Elul | Rabbi Pinchos Doppelt

The Seforim teach that if we want to know what our Avoda is for Chodesh Elul we should look at the רמזים brought down for Elul. Let’s discuss the famous one of אני לדודי ודודי לי.

Within this oneרמז there are different approaches that we can derive. I would like to relate this to an idea which Rav Avigdor Miller expounds on and connect it to our Avoda of Elul, B’ezras Hashem.

Rav Avigdor discusses the concept of וכל מעשך יהיו לשם שמים. This is actually a full סימן in the שולחן ערוך. I would like to say that this can also be alluded to in the words אני לדודי. In other words, in all my actions I am constantly thinking of Hashem. This is the concept of וכל מעשך יהיו לשם שמים.

Rav Avigdor Miller Zt’l bemoans the fact that people do not keep this in practice, as this is so easy. It’s not like you have to change your life. On the contrary, eat and enjoy your food. Just add on to your action that you are doing it for your Avodas Hashem.

Whether it’s when you are eating or going to sleep or shopping or any other activity, everything boils down to Avodas Hashem, and those few words of Kavana will go a long way in this world and the next, as well.

Rav Avigdor Miller pleads with us and reasons as follows. “You are eating and drinking anyway. You are going to daven to learn or even walk for exercise anyway, so why not do it right? You are dancing by a wedding, so why not give it some thought, and your life in this world and the next will be enhanced?”

We can explain this with a Mashal. Imagine a the exclusive handyman of a certain billionaire. Every few weeks he comes to collect his paycheck. After many years of working for this wealthy man, the handyman chooses to retire, as his hands are not steady anymore.

The rich man meets the handyman and tells the handyman that he has a confession to make. He continues, “Now that you are quitting, I can tell you something that you might not want to hear.

“You should know that I am a man to whom mannerisms are a top priority. At the same time, I am a man of great means and I am a very generous person. You should realize that whenever you picked up your check, had you thanked me profusely with a smile, I would have given you a generous bonus, but you didn’t. You looked at your check with a mere nod, and as a result, you lost out big time.”

Can we imagine how this handyman feels at that moment? The shame and agmas nefesh that he feels is indescribable. This is just a tiny perspective of what we will feel if we don’t add in these simple but profound words that we are doing our actions לשם שמים.

The question is: If it’s so easy why don’t we do it? What are the obstacles that are holding us back? As Yidden, we generally don’t let opportunities just pass, especially if they are not difficult. Let’s explore.

Obviously, every person should make their own חשבון הנפש and search their subconscious thoughts to understand what’s holding them back from such a fundamental and yet relatively easy addition to our life.

Let me offer two insights which can help many of us understand the obstacles holding us back so that we can go to war against them in order to take advantage of this tremendous opportunity that runs after us all day and every day.

Let me begin with a question that someone asked the Kotzker (or one of the Gerer Rebbes). He asked the Rebbe, “What should I have in mind when I am eating?” The Rebbe responded sharply, “That you are eating”.

The explanation to this is that one who doesn’t realize that he is eating is almost like an animal. A person needs to be cognizant that he is eating, as opposed to be immersed in the food. It can be as if he doesn’t exist at the time that he is eating. As the saying goes ״ווען איך עס איז אלץ געשטארבען”.

I once heard from Reb Fischel Schachter [I assume it’s a Mashal] that one time the horses of the Baal Shem Tov were flying and they started getting haughty. One horse tells the other one, “We are better than all the other horses because we can fly.” The other horse said, “We are even better than humans because they can’t fly.” The third horse said, “We are like angels.”

A few minutes later the horses landed and the coachman brought out some hay for the starving horses. As soon as the horses saw the hay they pounced into it. One of the horses, with the hay all over his face, turns to his friend and acknowledges, “I guess we are plain horses after all”.

Therefore, before we can make our actions to be לשם שמים, we need to be mindful of what we are doing. If we just do things like a robot without any thought, how can we go to the next level?

So what can we do to start being mindful while we are involved in our affairs? The simple answer is to exercise, one step at a time. Let’s start right now.

For example, set an alarm at a specific time of the day and for five to ten minutes think about the action that you are performing at that moment in time. For example, during lunchtime, when you eat, be mindful that you are eating. When you sit down, be cognizant that you are sitting down. When you rise from your seat, be mindful that you are standing up. When you say something, be mindful that you are speaking, and when you are driving a car you will be cognizant that you are driving a car, and so on.

After a few days you can add more time to your exercise. Then after a little while and you feel like you are starting to be conscious of your actions, then you are ready for the next level. That is to bring Hashem into your actions – וכל מעשך יהיו לשם שמים..

However, there is another obstacle which make it difficult for our actions to be לשם שמים. This occurs mainly in our sub consciousness [which is where most of our thoughts and actions come from] mind. Let me explain.

The Navi relates the story that occurred when Dovid Hamelech was on the run from Shaul Hamelech. שמעי בן גרא cursed Dovid Hamelech with terrible words. When Dovid was on his deathbed he commanded his son Shlomo to kill שמעי בן גרא. However, Dovid told Shlomo to kill שמעי בן גרא with his wisdom [which is a discussion on its own].

Shlomo Hamelech told שמעי בן גרא that he is not allowed to leave ירושלים. He was told that if he leaves, he will be put to death. Surprisingly, שמעי בן גרא ended up leaving and he was put to death.

Reb Chaim Shmulevitz asks the obvious question. There are Yerushalmi Yidden who never left Yerushalayim all their life. So what was burning inside שמעי בן גרא that he felt the need to leave ירושלים? Moreover he was probably an old man by then, so why couldn’t he control himself for another couple of years?

So Reb Chaim says that this was the wisdom of Shlomo. He understood human nature very well. It’s one thing if I choose to stay in ירושלים for life, but for someone to restrict me from leaving ירושלים with a mandate, makes it difficult.

When someone does an action, one enjoys it on two levels. The first enjoyment is derived from the action itself, eg. eating or any other action from which one benefits. The second enjoyment one has is that he had a ratzon, a desire to do something, and his desire came to fruition.

Now, if one would be doing something because this is what Hashem wants, then the satisfaction of doing his own desire would be lacking. Therefore, if we do something because this what Hashem wants this is transcending our nature.

Some explain that this was Avraham Avinu’s first test of לך לך. Rashi brings down from Chazal that Hashem told Avraham that by leaving you will get fame, children and blessings. Everyone asks if that was the case, why was it a test? One answer that’s given is precisely in line with what we are saying. Avraham went for his own benefit only because this was what Hashem wanted.

Hashem wants us to enjoy ourselves, and we should enjoy ourselves. The ultimate is when we enjoy ourselves because this is what Hashem wants, and not because this is what we want. In essence, this is the Avoda of Shabbos to eat and enjoy L’kavod Shabbos.

So how do we grow in this area? It’s a big discussion which is beyond the scope of this paper. However, I will give an עצה that we can do all year around, but especially in the month of Elul. Ask yourself this question a few times a day. “What does Hashem want from me now”? Or “What can I do now to bring a Nachas ruach to Hashem? Or when you come across a challenge say these words “I am being מבטל my will to the will of Hashem.”

Let me conclude with the following thought in regards to this Elul תשפ״ג. Reb Yisroel Salanter would say, “In essence the whole year should be Elul. If not, at least Elul should be Elul”. In other words, Teshuva and חשבון הנפש is not limited to Elul. However, if one slept through the year, at least he should wake up for Elul–עורו ישנים משינתכם.

In a similar vein, we have gone through three years of constant turbulence in the world. Whether it was natural disasters, epidemics, violence and the tremendous wars that were [and are] fought is staggering, especially the growing nuclear threat R”l. How many Gedolim have left us in the past three years? However, the Yetzer hara has his ways to distract us from seeing the messages r’l.

Now we are standing at the last month of מוצאי שביעית which Chazal told us במוצאי שביעית בן דוד בא. As we mentioned, we are standing at a time that the stage is set as the entire world is in turmoil. We know that that Hashem wants to bring the Geula. Therefore, we cannot ח״ו let this tremendous עת רצון just slip away.

What we need to do this Elul is to give it all we got full of love and mesiras nefesh for Hashem. Whether it’s Shemiras eineyim, Shemiras halashon and Shmiras Shabbos with mesiras nefesh or learning Torah with התמדה and רציפות. Whether it’s davening with our heart and soul or working heavily on Emuna and Bitachon. Giving צדקה with our heart and with a good word is with more than gold. We should certainly add on to our learning mussar as much as possible.

Last but not least, let us bring Hashem into our lives. How? As discussed earlier, וכל מעשך יהיו לשם שמים. When we work on being mindful with our actions and subjugating our will to the will of Hashem and bring Hashem into our life, as we explained, this will transform our life in this world and the next, as Rav Avigdor Miller says.

Furthermore, by yearning to reconnect with Hashem once again with Moshiach is also a tremendous expression of love and devotion. We are waiting for the time that Hashem’s name will be exalted in the world and the Jewish nation will be restored to its glory. Get involved.

May we be Zoche that in the merit that we strengthen ourselves this Elul like never before, we should be zoche to hear the Shofar of Rosh Hashanah this year תשפד on the first day of Rosh Hashana which comes out on Shabbos. The תקיעות will be blown in the Bais Hamikdash השלישית. Who will be the בעל תוקע and the מקרא we will hopefully find out very soon, Amen.

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