We are now in the beginning of the Jewish month of Elul, the month that precedes the High Holy Days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.
We are taught that the month of Elul is the time when Hashem – G-d is especially close to His people. It is a time that Hashem looks to shower us with all His blessings. Traditionally, as we draw nearer to the awesome days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, we act in ways to show G-d that just as He desires a closer relationship with us we also have a burning desire to renew our relationship with Him and become closer to Him. We therefore increase our prayers; we add Chapter 27 of Tehilim (“L’Dovid Hashem”) to our daily prayers and we blow the Shofar throughout the whole month of Elul (until Erev Rosh Hashanah) and recite the Selichos prayers. (The tradition of the Sephardim is to begin to recite Selichos the day after Rosh Chodesh Elul and the custom of Ashkenazim is to begin Selichos the week preceding Rosh Hashanah).
Throughout the year, we may stray from the path Hashem wants us to follow. We may slacken in our obligations to Him of performing the mitzvos, refining our character and studying the Torah. We may even neglect these completely. One may think that we have sunken so low in the mire of sin that Hashem has rejected us. We must know that Hashem’s mercy knows no bounds and if a person truly desires to return to Him and His ways, the door is always open. Rabbi Y. Y. Rubinstein of England demonstrates this with a very touching story that he often relates in his lectures:
“A few years ago, I was concluding a talk in front of a very large audience in London. After I had finished and everyone had left, one man remained behind. He approached and asked me if I lived in Manchester, and I confirmed that I did. He inquired which area in Manchester, and I told him. His next question was whether I knew a certain person who lived there, and I answered yes. “How is he getting on?” he asked. The man continued with a whole series of questions about this person. What did he do for a living? How many children did he have and how old were they? I tried my best to answer, but since I didn’t know the person very well, I couldn’t be sure about some details.
Then it was my turn to pose a question.
“How do you know him?” I asked.
My questioner looked at me intensely, and a very sad and pensive expression passed across his face. He hesitated, looked down at the floor, and very quietly replied, “He’s my son.”
I was taken aback and after a moment asked, “How is it that you don’t know how many grandchildren you have?”
I listened to his tale of a rebellious teenage son who had gone off the rails in a big way. The parents had tried every device they could think of to make their son see sense. They had tried bribery and threats and had gotten other people to talk to him, but nothing had worked. One night, in both frustration and desperation, the father had screamed at his son, “Get out! Get out and never come back!” And that’s exactly what the boy had done. Fifteen years later the son had settled down and built his own family but he had never come back or had any contact with his parents.
I listened with great sadness and told the father that although I didn’t know his son well, I felt sure he would like to see his father again. The father shook his head firmly and replied, “It’s too late now. Too much water has flowed under the bridge.” Then an idea struck me. I suggested that if he gave me his address and phone number, I could send him regular reports on how his son and his family were getting along. The father liked this idea, and so we parted with me promising to keep in touch.
When I returned to Manchester, by coincidence I bumped into his son (you can always arrange coincidences). I told him I had just returned from London and had met someone there who was asking after him. He inquired who it was. I paused and said, “Your father.”
He looked at me for a moment and then asked, “How is he getting on?”
It was obvious that the son was as concerned for the father as the father was for the son. I told him that I thought his father wanted to see him, and uncannily he replied in the identical manner as his father had. “I don’t think so. Too much water has flowed under the bridge.”
I tried to persuade him he was wrong and then tried a different approach.
“By coincidence (another “coincidence”) I am going back down to London in three days. Suppose I were to take you to see your father?” The son hesitated, but I was able to convince him to agree.
When I arrived home, I phoned the father and asked him if he would be at home on that Thursday at one o’clock. He probably assumed I intended to phone with a report and confirmed that he would be in. I told him that I was bringing his son to see him, and before he could reply I said goodbye and hung up.
The drive to London passed unusually quickly. We located the house right away, and I walked up to the door with my very nervous companion.
A very long time seemed to elapse before the door opened. The man who had so many questions a few days before stood anxiously, looking at the face of the son he had not seen for fifteen rears. I watched as tears welled up in his eyes and started to course down his cheeks. I looked at the son, and he, too, had tear-filled eyes. The son took one step toward his father, and the father rushed toward his son, and they folded each other in a hug. After a few moments, they turned and walked into the house.
I found myself wonderfully redundant and paused to wipe the tears from my own cheeks before smiling my goodbye and getting into my car for the drive back to Manchester. A few months later, the son bought a house in London and moved there with his family to be near his father.
(Source: “Dancing Through Time” by Rabbi Y. Y. Rubinstein. Targum Press. Southfield, MI. 2002)
This is the exact same relationship Hashem has with us. He is our father as the verse states, “You are the children of Hashem” (Devarim Parshas Re’eh – Deuteronomy 14:1). No matter how much a child has wronged his parents, as long as he sincerely regrets what he has done to them, they will always take him back.
This period of Chodesh Elul and the upcoming holidays are meant to give meaning to our relationship with Hashem. Meaningfulmoadim.com features worthwhile articles about the Jewish months and their associated holidays. See also Blowing the Shofar Throughout the Month of Elul and The Shofar is Sounded from Rosh Chodesh Elul Until Erev Rosh Hashanah. Drop us a line in the Questions or Comments Section.