In this month of Elul, preceding the awesome days of Rosh Hashanah, the chorus of a favorite Yiddish song we used to sing in yeshiva sticks in my mind.
“Esen est zich. Trinkin trinkt zich. Vos zol men tuhn az es davent zich nisht?”
It is a lament with an introspective melody, which loosely translates as follows: “Somehow eating and drinking are always easy. But prayer? Meditation? Focusing on that which is deeper and more meaningful? For some reason I have trouble…”
The world goes round but not much seems to have changed. You may agree: Eating, sleeping, worrying, and all the other material pursuits of life seem to come so naturally. The gravitational pull of everyday life sucks away our spiritual energy. Life seems to be a constant merry-go-round with constant tension between our ideals and the mundane. It is a veritable war between matter and spirit, between body and soul.
And that is why we have Elul. Elul is a refuge in time. This brief, yet intense 29 days that lead up to the holy days affords us the opportunity to pause and realign. A time for self evaluation, mature reflection, and a moment to take a step closer and to connect.
Every year at the outset to this month we read the portion of Ki Teitzei. The Torah portion begins with the words “Ki teitzei lamilchama al oveicha,” usually translated as “When you go out to war with your enemy.” But a more precise rendering of the words is “when you go to war over and above your enemy.”
It is with these words that the Torah asks us to listen and learn about the battle we call life. Embedded in the fierce narrative and law of war we are given a personal story of strength and vision. Yes, life is a battle and certainly there is struggle, failure, disconnection, and even “sin.” However one has to enter the battle with the knowledge that firstly, “Ki teitzei”; you are being “sent”. You have a purpose, you have a place, and you have a mission. “I,” God tells us, have sent you for a reason and “I” have given you the tools and the alignment to fulfill that purpose. In the battle field called life, in your internal warfare you are truly “Al oyvecha, on and above your enemy.”
Remember, the Torah tells us: At the essence of who we are there is a soul so pure and good that no enemy can tarnish it. There are no true threats or rival to the indomitable spirit. Our job is to access and exercise this core and reveal a world of only good.
The radiant glow of divine love in Elul elevates us to a place where the typical struggle between body and soul, spirit and matter can be transcended. Elul is the time to sing and not lament. It is the time to pause and realign as we joyfully follow God’s lead back to the Royal Place where we stand on the High Holy Days and declare God’s sovereignty over the world.
Assume the authority and boldness which God gives you. Try it. It really works.
May God bless us and all people for a good and sweet year when we will truly know peace from all our enemies both within and without with the coming of Moshiach. Amen.