Elul and Musar – Click to Download File
Rabbi Dovid E. Eidensohn Monsey, NY 10952 845-578-1917
Elul and Musar
The month of Elul begins on Tuesday and Wednesday at the end of August. “The fish in the sea tremble in the month of Elul.” Some, especially Sefardim, fast every day of the month of Elul during the day. Elul comes a month before Rosh HaShana, Judgment Day. And then comes Yom Kippur, the time of penitence. So Elul is surely a time when we must spend time learning musar. But the process of musar begins much before Elul. Reb Yosef Chaim Sonenfeld zt”l the Rov of Jerusalem around a century ago began weeks before , I think around Shavuoth.
Actually, the entire summer when we read the Book of Devorim, is a time for Musar. The Musar is the Torah readings of Moshe Rabbeinu, who spoke to the Israelites before he died and cautioned them not to sin. The Book of Devorim is not so much involved in halacha as it is musar. And since it is the musar of Moshe Rabbeinu, let us examine it a bit.
Briefly, the reading in Devorim in the week before Elul is ראה that means “see.” We are challenged by Moshe to see blessing and curse and choose the right way. The next Shabbos we read Shoftim in Elul itself. Shoftim means “judges.” We are talking now about judgment and warning about judgment day. The next week is כי תצאmeaning “when you go out.” This is crucial in serious musar.Serious musar challenges each person to expand his horizons, to doven better, to learn more, to give more charity, to be less angry and jealous, etc. Each person has a level for these things, and before Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur, the key is to expand the limits of one’s musar and improvements, to achieve new levels. This was achieved with serious musar. Reb Yisroel Salanter, the founder of the Musar Movement, established rooms in various cities similar to shulls and Botei Medrash, but designed for learning very deep and emotional musar. Someone who spent time in such a place between people of all kinds who are crying bitterly over their failures cannot help but expand his horizons in musar and yiras shomayim.
The next week is כי תבא or “when you arrive”. This is a hint that when we fight for holiness and improvement, no matter how hard it is, we have a good chance of succeeding, at least to some level.
The final Shabbos Torah reading before Rosh HaShana is נצבים וילך a combination of two Torah readings meaning “standing up” and “and he went.” Before Rosh HaShana we assemble our musar work and stand straight ready to be judged. We recognize that we have a small window of opportunity to achieve greatness in musar and yiras shomayim. Thus, we “stand up” and then recognize the fleeting of the moment with the clock and the calendar. We have a small period of time to achieve the greatest lights of musar but we can only achieve this when we concentrate on its fleeting duration. Then we use what little time we have for maximum achievement.
Another idea in the final sedra before Rosh Yeshiva, “and he left” tells us that Moshe Rabbeinu left us generations and centuries ago, but when we learn his Torah, when we review his musar from the Book of Devorim, we can connect to Moshe, and in his holy heavenly abode, he will continue to strengthen us in yiras shomayim and Torah.