subscribe.gif (2332 bytes)

by Zvi Akiva Fleisher

Back to Yom Tov Homepage


~ ~ A chosid of Rabbi Dovid of Tolna came to spend the High Holidays with his Rebbe and was able to come a few weeks before Rosh Hashonoh, to bask in the holy atmosphere of the Rebbe's Elul preparations. When he came into the Rebbe's inner sanctuary for a personal meeting the Rebbe asked, "Here we are in the middle of Elul. What efforts have you made in anticipation of the upcoming "days of awe"?

The chosid answered, "There is a folk-saying, 'Elul comes and Elul goes, and life goes on.'"

The Rebbe responded, "The world makes a great mistake. In truth life comes when one is born and life goes when one dies, but Elul always goes on!"

~ ~ Rabbi Chaim Brisker offers a parable for different attitudes towards Elul preparation. It is well known that different countries produce items at vastly varying prices. Items are then sent to other countries, and when sent through legal export/import channels the government charges an import levy. Sometimes this cost is quite substantial, giving rise to smuggling operations. To facilitate this illegal activity one would hire a wagon driver who is knowledgeable of the highways and in particular the byways near the border, who is capable of staying on track during the pitch-black cover of night, who knows of the border guard patrols comings and goings, and last but not least, who has nerves of steel to undertake such a risky undertaking.

If caught, the "importer" surely will have his goods confiscated, a loss of a small fortune, and also has the risk of being found out if the wagon driver, who obviously is not the owner of the goods as he has no means to purchase such an amount, informs the authorities who hired him. He then has the added punishment of being incarcerated until the key to the jail door lock dies of rust attrition. Needless to say, the "importer" is quite nervous until he has his goods safely on the other side of the border.

On the other hand, the wagon driver, who makes the bulk of his livelihood through this type of clandestine pursuit has his wits about him and remains calm. He is quite used to it. However, when almost at the border, even he has a bout of nerves until safely across. There is one partner in this "comrades in crime" that remains calm from beginning to end, and this is the team of horses that draws the wagon.

The lesson is readily understood. Like the illegal importer, some take the upcoming of the "days of awe" with seriousness and with the advent of Elul they take to the situation in earnest, doing true soul-searching, etc. Others, are like the wagon driver, and only "get to work" from the time we begin saying "slichos" prayers, or on the eve of Rosh Hashonoh itself. Last, and least, unfortunately there are those who are like the team of horses, who feel absolutely nothing. Their Rosh Hashonoh and Yom Kippur, even when spent in the synagogue are a cantorial entertainment. The "days of awe" come and go and their life goes on untouched.

~ ~ Rabbi Meshulam Dovid Soloveitchik offers the following parable to demonstrate the importance of preparation in Elul for the upcoming days of judgment. There were two communities in close proximity one of the other, which carried on a large amount of commerce with each other. All was good and fine until a war raged in the area. The war eventually came to an end, but that was when a problem for these two communities arose in earnest. As is often the case, the armistice included a shift of country borders that ran between these two communities. Now there was a border to traverse and hefty duties to be paid, all but destroying any trade between these two formerly intertwined commercial partners.

Not ones to be outdone by their predicament, they improvised, and it was quite novel to say the least. The cemetery for both these communities now was situated on one side of the new border. Permission was granted for carrying across a deceased person to be buried in this cemetery that was across the border. The casket that was to carry the remains of the deceased now became a shipping carton. After easily passing through the border with the appropriate somber mourning fa?ade, the pallbearers continued on to the cemetery, interred the "deceased" and at a later time the good were retrieved. Likewise goods were carried in the opposite direction, when the "empty" casket was returned, as they buried people with a board only.

Although the number of deceased people greatly increased all went well for a while. Then one fine day a new administrator was appointed for the border region. He took an interest in all matters pertaining to his job. Included in this was border crossing activities. By this point the pallbearers had become lax and when carrying a "deceased" to his final rest on this ephemeral world there was no more mourning, no prayers said as they proceeded, not even a mournful countenance. Our inquisitive administrator happened upon one such entourage and wondered at the picnic-like ambience. He asked that the casket be open and the ruse was exposed. The perpetrators were caught dead wrong and were sentenced to a stiff punishment. When the elders of the community came to plea for clemency, crying in anguish, the administrator replied, "Had your group cried during your mock funeral procession you would all be laughing now. Since you were laughing during the funeral you are now crying." Once again, the point is clear. Although a truthful soul-searching "cheshbon ha'nefesh" can be a cause of internal anguish, it is better to cry during Elul and the "days of awe" than to laugh our way through them and have to cry in the world-to-come.

~ ~ Lekach Tov relates the following to give us an understanding of what the days leading up to and including Rosh Hashonoh, the time of judgment should feel like. In the scary days of tyrannical police powers in the former Russia, one who plied the streets of Moscow would have a lurking fear of being picked up by the dreaded police for a trumped up charge that could land him in an all expenses paid vacation to picturesque Siberia for the winter skiing season. Suddenly a marked police vehicle pulls up and the driver says, "Please open the back door of this vehicle and enter. You are being taken to headquarters for investigation into the possibility of being tried for some major misdemeanors." Having no choice our hapless comrade enters. Thoughts of never seeing his family again, of endless fields of pristine snow accompanied by a mean temperature of 40 below zero on a warm day, of the Gulag Archipelago, of a firing squad pass before his eyes.

Suddenly the vehicle comes to a stop in a dark desolate narrow roadway. The driver exits and asks his passenger to do likewise. He then says to the passenger, "I know that you are Jewish. I too am Jewish. The tribunal I am bringing you to is the Heavenly Tribunal. Rosh Hashonoh is almost upon us and you, as well as everyone else, are being brought in front of the heavenly court to be judged for life or for .." The hapless passenger breathes a great sigh of relief. "It is only in front of Hashem that I am being brought! That is the best news I've heard in a long time. I thought that I would be sitting in front of the Communist judges."

Just think of the worst-case scenario in a Russian court on this short-lived world and compare this with the judgment of Hashem, rulings that last forever and forever.

We can have a meaningful preparation for Rosh Hashonoh and Yom Kippur if we just put in the effort.


Back to Parsha Homepage | Previous Issues

This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Permission is granted to redistribute electronically or on paper,
provided that this notice is included intact.

For information on subscriptions, archives, and
other Shema Yisrael Classes,
send mail to
Jerusalem, Israel