Jeffrey Levine
Jeffrey Levine
Blogger, Entrepreneur, and Philanthropist

Elul — An opportunity for self growth and compassion

This is the time of year that we give a lot of thought to our relationships; our relationship with Hashem, our relationships with one another and our relationships with our own selves. Blessing us to learn from one another and to help one another in our tshuvah b’simcha!

It is no coincidence that our Parsha is Re’eh. Our parashah begins with two words- the first is in the singular – Re’eh: “See” The second is Anochi- the great “I” of Hashem. We each have our own unique vantage point, because we are each unique. We all need to see ourselves and the needs of others.

Reb Shlomo taught us that Elul is a time of repentance in preparation for the High Holy Days. In Aramaic (the language of the Talmud), the word “Elul” means “search.” The Talmud writes that the Hebrew word “Elul” can be expanded as an acronym for “Ani L’dodi V’dodi Li” – “I am to my Beloved and my Beloved is to me.” Elul is seen as a time to search one’s heart and draw close to God in preparation for the coming Day of Judgement, Rosh Hashanah, and Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur.

Quoting HaRav Avraham Yitzchak HaKohen Kook “Teshuvah — repentance — does not come to embitter life but to sweeten it.”

One can summarise Rav Kook’s Teshuva into main 3 Stages

  1. a) Healthy Body and Mind
  2. b) A healthy orientation to religious belief
  3. c) An idealistic aspiration to be in line with G-ds plan for the Universe

So, with this in mind, I want to share with you some teachings to awaken ourselves from our spiritual slumber.

Rabbi Aaron Goldscheider asked me to share his essay –  Reimagining Repentance

In his breathtaking work Orot HaTeshuva, Rav Avraham Yitzchak HaKohen Kook zt”l wonders aloud whether he is suited to pen a new treatise on the topic of repentance.  After all, he writes, the subject matter has been richly treated by a multitude of sages. Rav Kook counters that he has no choice. He feels compelled to share his own understanding for a new generation in need of hearing teshuva taught in a language and perspective uniquely suited for them.

Almost one hundred years later our generation is indebted to Rav Kook for pouring his immense spiritual and intellectual energy into each and every word of this precious volume.

Rav Kook’s Teshuva:

והתשובה הראשית…היא שישוב האדם אל עצמו, אל שרש נשמתו (אורות התשובה טו:י)

“The primary role of Teshuva…is for the person to return to himself, to the root of his soul.” (Orot HaTeshuva 15:10)

Teshuva should not be translated as ‘repentance’, a word which conjures up a negative sense of feeling sorry and broken for our misdeeds or moral shortcomings. Teshuva for Rav Kook is empowering and invigorating. Teshuva is a return to our true selves – bringing ourselves back to center. “Teshuva is, in essence, an effort to return to one’s original status, to the source of life and higher being in their fullness…” (Orot HaTeshuva 12:8)

Rav Kook lovingly prods us to focus on the positive. There is no denying the work we need to do to overcome our impatience, our stinginess, laziness, ingratitude or whatever aspect of our character is handicapping our lives and our growth. However, when we take a step up on the spiritual ladder we feel the immense satisfaction in reaching more of our potential.

התשובה באה משאיפת המציאות כלה להיות יותר טובה ומזככת, יותר חסינה ומעלה ממה שהיא

“Teshuva is inspired by the yearning of all existence to be better, purer, more vigorous and on a higher plane than it is.” (Orot HaTeshuva 6:1)

Rav Kook understands the process of return as a natural process. Sin is nothing but a deviation from man’s true nature.

התשובה היא ההרגשה היותר בריאה של הנפש (אורות התשובה ה:א)

“Teshuva is the healthiest feeling of a person.” (Orot HaTeshuva 5:1)

Teshuva is not undertaken despite nature or in opposition to it, but rather is facilitated by virtue of nature and because of it.

A verse from Tehillim bears out this fresh approach of  Rav Kook:

אור זרוע לצדיק ולישרי לב שמחה

“Light is sown for the righteous (tzadik), and joy for the upright (yashar) of heart.” (Psalms 97:11)

We generally assume that the term tzadik describes a person who attains the highest place in religious devotion and yet the verse suggests that the yashar attains an even higher level. The Talmud (Taanit 15a) confirms that this verse teaches that the yashar is more elevated. Who then is the tzaddik and who is the yashar? Rav Kook answers that the tzaddik is identified as one who overcomes his inclinations and subdues his yetzer hara to do God’s will. The yashar, on the other hand, aligns his will with God’s will. The yashar does not feel tension. He cleaves to God. His inner world harmonizes with the will of the Divine.

It is remarkably fitting that we commence the Kol Nidre prayer on the holy night of Yom Kippur reciting specifically this verse of אור זרוע לצדיק ולישרי לב שמחה aloud several times. This practice may be understood as an opportunity for self reflection or as a meditation. Rav Kook’s breakthrough teaching suggests that when we turn to God in teshuva the focal point is not on conquering one’s desires and evil impulses. Rather, our hearts aspire to attain a teshuva that is suffused with simcha, tranquility and joy.

When To Do Teshuva?

Rav Kook was careful to emphasize that the act of teshuva is not a chore we undertake only during the High Holidays but it is a continuous endeavor. Strikingly, Rav Kook suggests that teshuva is especially propitious while Shabbat is entering

בערב שבת קדש צריכים לעסק בתשובה על כל העבר בימות החל

“On the eve of Shabbat one should engage in Teshuva for all that transpired during the previous week…”  (Orot Hateshuva 14:33)

For Rav Kook, erev Shabbat is an opportune time for teshuva because it is a time that we begin to cleanse ourselves of the various distractions which interfere with enabling ourselves to align with our inner selves and link in to our true aspirations and dreams. The arrival of Shabbat awakens us to our higher selves and our truest yearnings. As Rav Kook says, “When a person forgets the nature of his essential soul, when he distracts himself from looking at the core of his inner life, then everything becomes confused…” (Orot HaTeshuva 15:10). Shabbat gives us a new perspective on our week.

This insight from Rav Kook is reminiscent of a wonderful chassidic story told by Reb Shlomo Carlebach which relates the unique practice, every Friday afternoon, of Reb Elimelech of Lizensk. As the sun would begin to set the Rebbe would enter the kitchen and ask each member the kitchen staff for forgiveness if he had not been sufficiently sensitive to them over the past week. The Rebbe would then go and gather his family members, his wife, his children, and with tears in his eyes he would ask them for forgiveness. With this deed the Rebbe would a bring back a wholeness that was lost during the week.

As we stand before the start of a new year it is incumbent upon us to aspire to a path of teshuva that brings healing and renewed strength; the type of teshuva lovingly taught by Rav Kook,  which brings us into harmony with ourselves, our families, our community, and with God.

Elul: Opening the Gates – Reb Shlomo Carlebach

The fixing of Chodesh Elul is the letter Yud, also the left hand. The right hand represents what I do consciously. The left hand is what I do by reflex, unconsciously. The question is what I do unconsciously, naturally. If I see a poor man do I have to think and think what to do? What I do, I do by reflex. What is the unconscious about? My unconscious is connected to the highest light. The Yud is the deepest revelation but this world is not a vessel for it. The Shofar is a cry from the unconscious. I blow the Shofar in order to connect to that part of myself, to hear the Inside of me crying. The month of Elul G-d is opening up for us gates so that we hear the crying of our own soul, how much we want-d in the deepest depths of our soul.

Every time I do a mitzva every time I do something good, G-d opens the gates for me to do another mitzva. Why don’t’ I go in? I never do. The Tanach writes that wicked people are always walking around, always circling, never going in. On the first Shabbos of Elul we always read Shoftim. “Appoint judges and officers in all your gates.” What is Elul all about? Doing good. G-d is opening all of the gates.

I want you to know that the Tshuva of Elul is not Tshuva for sins. That is for the ten days between Rosh Hashana & Yom Kippur. In Elul the important thing is, I am doing Tshuva for all the gates that were open to me and that I didn’t enter.

Let me say something very deep. Can you image what kind of gate G-d opened to us on Mt Sinai? The deepest gate in the world. The gate was so wide open, the Gemora says, that there was no longer any death in the world. We could have gone straight into Eretz Yisroel. We could have fixed the entire world. But instead what did we do? We made the Golden Calf. We said to G-d, we are not interested in Your gates. Gevald! How could we do that? How could we do that to G-d? So Moshe had to go again to Mt Sinai to re-open all the gates.

In former good days, every city was closed with gates. When they were opened, they blew the shofar. In Elul we blow the shofar to let the world know, to let ourselves know, G-d is opening all the gates, G-d is re-opening all the gates. And we are saying “Appoint judges and officers in all your gates which G-d gave you.

Further Resources:

2015 08 10 OROT SHLOMO Reb Shlomo on Rav Kook’s Orot Hatshuvah p.2. Yeshivat Simchat .

OROT- Carlebach Melody | אורות – ניגון של הרב קרליבך


Want more inspiration – Other Sites dedicated to Red Shlomo are:

About the Author
Jeffrey is a Blogger, Entrepreneur, and Philanthropist (we can only dream) living in Jerusalem. He is a young grandfather who has five kids and four grandchildren. Jeffrey provides Financial Services for regulated Financial Companies - CFO, Key Individual, Approved Person through and is a promoter of ideas and trends where Innovation meets ESG. He is looking to spread the message of Ahavat Yisrael and Jewish Unity through the music and stories through and blogging.
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