Thursday, August 5, 2010

Re'eh/Elul: A Journey to 'Tov'

As we enter into this Shabbos, Shabbos Mevarchim Elul, the final Shabbos as we enter into the new month of Elul, we read Parshas Re’eh. Let’s try gain some deeper insight into what Elul is all about and how that relates to the content of Parshas Re’eh, and hopefully from there we will be able to take a powerful message on how to foster a stronger relationship with Hashem.

Parshas Re’eh has one central theme: Service gone good versus service gone bad. What does this mean? Within this one theme, two major topics arise in this week’s Parsha. Not worshiping idols; and conversely, the appropriate way to serve Hashem.

Here are some examples. When you get to Eretz Yisrael destroy all the places of worship where Avodah Zara - idol worship, was practiced. Climb the mountains to find them, search beneath the ground. Utterly destroy their altars, and their sacred trees of worship are to be cut down. And obviously - break the statues and idols themselves. After they’re all gone don’t go ahead and try to replicate their ways – it makes God really angry – don’t do it. And when a false prophet tries to convince you of lies, if he tries to get you to serve idols, even if he performs miracles – don’t listen. Find him. Kill him. In fact, anyone for that matter. Anyone who tries to get you to do Avodah Zara, it’s no mercy. Kill him. And if you find an entire city that has been led astray with idol worship, destroy the whole city and everyone in it.

On the other hand we are also given the commandment to build the Beis HaMikdash. “Ki Im El HaMakom Asher Yivchar Hashem Elokeichem… U’Va’as Shama” Go and serve God in the place that He will choose. This place is destined to be the Beis HaMikdash. Furthermore, we are taught how to deal with sacrifices and we are instructed once more about the Regalim, the three festivals in which we are commanded to go up to Yerushalayim and visit the Beis HaMikdash.

So it is quite clear that we can crunch all of this into the following line. Don’t do Avodah Zara. Serve Hashem.

So how is all of this connected to the month of Elul? Rav Sitrosky explains that we need to understand what important historical events occurred in this month. With a simple bit of math we will soon see.

We know that after the Jews sinned with the Golden Calf (the first National Sin of the Jewish people – which happened to be idolatry) Moshe smashed the first Luchos - the first Tablets. Afterwards, to receive atonement, Moshe goes up to receive a second set/ We are told two things about the second set. The first is that they were brought down to the people on Yom Kippur, thus declaring God’s forgiveness of the people of the Golden Calf. Secondly we are told that Moshe spent forty days on the mountain receiving that second set of Tablets.

Count backwards forty days from Yom Kippur; where do we arrive? Rosh Chodesh Elul.

What does this mean? The meaning is that the beginning of the process that is the Tikun - the fixing of the first national mess-up with idolatry begins when? Rosh Chodesh Elul. And how do we start the month of Elul? With Parshas Re’eh, the Parsha of destroying idolatry.

Let’s examine another angle of Moshe’s receiving of the second Luchos.The Gemara in Bava Kama makes a sharp insight, followed by an obvious question. The Gemara there points out that there is a word that appears in the second set of Luchos that did not appear in the first set – that word is ‘Tov’, ‘Good’.

The word Good appears in the second set in the Fifth Commandment, “Lman Yitav Lach” – ‘So that it shall be good for you.

And the question is obvious: Why wouldn’t God put the word ‘Good’ in the first set? The answer is that God saw how in the near the future the first set of Commandments would be shattered, and he didn’t want to think that the concept of ‘Good’ was lost. So He never put it there to begin with.

But now we can see how the month of Elul, the fixing of the Sin of the Golden Calf now translates into a journey of receiving the second set of tablets – the Tablets of Tov.

We are taught by Chazal that every month has a Mazal, a constellation, a structure of stars that are a part of that month’s characterization. Meaning, the heavenly bodies that preside over any given month can give deeper insight into what that month is all about.

The Mazal of Elul is the Besula the ‘Young Maiden’ or literally, the ‘Virgin’. Now we need to understand how that is relevant to everything that we said above. And in order to do that we need to tie everything together by delving into the beautiful words of the holy Bnei Yissachar.

He connects the aforementioned Gemara to a Passuk in Mishlei (18:22). The Passuk says “Matza Isha Matza Tov V’Yafik Ratzon Me’Hashem.” If you find a woman, you find goodness, and (that will lead you to) bring favor forth from Hashem.

The simple explanation of verse is that he who finds a good wife finds goodness from his life which will foster a strong relationship with Hashem.

But the Rebbe illustrates a truly fantastic allegorical interpretation of the verse. What is Matza Isha - ‘Find a woman’? This is a reference to the Besula, the Virgin, the Mazal of Elul. And what is Matza Tov - ‘And you shall find goodness’? This is the ‘Tov’ of the second Luchos, Lmaan Yitav Lach. And what is V’Yafik Ratzon Me’Hashem? ‘And you shall bring forth favor from Hashem’? This is the end of the journey, the end of the forty days, the forgiveness of the Golden Calf, this is Yom Kippur.

This means that, when one enters into the month of Elul, the month of the Besula, one has a chance to embark on a journey towards reaching a place of L’maan Yitav Lach and eventually Yom Kippur.

But what about the Besula makes it the contrast to Avodah Zara? We say in the last paragraph of Shema: ’V’Lo Sasuru Acharei Livavchem V’Acharei Eineichem Asher Atem Zonim Achareihem. Don’t be led astray by your eyes and heart (Chazal tell us that one understanding means idolatry) that you will be turned into harlots after them. Obviously the harlot, the promiscuous woman is the diametric opposite of the Besula, the virgin.

It is through our journey in Elul, our growth with the Besula that we overcome the sin of the Golden Calf - Zonim Achareihem. When we accomplish this we reach the Tov of the second Luchos, Lmaan Yitav Lach, and eventually Yom Kippur.

But what about me? I don’t have any desire to bow down to idols! How is this at all relevant?

Says the Magid MiMezritch, Avodas Hashem is a 24/7 job. I’m ideally supposed to channel every emotion, every energy every possession to becoming closer to Hashem. Even when I relax it should be for a greater purpose. Thus he explains that Avodah Zara on a practical level is when I devote time, money and energy to things that are not conducive to growth, or Chas v’Shalom destructive to my relationship with Hashem. Are we not all guilty of this on some level?

But the month of Elul is a time that is super-charged with potential for growth. It is right now that we can overcome all of our little mess-ups with Avodah Zara, each one of us in our own private way.

B’Ezras Hashem we should be Zoche to take full advantage of the potential that Elul contains. Because if we tap into the message of Mazal Besula and Matza Isha Matza Tov then there is no doubt we will lead lives of happiness and fullfilment moving closer to the Creator and ultimately the Redemption!

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