Sunday, August 22, 2010

Elul - Preparing Calmly for the Day of Judgment

From Tisha B’Av to Rosh Hashana, we have seven haftarot (weekly reading of prophets) that deal with consolation of the Jewish People (after the Destruction of the Holy Temple). We hear Isaiah’s words, “Comfort, comfort My people – says your G-d. Speak to the heart of Jerusalem and proclaim to her that her time [of exile] has been fulfilled…” “Hashem shall comfort Zion. He shall comfort her ruins…” “My kindness shall not be removed from you and My covenant of peace shall not falter…”
Rav Menachem Schrader, rabbi of Congregation Tiferet Avot in Efrat and Director of the Alisa Flatow Learning Program in Nishmat, Jerusalem, comments that some people might feel that perhaps the haftarot should be chastising or that we should be in a tenser mindset before the High Holidays. Rav Schrader added, “We have a custom to recite Psalm 27: “Hashem is my light…” twice a day during the month of Elul. “You’d think it would be about teshuva (repentance), or reminding us about our sins. That’s not what the perek (chapter) is about. The perek speak with tremendous confidence. “G-d is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear… G-d is the strength of my life… Enemies will come, but they’re going to fail.” What does this have to do with Elul?
In the last sentence of this psalm, we are told that if we pray to G-d and don’t get the answer we were hoping for, we should just “strengthen [ourselves]” and “hope to Hashem”.
Rav Schrader explained, “The mindset that we should go into Rosh Hashana is not depressing or one of mourning. We have to calm ourselves.”
“Today we see six million Jews in Israel with midrashot and yeshivot and Torah-learning… We’re going in the right direction. We can relate to these [encouraging] haftarot. But they weren’t only read since the beginning of the State of Israel. They’ve been read throughout our history – at the time of the Hadrianic Persecutions, in the shuls of Bar Kochba when things in Beitar weren’t so successful, in the exile of Babylon, in the times of Torquemada (Spanish Inquisition), during the Crusades, Gezeirot Tach V’Tat (1648-1649 - Chmielnitzki massacres), throughout all the pogroms and during the Holocaust. They were consoling throughout these times, even for those generations that didn’t merit seeing the beginning [of the Redemption] with their own eyes.”
Therefore, Rav Schrader said, we are meant to go into Rosh Hashana, “not with a feeling that everything is lost, but with a feeling that Hashem promised to redeem us, and that Hashem is on our side, and that He wants us to win in the Judgment of the High Holidays. And we should walk in with confidence and a good feeling, because Hashem is with us.”
Have a positive strengthening end of the month of Elul. And may your new year be blessed.
To see VOICES' interview with Rav Menachem Schrader, click here:

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