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Chodesh Elul:
The Golden Opportunity and its Demands

Lesson 4: August 30 / Elul 8

Rabbi Yitzchak Isaac Sher (1875-1952) was the son-in-law of Rabbi Nosson Tzvi Finkel (called the Alter of Slabodka), the founder of the great Mussar institution in Slabodka, Lithuania. Reb Isaac eventually succeeded the Alter and was appointed rosh yeshiva of the Slabodka Yeshiva. In his collected writings (Leket Sichot Mussar, pages 1-2) he writes:

Humanity’s nature is to avoid contemplating our obligations in the world. Even though these contemplations are necessary for one’s existence and one’s situation in life, we just do not want to deal with them… The knowledge of one’s perceived smallness versus one’s enormous responsibilities and obligations troubles a person and causes stress and pain. One avoids making an accounting of the soul because who really wants to cause discomfort and live with stress and pain? Yet, since we neglect these contemplations, our situation is quite pathetic, because without contemplation there is no inner knowledge, and without this knowledge, one is truly insignificant.

[It] is a great kindness that God and our rabbis, of blessed memory, have done in establishing set times to awaken us to repentance. Because it is the nature of [our existence] that time passes with lightning speed without us being sensitive to it. And so, day after day, year after year, pass us by without contemplation, without stirring us. Just as last year passed us by [without stirring us to repent] so the future will pass us by and we will be lost in the void of the past. Life will shoot by without any accounting or thought. Such is the nature of time—it is not something one feels; rather it is comprehended intellectually, making it difficult to truly grasp and appreciate. To compensate for this [our inability to appreciate time] God established set times; special months and days, and through the unique reality of these times and their distinct signs, and the momentous events that occur within each time, we are able to experience time as something tangible. Through this process, we can remember both the recent past as well as events that occurred long ago… to awaken us to repent – to contemplate our pasts so that we may rectify our future based on [the mistakes of] our past, to know our weaknesses and the things which caused us to stumble in the past, allowing us to truly establish a pathway for the future free from past mistakes.

Which aspects of the month of Elul and of the High Holy Days motivate you to change your ways and to grow spiritually? Journal your insights.

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Today's learning is sponsored by Denise Lippa, in honor of her mother, Elizabeth Newman Lippa, a woman who embodies kavod - honor.


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