Parshas Reeh (5776)
This Shabbos begins the Hebrew month of Elul, which can only mean one thing … that Rosh Hashanah, the Day of Judgment, is coming very soon. But how many of us will actually take the time during this ‘month of introspection’ to sit down and think about our deeds and misdeeds during the past year and try to do Teshuvah and make amends?
I fear that many if not most of us will do very little during the entire month of Elul until the High Holidays are upon us and only then try to do everything at once at the very last minute when it really doesn’t work.
Rabbi Yehudah Leib Lozorov ZT”L illustrates this sad reality with a hilarious parable:
A farmer had a son who was a real ‘country bumpkin’ who had never left the tiny village in which he lived. When it came time for the son to get married, his father ‘talked him up’ to one of the well-known and respected families who lived in the big city. The family members wanted to ‘check out’ the prospective groom, so they invited him to visit their home in the city. The farmer, who knew just how boorish and unsophisticated his son truly was - having spent most of his days around cows and chickens - started to teach him proper manners and etiquette.
“See, my son”, his father coached him, “when you first meet the family and they greet you with ‘Shalom Aleichem!’ (Welcome!), you should hold out your hand and respond ‘Aleichem Shalom! Mah Shlomchem? (Welcome to you! How are you?). When they ask you how your trip went, say ‘Baruch Hashem!’ (Thank G-d!). When they show you the room in which you will be staying, say ‘Todah Rabbah! (Thank you!). When you retire for the night, say ‘Erev Tov L’kulchem!’ (Good night to all!). Upon rising in the morning say ‘Boker Tov! Ha’arvah Aleichem Shenaschem?’ (Good morning! Did you sleep well?)”.
The farmer wanted to make sure that his son wouldn’t mess up, so he made him review these phrases over and over again until the boy knew them in his sleep. Soon enough the big day came, and our ‘groom’ travelled to the big city for the first time in order to meet the girl’s family. Lots of friends and relatives had come to visit that day, all wanting to see the special guest.
Everyone was seated in the huge dining room as the country boy came in. He walked straight up to the Mechutan (the girl’s father), held out his hand, and said with confidence: “Aleichem Shalom! Mah Shlomchem? Baruch Hashem! Todah Rabbah! Erev Tov L’kulchem! Boker Tov! Ha’arvah Aleichem Shenaschem?” (Welcome to you! How are you? Thank G-d! Thank you! Good night to all! Good morning! Did you sleep well?)
The Mechutan’s face turned white, but the groom continued to offer his hand to the next person, happily repeating that very same list of greetings, while everyone else looking on had to laugh ….or cry.
The lesson of this parable is obvious. Teshuvah and the correction of our mistakes and sins committed over the past year is no simple task. It requires lots of time and deep introspection. We are meant to start that process in the month of Elul. At the end of this month, just before Rosh Hashanah, we begin to say Selichos (Penitential Prayers) in the synagogue, which are meant to remind us that the Day of Judgment is almost upon us and that we had better prepare ourselves. After Rosh Hashanah we have the Ten Days of Repentance, followed by Yom Kippur, on which we pray and recite the Viduy confessional many times throughout the day, capped by the final Ne’ilah prayer. This progression affords us the time we need and the frame of mind that we need to be in if we are to do a successful Teshuvah.
But many of us are like that ‘country bumpkin’ in the parable. We don’t do much until the end of the High Holiday period when we wake up and try to ‘cram in’ all that introspection and all those prayers and confessionals at the very last minute – but what does such a rushed Teshuvah look like to our Father in Heaven Who is watching us from on High? Is G-d laughing … or maybe crying?
This month of Elul let us commit to taking some serious time out of each day to reflect on our deeds and do a proper Teshuvah so that we will be fully prepared for the upcoming Day of Judgment.