisis will strike. Iraq’s growing toll of deaths is a daily reminder of the upheaval around us. Iran is rattling its saber with its nuclear plans, the Muslim world is seething, Israel is surrounded by enemies, every airport is on alert – affecting millions of daily travelers. “Are we about to enter World War III”? is the question on people’s minds.

The compassionate power of Elul seems very distant.

But what else is new? Elul was never an easy process. The source of this month’s history and power goes back 3318 years ago, and tells the entire story:

Moses climbs Mount Sinai to receive the Torah. After 40 days Moses returns, only to find that the Jewish people defied G-d by building the Golden Calf. Moses breaks the tablets and returns to Sinai to pray that G-d pardon the people for their grave betrayal. He spends another 40 days on Sinai and his efforts are unsuccessful. But Moses does not give up. Determined, he climbs the mountain for a third time and pleads another 40 days. This time Moses is successful. He elicits not merely Divine forgiveness, but a newfound depth, a more intense dimension in the relationship between G-d and the people.

To Moses’ entreaty, G-d responds with an unprecedented gift: He reveals His Thirteen Attributes of Compassion—thirteen secrets of G-d’s “personality” that carry the mysteries of life and the power to repair whatever is broken.

This third period of 40 days began on the first day of the month of Elul and concluded on Yom Kippur. Elul is therefore a potent month filled with the power of hope, love and reconciliation. The mystics tell us that the Thirteen Divine Attributes of Compassion radiate during the month of Elul, when we relive Moses’ experience.

By way of analogy, the Alter Rebbe explains, that in the month of Elul “the King is in the field.” The king had been traveling; he had left his palace and gone to a far off land outside his kingdom. And now he is on his way home. He is about to enter his palace (on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur) and he stands outside in the field greeting his people. When the king is in the field every person has the opportunity, without petitioning for an audience, to greet him and ask for whatever he or she needs. The king is smiling, he is in his informal mode, and he is predisposed to grant all requests.

All year round there are many layers that conceal G-d’s presence, that shroud your own essence from yourself; there is a split between your inner self and your outer self—who you truly are and what you do, your spirit and your activities. In Elul many of these layers are stripped. You can access, if you wish, your true self, since it is part of the higher reality and the essence of all of existence called G-d.

Elul is not a simple month. It is a complex period in time when we have the power to find hope even after loss, to discover love even after betrayal and to rebuild even after we have destroyed. All people make mistakes. The question is whether we repeat them and whether we repair them. A trusting, loving relationship is built not on perfection but on accountability. In Elul we can correct our errors and reclaim our true legacy.

Elul’s message is relevant today more than ever.

As a frightened world, fearful of an ominous future, enters the compassionate month of Elul, is there any more appropriate message? There is much to fear. Many mistakes have been made. The future seems uncertain. But Moses – the one and only Moses – blazed a new path: The road to hope.

The month of Elul, which begins today – and the ensuing 40 days concluding with Yom Kippur – gives us the power to begin anew, to learn from the past, to dig deeper and come up with new reservoirs of clarity and strength.

Ahh, Moses. He paved new paths, tread new roads, opened new doors, pioneered new possibilities. All for whom? For… us.

Elul awakens our inner faith, hope and belief in a better future. We may not have an exact strategy, but if we assume a resigned attitude, we will lose even before we begin. Every challenge, every war must begin with absolute fortitude and belief in victory. Faith that we will prevail. Thus it was 3318 years ago, and many times after that, and thus it will be.

The gusts of Elul have the power to counter the winds of war. So open your window, breath the fresh air, smell the flowers and feel the hopeful breeze waft through your life.

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60 Day Journey

Each daily posting contains an inspirational thought and a practical exercise for the day -- excerpted from 60 Days: A Spiritual Guide to the High Holidays.

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