A Drash for Ki Teitze 5767
by Marc Mangel
The days of awe are about change.
What is Elul about? In one of his letters, Rav Israel Salanter – founder of the mussar movement – wrote that “It is well known that in earlier generations, when the holy month of Elul was announced, everyone was gripped by fear” – presumably because, as the mishnah teaches, on Rosh HaShannah all living beings are examined by God.
Rav Salanter complained that Jews of his era (the mid 19th century) were no longer gripped by fear in Elul. That reminds me of a story of dons at Oxford, complaining in the 14th century that students were no longer as good as they used to be.
How should we think about Elul? I believe that the answer is this: Elul is warm up for the Days of Awe. And we find support in this week’s Torah portion.
This parsha, according to Shney Luchot HaBrit contains the most commandments of any parsha [73 of them]. Commandment 513 is found in Chapter 21, verse 13 and deals with an attractive prisoner of war whom a soldier wishes to wed: “She shall remove the garment of her captivity from upon herself and she shall sit in your house and she shall weep for her father and her mother for a full month; thereafter you may come to her and live with her, and she shall be a wife to you”
Rambam and Ramban believe that the female captive needs the month to overcome idol worship. From this, Rav Chayim Zaitchyk comments that we see from here that to really change a trait it takes a thirty day period of intensive work. This is what Elul is about: it is a time for us to focus on our behavior and our traits in order to make major improvements in ourselves – we cannot wait until Rosh HaShanah to begin.
Rav Zelig Piskin says “When you want to improve any trait, give yourself thirty days of serious effort in order to see visible changes. While some people are able to make changes very quickly, even they need a significant amount of time in order to ensure that the new habits become second nature. Even if you do not see any positive changes the first week or two, if you will persevere for an entire thirty days you will begin to see the fruits of your labor”
Elul is the spiritual and mental stretching for the improvements that we can make during the days of Awe. So, let’s warm up.