The Scent of Elul – Parshat Re’eh by Rabbi Zalman Lent

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“Though summer still lingered and the days were 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 …” – Likkutei Dibburim

 These words were written about a small Jewish community in White 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 Days of Awe – Rosh Hashana through to 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. They worked to remove any blemishes and unsightly stains from the pure whiteness of the neshama (soul). 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 always “bright and sunny,” but the scent of Elul blows through regardless. We have four weeks left 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 study, Avodah (Service of G-d), and Gemillut Chasadim (Acts of Kindness) – by increasing in study, prayer and charity, and by standing together in friendship and harmony. Let us forget old grudges and farribles, 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 by G-d 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, there is an illustration of this principle: The Torah reading about the Festivals lists eight types of people who need to rejoice on the Festivals, when two or three should have been ample. The Midrash (quoted by Rashi on the verse) explains this apparent redundancy by telling us that these eight people are actually two sets of four. One set is made up of family members and employees, the second set is made up of the Levites and the less fortunate – strangers, widows and orphans. Thus what the Torah is actually intimating here is this principle of “midah ke’neged midah;” G-d says, “If you help My four rejoice on the festival (the Levites and the less fortunate), I will help your four (your family and employees). If you gladden the hearts of the lonely and needy I will gladden the hearts of your household.”

So let’s try this month to clear the slate and start afresh and hope that in turn G-d will do the same for us –“midah ke’neged midah,” and bless us with all that we need, in good health and happiness. Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Zalman Lent


Rabbi Zalman Lent is a Community Rabbi in Dublin and director of Chabad of Ireland.


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