Friday, September 9, 2011

Elul/Ki Seitzei: Behind Enemy Lines

The following concepts have been adapted from the Sfas Emes and Rav Moshe Wolfson. Feel free to print this out and read it over Shabbos, just please not during Tefilos!

We’ve been taught through the generations that there is an intrinsic connection between the Torah readings (Parshios) and the Holidays/goings on of the calendar (Moadim). This relationship is called ‘HaKriya Meoreres Es HaZman’ - The Scripture is enlivening the Season. The themes relevant to current events are always emerging from the Parshios that parallel them.

As we find ourselves in the month of Elul, moving full speed towards Rosh HaShana, we read this week’s Parsha of Ki Seitzei. Our job at this point is twofold: First, we need to show some of the beauty and depth that emerges from the connection between Elul and Ki Seitzei and once that dynamic has been detailed we need to bring it home and transform the concepts into every-day realizations. Let’s explore.

Chazal revealed that the twelve months of the year parallel the Twelve Tribes of Israel – the Shvatim. The Shvatim were arranged into a camping formation during their wandering in the wilderness which later served as the reference point for how they matched up with the months. Based on this alignment, the Shevet that corresponds to this month is the Tribe of Gad. In order to get greater clarity on Elul, we need to delve into the essence of Gad.

At the end of his life, when Yaakov Avinu was blessing the Shvatim, he was also giving them definitions. He was stating their historical essence. To Gad he said, Gad Gadud YigudenuGad shall be a raiding troop. Yaakov Avinu was foretelling Gad’s role as a provider of fierce warriors. This further manifests itself on Gad’s tribal banner which displays an army unit. At the very end of the Torah, where Moshe Rabbeinu blesses the tribes, Gad is once again described with savage imagery, “He is like a lion, he rips off the heads and arms of his prey.” In short: don’t mess with Gad, when he’s on the scene it’s time for war. Moreover, on the Choshen, the priestly, gem-studded breastplate, a stone represented each tribe. Based on the Kabalistic tradition, each gem serves as a conductor and a channel of a specific energy.  Gad’s gem was the Achlama (commonly known as the amethyst) which served as a vessel for courage and strength – fitting for their skill in warfare.

But then how is Elul like going to war?

On the most basic level, we are initiating our Milchemes HaYetzer (our battle against the evil-inclination) with newfound intensity. As we march towards Rosh HaShana and Yom Kipur, the days where we come face to face with our deeds of this year, we move forward with inspiration to tackle those destructive forces that seek to hold us back and keep us down. In Elul we storm the enemy known as the Yetzer Hara. And for that we need to channel the energies of Shevet Gad.

In the Torah, Rosh HaShana is called Yom Tru’a – the Day of (Shofar) Blowing. We prepare ourselves for this by blowing the Shofar everyday since the beginning of the month. This spurns the comment of the Zohar that Rosh HaShana and the days preceding it are days of war. How are the days connected to Yom Tru’a days of war? Because the Torah tells us that when war comes, “VaHaRei’oschem” – ‘And you will sound off the horns.’ VaHaRei’oschem comes from the word Tru’a, as in Yom Tru’a, Rosh HaShana. When we go to war we take out the blow-horn. Elul. Tru’a. Shevet Gad. We are going to war.

And this manifests right in the beginning of the Parsha. HaKadosh Baruch Hu tells the Jews not to fear in battle for behold, Hashem is going with you into war, L’HaTzilcha, U’Laseis Oivecha MiPanecha – To save you and to take away your enemies from before you. The first letters of each of the four words L’HaTzilcha, U’Laseis Oivecha L’fanecha (Lamed, Vav, Alef and Lamed) together form the acronym for the word Elul.

So let’s explain what the war of Elul has to do with the war of Ki Seitzei.

When discussing war, the Torah details the laws of the Eishes Yefas Toar (literally: the woman of beautiful form). The Torah explains that when in battle, if a warrior saw a beautiful woman, under the correct circumstances he could take her as a wife.

To our shallow minds this sound quite licentious. In the intensity of violence and rage, the barbaric Jewish foot soldier snatches up a refugee in a moment of lust.

This cannot possibly be. We are talking about the Jews who had Moshe Rabbeinu as their leader. Jews in the time of conquering the Land of Israel, in the time of David and the Beis HaMikdash. The Torah goes out of its way to tell us the tremendous piety of the soldiers fighting on behalf of the Jews. The fuel that pushed these men was completely divine. We don’t have the proper perspective to categorize them. So it can’t be that we are dealing with petty covetousness.

Says the Ohr HaChayim, the Eishes Yefas Toar wasn’t necessarily beautiful in physical form; rather she was beautiful in spirit. The holy Jewish soldier, pumped up on divine energy was sensitive enough to be able to see that this person possessed a unique soul not at all connected to the nation that he was currently warring against. This person doesn’t belong with them, this person belongs with us, it’s just that right now she’s trapped and it’s our job to take her back. The whole concept of Eishes Yefas Toar is so much deeper than we thought. This is not about releasing pent up desires, rather it’s about rescuing captured souls.

This happens to us over the course of the year. I departed from Rosh HaShana last year inspired. I had great expectations for the upcoming months. But slowly my hopes may have become disappointments. Maybe disappointments turned into failures. The little things piled up and I can barely recognize myself. When I look in the mirror the face is the same, but the person that it represents isn’t. My soul has become trapped in a life that it doesn’t really belong to. What am I going to do?

Hashem says that if we make ourselves open to the relationship, He’ll bring us back. How do we do this? First we notice that we may not be holding in the place that we need to be and then we yearn to make it right. We spend just a little but of time meditating on how great it would be if we could be maximally close to HaKadosh Baruch Hu. We say a little bit of Slichos. We invoke the thirteen Attributes of Mercy, the Yud Gimel Midos Shel Rachamim. We come to the realization that He wants us to come to Him even more than we do. We open ourselves up to the relationship and He makes it happen.

This is Elul. The word Elul serves an acrostic for ‘Ani L’Dodi V’Dodi Li’ – ‘I am to my beloved and my beloved is to me.’ This means that inasmuch as I become dedicated to my Beloved (Hashem), in as much as I make myself a receptacle for him, he’ll come and pull me out.

Like we just mentioned. Soon, when we start saying Slichos (If you are Sefardi then you’ve probably already started) you’ll notice that all the paragraphs and poems all come back to the bottom line where we call out the Thirteen Attributes of Mercy – the Yud Gimel Midos Shel Rachamim. The Kabalistic tradition explains that these Divine Traits emanate from a facet of reality that cannot be sullied with transgression. We declare the Yud Gimel Midos Shel Rachamim as expression of our cognizance that if Hashem so chooses, He can overpower any impurity that has come between Him and us. When we invoke that, when we declare that realization, a wave of purity fills the world that breaks down those barriers.

It is by making ourselves aware of the entrance of the Yud Gimel Midos Shel Rachamim’s healing energy that we can be pulled back into the side of holiness. And for this reason, the Gematria, the numerical value of the words Yud Gimel Midos Shel Rachamim (1091) parallels that of Yefas Toar (also 1091). The two concepts are one in the same. For just as the holy Jewish warrior sees a soul that need to be taken back, so too, in the month Elul, the month of Gad, Hashem comes and pulls us back as well.

This is not a call to action. The point of reading this essay is not that I’ll walk away and force myself to change all my habits. This essay is a request to tap into an awareness. When I know and remind myself that God wants me then it will instinctively awaken every aspect of my life. Connecting to my inborn yearning to be attached to something Bigger than myself is all the fuel necessary. When I sit and prepare before Davening for a minute then the whole Tefilah is changed. The deeper that I engrain the understanding that I want Him and that He wants me the more vitality I become enlivened by. I’ve Mamesh never felt like this before…

HaKadosh Baruch Hu should bless us to have open minds and hearts. He should awaken our senses to be in touch with the rhythm of His universe so that we won’t miss out on an opportunity like this. When we pull ourselves to a greater level of perception, when tap into our inborn desire for holiness and the knowledge that He’s longing for us, the entire of our life will change. If we can do this we will surely live lives of Simcha and Shleimus moving closer to the Creator and ultimately the Geulah Sheleimah!

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