And like a good neighbor...

Thursday, 8 September, 2016 - 1:19 pm

Our sages relate that the word Elul can be seen as an acrostic within many Torah passages. Perhaps the most famous is Ani L’dodi V’dodi Li (I am to my beloved and my beloved is to me). Some lesser known Elul acronyms are cited in the 17th century mystical work, Megaleh Amukot. One of them is Oy L’rasha V’oy L’shcheino – woe is to the wicked and woe is to his neighbor.

Now at first glance this is a most depressing idea to associate with the month of mercy and forgiveness. Yet Chassidus comes along and turns our perspective around entirely making it a message of hope.

To appreciate this we must first introduce another Kabbalsistic idea. The Zohar suggests that the 12 months of the Hebrew calendar can be divided among the founding fathers of our people. Various divisions are presented. Abraham and Isaac get their months. Jacob is assigned the months of Nissan, Iyar and Sivan, leaving three months for Esau, Tammuz, Av and Elul. However, the Zohar argues, Moses ensured by being on Mount Sinai during this month, that Elul would not belong to Esau. Rather, Elul would be a time for forgiveness. This leaves Esau with Tammuz and Av – the months in which great tragedies befell the Jewish people.

Now who requires forgiveness? One who has sinned, a - rasha – wicked person. How does one achieve forgiveness? By repenting and regretting the wicked deeds. In this light, the phrase “Oy L’rasha – woe is to the wicked,” is not a statement of fact, but rather the voice of the rasha expressing regret over his sins. So now Oy L’rasha is very much the theme of Elul – Teshuvah.

Who is Elul’s neighbor? The month of Av, heretofore belonging to Esau. Comes along the phrase “woe is to the wicked and woe is to his neighbor” and teaches that not only is Elul a month when the rasha regrets his sins and is forgiven, but even his neighbor, Av, can be transformed as well. This is why many of the Elul practices begin in the second half of Av. So Esau gets to keep only the first 9 days of Av. After that Elul rests the remaining days of Av out of Esau’s control.

May we make full use of the month of Elul to reach higher and closer to Hashem in Teshuvah. In turn Hashem will inscribe and seal us for a happy, healthy, prosperous and meaningful new year!

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

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