ELUL – TIME FOR A CHANGE
I apologize, but I canâ€™t make my point without first troubling you.Â Â Fold your arms. Now, open them. Now, fold them again. Now, notice which arm you â€œnaturallyâ€ put on top of the other. Is it right on top of left or left on top of right? Now, switch. Fold your arms the opposite way from the way that you are used to. Feels strange? Welcome to change. Welcome to Elul.Â Â Â Â
The parasha in which G-d gives us choice coincides with the Shabbat before Rosh Hodesh Elul. Why?Â Â Because Elul is a time for change, and change begins with choice. Once, a long time ago, without too much thought, you decided which arm to put on top of the other, whenever you fold your arms. Ever since, you have continued to fold your arms like that, and now, it is â€œstrange to changeâ€. Itâ€™s awkward.
Sefardim say Selihot for forty days, because thatâ€™s how long Moshe spent up in Heaven to get the second set of tablets, after the sin of the Golden Calf. We were granted the second set of tablets on Yom Kippur, as we received atonement. During those forty days, what did the Jewish Nation do in the desert, without a Torah to study? They probably did Teshuva. Repentance.
The hardest part of repentance is changing self-perception. In order to repent, to change, there are steps that you canâ€™t skip. First, you need awareness of the present situation. Second, you need to choose and define what you want different in your life. You need to choose how you want your behavior and identity to â€œlookâ€. Then, you need motivation. Motivation depends on three factors: knowing what to do differently, believing in change, and believing that you can do it. For forty days, the Nation in the desert needed to believe that after falling from such lofty angelic levels to idol worship, they could still change.Â Â It takes forty days to totally convinceÂ Â yourself that things can be done differently. Even though change may feel awkward at first, it can be achieved in forty days. If you fold your arms the new way forty times, in a week from now, you will probably, naturally, go back to your old way of folding your arms. But, if you changed the order for forty days, you have probably changed it for life. Elul is 40 days. Only after 40 days from conception can an embryo, in the womb, be considered a living entity.Â Â If life in the womb ends before forty days, we do not relate to it as “death”. It takes 40 days to create a human. And, it takes 40 days to recreate a human. Choice, alone, is not realistically going to make the change, until you follow up on the choice for 40 days.
The reason why most people do not change is because they donâ€™t understand that it takes forty days. And, when they fail to change, they think that they do not have choice. So, G-d reminds us, just in time, in Parashat Reâ€™eh, that choice is ours, but it takes forty days.Â Â Purim is a time for happiness, Hanukah is a time to thank G-d for miracles, Tisha Bâ€™Av is a time to mourn. But Elul is a time to choose. Elul stands for opportunity.Â Â