1.05 WAKING UP TO THE SOUND OF THE SHOFAR : MOTIVATING YOURSELF TO GET STARTED ON THE WORK OF ELUL
MAKE IT DIFFERENT THIS YEAR
For those of us that were here last Tishrei, many of us can think back to the day after Yom Kippur when many of us had the feeling, “If I only knew at the beginning of Elul what I know now, would I do things differently. I would have…”
“Next year I am really going to study the Machzor early enough so I will finally understand it.”
“Next year I promise I will study the Slichos so I will be prepared and not depressed when I have to get up at 6:30 and daven for an hour and a half every morning.”
“Next year, I will have a plan for the year for growth so when I get up and say the Ashamnu and Al Chet confessions I will really mean it when I say I won’t be doing the sin again.”
And then Erev Rosh HaShanah comes along and you blow the dust off your machzor and you try to cram in all the different responsibilities and you get overwhelmed and just close it in frustration.
For those of us who have been here many years, how many times have we said the above statements after the Holiday period was over and then the following Elul did the exact same thing!
Why not start off this year on the right foot? Why not start with an planned approach to the holidays that after Yom Kippur you will be able to say, “I did my best and I am proud of myself.”
COMMON EXCUSES TO DELAY STARTING THE WORK OF ELUL
Excuse #1. ‘There Is just too much to do. I don’t know where to begin.”
Many people look at the awesome period ahead with the largest number of Holiday obligations of the whole year and say, “there is just too much to do.” And so they don’t do anything.
The problem is obvious. In one year, no one can learn all the material of the holiday period. To fully understand and comprehend all the laws is a process that takes many years. It is precisely in reference to this problem that the Mishnah in Pirke Avos is giving this advice:
You are not expected to complete the work and yet you are not free to evade it. (Pirke Avos 2.16)
No one expects you to learn the whole Elul and Tishrei curriculum within one year. But if you bite off a small chunk this year and take good notes about what you learned, then next year you can begin to conquer something else. But keep one thing very clear in your mind, under no circumstances are you free to evade dealing with your responsibilities just because you won’t be able to complete them.
Excuse #2. “I have too much other work to do.”
There is only one Elul in the year and there is only one Tishrei. G-d gave us many mitzvos to do specifically during this period. This necessitates sufficient preparation for them. Only by allotting the proper amount of time for preparation will you have the ability to fulfill your basic requirements. The fact that G-d gave us these mitzvos at this time of the year tells us that this is what we need to do to maximize our potential and not many of the other things that hold our attention.
Excuse #3. “I’ll do it when I have some free time in my schedule”
The day is short, the work is long, the workers are lazy, the reward Is great and the Master is insistent. (Pirke Avos 2.15)
The Yetzer Hora knows how to get us. He knows that if he says “Never do the work of Elul” you would never listen. So he says “Look, you will have some free time sooner or later, so do it then.”
To respond to this, the Mishnah in Pirkie Avos advises a person to do the following:
Repent the day before you die. (Pirke Avos 2.14)
Why does it say to repent the day before you die? Because maybe (G-d forbid) tomorrow you might die. Therefore the obligation to do teshuva is today.
Particularly during this time period it applies since this is the time of teshuva and change. The Mishnah is telling us to do teshuva now-when you have the opportunity — for tomorrow it may not be possible.
Excuse #4. I don’t know what to do.
Thank G-d you are in a yeshiva and there are many people around you who have lots of experience in the area of the High Holy Days and how to utilize them. If you are at a loss about what to do or how to take action, interview 5 people who have been around for many years and ask them what they have done over the past few holiday seasons that they felt was instrumental to their growth. This can give you great insights into how people approach the upcoming season in a successful way.
REALIZE THAT YOUR NATURE WILL DRAG YOU DOWN
It is important to realize that the Yetzer Hora will do everything in its power to drag you down, particularly during important time periods during the Jewish year:
A person’s nature exercises a strong downward pull upon him. This is so because the grossness which characterizes the substance of earthliness keeps a man from desiring exertion and labor. One who wishes, therefore to attain to the service of the Creator, must strengthen himself against his nature and be zealous. If he leaves himself in the hands of his downward-pulling nature, there is no question that he will not succeed. (Mesillas Yesharim, Chapter 6)
JUST GO AND DO IT
Sometimes the best thing to do is just to start moving and pretend that you are motivated to do something. If a person starts working on the teshuva process of Elul with an outer enthusiasm sometimes it can inflame an inner enthusiasm:
The man whose soul burns In the service of his Creator will surely not be idle In the performance of His mitzvos, but his movements will be like the quick movements of a fire; he will not rest or be still until the deed has been completed.
Furthermore, just as zeal can result from an inner burning so can it create one. That is, one who feels a quickening of his outer movements in the performance of a mitzvah, conditions himself to experience a flaming inner excitement. Through this, longing and desire will continually grow. If, however, he is sluggish in the movements of his limbs, the excitement of his spirit will die down and be extinguished. Experience testifies to this. (Mesillas Vesharim Chapter 7)
THE MARK OF EVERY TZADDIK IS THAT ALL THEIR DEEDS ARE DONE WITH GREAT MOTIVATION
All Tzadikim approach the concept of doing mitzvos with great motivation even when things are tough and difficult:
G-d appeared to Avraham in the Plain of Mamre… Avraham lifted his eyes and he saw three strangers standing a short distance from him. When he saw them from the entrance to the tent, he ran to greet them, bowing down to the ground. He said, Sir, do not go on without stopping by me. Let some water be brought and wash your feet… Avraham rushed to Sarah’s tent and said, Hurry! Three measures of the finest flour! Knead it and make rolls. Avraham ran to the cattle, and chose a tender, choice calf. He gave it to a young man who rushed to prepare it. (Beresheis 18)
We see here how Avraham Avinu on the third day after his Bris Mila when, in great pain, got up and ran to greet his guests. What was the rush? Was there any competition? Where else would the guests go? Yet he saw the mitzvah as a vital opportunity that must immediately be taken advantage of.
This should teach us how to deal with our preparations for the Holiday period. Even though things are tough, and we have a full schedule and it is so hard to work on ourselves, we should try nevertheless to approach the opportunity with the same level of commitment that Avraham Avinu had for his guests. We should not sluggishly deal with our responsibilities but rather run to perform them with the greatest zeal we can possibility sibly think of.
Getting started on our Elul work can be difficult and frustrating. May these insights serve to inspire and motivate us to get started on the work that we need to do.