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Parshas Shof'tim - ELUL!!

Five thousand seven hundred and seventy five years ago, G-d founded a corporation. He organized a board of directors, a mission statement, and a corporate framework. He analyzed a list of possible employees and placed each person in their most appropriate and effective position.

Each year on the anniversary of this day, G-d reviews the progress of the world and of each individual. Based on past performance and future expectations, He sets the next year’s assignments.

“All pass before G-d like sheep. As a shepherd examines his flock, G-d inspects, counts, appoints, and determines the fate of every living. On Rosh Hashana it is written and on Yom Kippur it is sealed” (High holiday prayers).

We begin each year with high hopes and excitement. Like anyone starting a new project, we are determined that this year will be THE year. We plan to do everything right, or, at the very least, better than ever before.

Many of us are successful. We make resolutions and follow them through to new heights and. Even so, as the year reaches its conclusion and the time of G-dly restructuring is imminent, none of us can be completely sure that we will be allowed to retain our positions. We set aside Elul, the last month of the year, as a time of Teshuva and introspection.

Towards the end of Deuteronomy (30:6), the Baal Haturim (1270-1343) finds a hint to the month of Elul. The Torah describes that at end of days, “G-d will bring back your exiles and He will have mercy on you and he will bring you to the land that He has promised you and He will remove the impurities from your hearts and from the hearts of your children” The first letters of the last four words “es Levavcha v’es Levav” spell the word Elul.

The Baal Haturim is not just playing word games. There is a significant connection between the end of days and the end of the year:

According to Kabbala, every person has times when he or she experiences an “Isarusa” (awakening). An Isarusa is defined by a deep desire to right a wrong, to grow as a person, or to come closer to G-d. An Isarusa may come as a result of intense sorrow, a feeling of emptiness, or a profound feeling of joy. It is imperative that we grab that Isarusa, and channel it into action and commitment before it fades away. As time goes on and the individual grows, the commitment will grow as well. This process is called growth.

As we progress along this path of growth, it becomes increasingly difficult to recall the excitement that was its original catalyst. We accept Mitzvos upon ourselves with excitement and we continue to do them, but they slowly become habit, rote, and something we do because we did it yesterday. We lose our spark of excitement, our Isarusa and feel as if we have reached the end of our growth path.

The Torah describes this condition in its description of the End of Days (Deut. 4): “When you shall give birth to children and grandchildren and you will grow old in the land”. ‘Growing old’ refers to a lackadaisical and bored attitude toward the Mitzvos and good deeds that we do. Growing Old is potentially the first step toward the abandonment of Mitzvos altogether, and the verse ends “… you will commit despicable acts and worship other gods”.

It seems that every Isarusa and growth spurt is eventually followed by a ‘low’. The energy that woke us up will eventually run out. The Torah (30:6) tells us that there is only one solution to this problem: “And G-d will bring back your exiles and He will have mercy on you and he will bring you to the Land that He as promised you and He will remove the impurities from your hearts and from the hearts of your children”.

G-d appreciates the good deeds that we do, He remembers us, and He will help us repent, reform, and reconnect to the original spark of inspiration that started us on our journey.

The Torah was referring to the end of days, but the same cycle takes place every year: We begin anew at Rosh Hashana full of excitement and determination to make this “The Year”. We have visions of a year with less fighting, more smiles and more time for G-d. We translate those yearnings into realistic commitments and we turn to G-d and to provide us with the means and circumstances to honor our commitments. We are granted the opportunity for growth and are able to change. 

Over the course of twelve months we experience highs and lows, but when the month of Elul comes we are in need of assistance. G-d is preparing to judge us again just as we are becoming ‘old’ and unexcited about our growth. We possess actions, but we no longer have the spark of excitement that sent us sailing through the judgment day last year.

G-d does not let us fizzle out. For a full month preceding Rosh Hashana, He helps us remove our impurities and bare our souls He gives us an opportunity to renew our excitement be our very best as He evaluates us and sets our roles for the coming year.

May we all emerge victorious in judgment and maintain our spark of enthusiasm throughout the entire year. (Based on the Afikei Mayim)

Gabbaim Take Heed!

From the Shabbat that follows Tish'ah B'av and onwards,  we say for the Haftorah for the seven Shabbatot the seven (Haftorot) of consolation.  However, if the first day of Rosh Hodesh Elul falls on Shabbat,  we put off,1 ''O you afflicted...'',  and say instead the Haftorah,2 ''The heaven is My throne...'',  since it also has some consolation regarding (the destruction of) Jerusalem.  On shabbat Parashat ''Ki Teitzei''  we then say the Haftorah,3 ''Sing, O barren one,...'',  and we add on to this also ''O you afflicted...''  because one follows the other.4  If one erred on shabbat Rosh Hodesh Elul  and said ''O you afflicted...'',  then if one remembers before saying the blessings after it,  one says also ''The heaven is My throne...'' and then say the blessings after it.  If one does not remember until after the (concluding) blessings,  one says ''The heaven is My throne...'' without blessings.  If (however) Rosh Hodesh Elul falls on Sunday,  we put off the Haftorah, ''Tomorrow is the new moon...''5  because it does not contain any consolation for (the destruction of) Jerusalem.  Instead, we say the Haftorah, ''O you afflicted...''.
 1) The normal Haftorah Isaiah 54:11.
 2) Isaiah 66:1
 3) Isaiah 54:1
 4) In the Book of Isaiah.
 5) I Samuel 20:18, which is usually said when Rosh Hodesh falls on Sunday.