Friday, August 29, 2008

Teshuvah and Elul

The Gemara teaches us that kings are judged prior to their subjects, and one reason for this is that the earlier one is judged the better. The later it gets, the angrier the Judge becomes, so to speak. The Toldos Adam, zt”l, says that the monarch of our Gemara refers to a righteous man who is compared to a king (Gittin 49). He works very hard to prepare himself for judgment, and starts long before the appointed day. Because he is more sensitive to the ramifications of being judged, he is prepared earlier, is judged earlier, and fares that much better for it!
Rav Chaim Solevetchik, zt”l, the Rav of Brisk, told a parable to illustrate this point.
“Once, a man wanted to smuggle some merchandise across the border. He met with a wagon driver who specialized in such operations and made all the necessary arrangements. Although there was time until the appointed day, the merchant was anxious from the first moment. His nerves were so bad, and his conscience so guilty, that he literally had to stop himself from looking over his shoulder for the long arm of the law even though, as yet, he hadn’t done anything illegal.
“The wagon driver was not disconcerted in the slightest. For him, it was all business as usual. Even so, when the day finally arrived to more the merchandise, he too was also petrified. He kept looking over his shoulder for anyone who might be guarding the little known path that he had chosen. He was startled by the slightest sound and was ready to bolt at any provocation.
Rav Chaim concluded: “The only ones who had a good trip were the horses!”
He explained, “Some start to tremble as soon as Elul begins because they realize that everything is at stake: life, health, livelihood, family, and peace of mind. Others are less sensitive, but they at least have the sense to feel some anxiety on Rosh Hashanah itself. Then there are those people who are as insensitive as the horses—their minds are focused on one thing only: the trough!”

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