Parshat Re’eh (5770) – The Scent of Elul

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“Though summer still lingered and the day was bright and sunny, change was in the air. One could already smell the scent of Elul; a wind of teshuva was blowing.  Everyone grew more serious, more thoughtful… All awaited the call of the shofar, the first blast that would announce the opening of the gates of the month of mercy….”

These words are written about a small Jewish community in Russia, a hundred years ago. And this same “scent” of Elul permeated communities across the Jewish world, as they readied themselves for the High Holy days. Gone were the frivolities of everyday life. Now every day was a countdown to the Day of Judgement – Yom Kippur.

And just as before Pesach every man, woman and child was roped in to clean and dust and rid the house of chametz, so too in the month of  Elul every member of the Jewish community began to spring clean their souls. To remove any blemishes, and unsightly stains from the pure whiteness of the neshama. Grudges were forgiven, sins were atoned for, and enemies became friends. Prayers were said with more meaning, and debts were repaid. Whoever heard the daily sounding of the shofar throughout this month felt obligated to take stock, and to do an inventory of good and bad deeds over the past year.

Here in Dublin, maybe the summer days are not bright and sunny, but the scent of Elul blows through regardless. We have four weeks from Rosh Chodesh to prepare for Rosh Hashana, time in which we can endeavour to clear spiritual debts, and build up our credits. Then we can stand up on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur and, knowing that we have done our part, we can ask G-d for all the blessings we need for ourselves and our families.

So let us spend this month strengthening the three pillars of Judaism: Torah,  Service of G-d, and Acts of  Kindness — by increasing in study, prayer and charity, and by standing together in friendship and harmony. Let us forget old grudges and ferribles, and start a clean slate, so that when it is our turn to stand and be judged for our actions over the past year we also are judged with a clean slate.

This is referred to as “midah ke’neged midah – measure for measure.” If we forgive the sins of others, G-d will forgive our own sins.  If we care for others,  G-d cares for us. In a very beautiful Midrash on this week’s parsha, a reason is given for the Torah listing eight types of people who need to rejoice on the Festivals, when two or three would have been ample. The Midrash tells us that they are actually two sets of four, one group of four being a person’s household members and one group of four being the impoverished or needy – including the widow and the orphan. What G-d is telling us here is “midah ke’neged midah,” if you help MY four rejoice on the festival, I will help your four – you gladden the hearts of the lonely and needy and I will gladden the hearts of your household.

So this month let us clear the slate and start afresh and we can be sure that in turn G-d will do the same for us – “midah ke’neged midah,” and bless us with all that we need.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Zalman Lent


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