Posted by: Subway Conductor | August 14, 2020

A Derasha for Parashat Re’eh

If we were in shul this Shabbat, we would be blessing the new month which is beginning next Thursday and Friday. That new month is the month of Elul.

I have explained in prior derashas how the portion of the Jewish calendar that culminates with Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and Sukkot really begins in the middle of the summer with the fast day of the 17th of Tammuz. Let us see how the calendar works. Moses went up on Mount Sinai for the first time on Shavuot. Forty days later, on the 17th of Tammuz, he descends to find the Israelites dancing around the golden calf. Seeing this, he throws down the tablets shattering them. Moses spends forty days destroying the golden calf, punishing the guilty, pleading for the Israelites, and trying to put things back on track. After these forty days, Moses ascends Mount Sinai for the second time, accompanied by the blast of the shofar. This second ascent occurred on the 1st of Elul. He spends forty days on Mount Sinai and brings down the second set of the Tablets of the Law. This occurred on Yom Kippur. Remember that this second set of the Tablets is the one that endures. This means that Yom Kippur is the day of the giving of the Torah. It is to be noted that we do not mark this aspect of Yom Kippur, rather we have a celebration of the Torah on the last day of Sukkot which we call Simchat Torah – the rejoicing in the Torah. This day which is devoted entirely to a celebration of the Torah also begins the reading cycle of Torah readings in the synagogue.

Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, is the day Moses brought down the second set of the Tablets which represented a second chance for the Jewish People after the sin of the golden calf. It meant that the relationship between G-d and Israel had been restored and there was an At-One-Ment, hence this day is the Day of Atonement. But the process of reconciliation began with the ascent of Moses for the second time on Rosh Hodesh Elul.

The month of Elul, the month preceding Rosh Hashanah, is a time of preparation. On Rosh Hodesh Elul we blow the shofar and continue doing so every day at the conclusion of the morning service. The sound of the shofar is a wake-up call. It reminds us that the day of Judgment is approaching, we need to get ready.

If we received a summons to appear in court one month from now, we certainly would not ignore it and with no preparation simply show up on the day of our court hearing. Likewise,  with Rosh Hashanah, we should not simply show up in shul without having prepared ourselves. The key to preparing for Rosh Hashanah is teshuvah – repentance. We should examine our lives; what are we doing and what are we not doing? How can we change? How can we make amends for our misdeeds? What choices can we make to improve our lives both as Jews and as human beings.

Fortunately, all this preparation takes place at a time that is especially propitious for teshuvah – repentance. One can do teshuvah any time. Every day in the shemoneh esre – the prayer that we say three times daily – we ask G-d to help us repent. “Bring us back, our Father, to Your Torah and bring us near, our King, to Your service, and influence us to return in perfect repentance before you.” Repentance is always a possibility. But at this time of year, the possibility for repentance is greater. That is because the month of Elul was the time when Moses was receiving the Torah for the second time. The name of the month of Elul also points to it being a propitious time for repentance. The four Hebrew letters of the name of the month are the first letters of four words in the biblical book Song of Songs which state, “I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine.” (6:3) The book Song of Songs is a poem that expresses the love between G-d and the Jewish People. Song of Songs is read during Passover which is also a time of love. G-d freed us from the slavery and oppression of Egypt as an act of love. That same love is part of the month of preparation for Rosh Hashanah and is why this time of the year is so open to the possibility of repentance.

Elul begins this coming Thursday, let us not miss the opportunity to begin our preparation for the “Holy and awe-inspiring day.” (unesaneh tokef Rosh Hashanah Musaf)

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