Sunday, September 4, 2011

Elul – Hashem’s Trap for His People

Traveling in time is something many people dream of. Can it really be done? Is it possible? What is the nature of time?
We are all placed in a three-dimensional reality, where each of the three dimensions cross each other in a central point. The Maharal from Prague describes this in a different language. He talks about six directions rather than three dimensions. The central point in his thinking is an additional and separate reality — the most important seventh measurement from where our world and our perception of it starts.
Our world is located in this seventh point, with each one of us the center of our own universe. Naturally, the number seven became special in this vision of the reality, the number seven became a holy number.
According to Chazal, just as physical reality is creation, time is a creation. Just as the physical world has outer reality, so does time. In higher reality, time does not exist. It was given to us as one of the elements that are necessary in order for us to exercise our freedom of choice, our bechirah.
We can travel in the physical world in all directions, being limited only by the laws of physics. With time, the story is entirely different. There are three components of time defined by man — past, present, and future. We can travel back in time with our mind, but not with our body. We can travel to the future with our body, as the present is always moving in that direction, but our mind is much more limited in traveling to the future. Presence — we are always there.
As our presence moves on, forward, we frequently come to the same point of time, as it was described by the great chachamim. Our movement in time resembles a spiral or coil, where we come to the same places of time, called by different names in the Jewish calendar. In other words, the nature of time is circular, not straight, coming again and again to the same stations on the “road.”
This past week the “train” of our presence approached the part of the road known to us as Chodesh Elul — the month of Elul. Elul is a month of preparation for the great day of Teriah, of shofar-blowing, on the first days of Tishrei and then on Yom Hakippurim — the Day of Atonement.
On these days, even the fish in Hudson River shake in awe of the Creator, and every Jew  prepares for the days of great cheshbon hanefesh, where our sins will be counted, even if we don’t like for them to be counted. How our next year turns out, what awaits us in this part of time between this Rosh HaShanah and the next one, will be result of these calculations.
But didn’t we say than time is just one of the creations, and if it is then certainly the Creator of it is above all of it? Doesn’t He know already, billions of Rosh HaShanahs (if there would be so many) before, what will we do and how we will ask for atonement for our sins? Indeed, He knows and yet it is entirely our free will to do His will or, chas v’chalila, not to do it. It is our own cheshbon hanefesh that causes us to ask for forgiveness and promise to ourselves and our Creator that next year we will be better.
What then is Hashem counting? Nothing. He has it all calculated for us. The part of the road called “Elul” and the stations of Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur were created for us like everything else, and not for Him.
Last week we were reading three psukim of Torah where all the “cards” were placed on the “table.” We were told what is expected from us, what is good for us, and which direction we should chose.
“Now, O Yisroel, what does Hashem, your G-d, ask of you? Only to fear Hashem.”
See Him, be aware of Him, have Him in your conscience and be in awe of Him always. Be aware of Him whatever you do and wherever you are, in all you activities, at all times “go in all His ways, and love Him with all your heart and all your soul.” Whatever and wherever you do anything do it “observing His commandments and decrees for your benefit.” “Your benefit, not Mine,” says Hashem. “You harm yourself or your fellow Jews by not observing what I told you. You are proving your own stupidity by disobedience and it bring no essential harm to Me; what I am telling you is only for your own benefit.” He is above Heaven and Heaven of Heavens, continues the pasuk. It is we who are in the center of this creation and all of this was created only for us from His Love. How can we forget this? How can we?
Well we do. And that’s why we need the remainders. To pull us out of the rut of ruach hashtus — the spirit of stupidity. To give us another opportunity to come back to a higher awareness of our Creator. This what Elul does for us, as well as the other special times.
For those who don’t know, my main profession is guiding people in special places. A tour guide. Places special for their history or beauty.
A few weeks ago, among the other phone calls I got, was one to remember.
The person asked me if I still had open time this summer. I answered that I had time in Chodesh Elul. The person yelled at me: “You want me to go for vacation in Elul??? No way!”
I started to explain that going with me those few days might be excellent preparation for achieving a higher awareness of Hashem, but the person on the line only mumbled something and hung up the phone. I was puzzled for only a few seconds.
I know what “vacation” means for many of our people. As I said once to a group of young men in my opening speech on one such tour: “Leave the Boro Park, Flatbush, Monsey shtick where it came from. Please don’t forget who are you and Who you are serving.” Unfortunately, so many people go out on vacation, or into life, and leave their personal Shulchan Aruch on the bookshelf at home, or at least some parts of it.

There is chassidishe maaseh — a chassidic tale that the Rebbe, perhaps the Baal Shem Tov himself, told his chassidim (followers) so that they should learn from the smugglers.
How can a pious person learn from the smuggler?
The story goes like this:
A smuggler wanted to smuggle diamonds through the granitz, the border. He hired a  balagala (wagon driver) and filled his wagon with the hay. Somewhere in the middle of the pile of hay he placed the small sack filled with his contraband. From the very beginning of the trip toward the border he was consumed with hesitation, almost panic.
What will happen with me if the border officers will find my smuggling? They will put me in jail, and maybe torture me — or even worse …
His heart was beating like crazy; he was sweating and shaking, trying hard as he could to make his anxiety unnoticeable to anybody.
The balagala knew about the smuggler’s business, but he seemed to be not worried at all … for a while at least. He calculated that since he was not the owner of the contraband, he would have nothing to be concerned about. But the closer they drove to the granitz, even his heart began to beat faster and faster.
What if the authorities will consider me a shuteff (partner) in this shady business? In fact, since I know about what’s going on, maybe I’m indeed a partner and they will have all legal rights to put me into jail or even torture me
Such thoughts continued to cross his mind and he had to hold himself together as they got closer and closer.
But what about the horses pulling the wagon? The horses didn’t hesitate; they were not frightened about the issue of contraband and jail and possible torture. The horses pulled with their heads down and eyes protected from viewing what was to the sides.
We learn from the smuggler, tells the story, to be concerned all the time — all year long — about what we might be doing wrong. Balagalas worry only before they get to the granitz — the border, but horses crossing the border without even noticing that anything is wrong.
Fools! The same Creator is here and there! The same Creator is watching me and you in Kislev and Elul! The same Creator is asking me and you to have Him in our conscience always and everywhere and in whatever we do.
If we can stay in touch with this in Elul, we can do it in this one month, then we can do it in the rest of the year as well. Let’s try to keep it up!

Matys Weiser

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