Nachum Kligman, the Frum Entrepreneur, just put out an amazing book. One of my favorite parts of his book was something he mentioned, by chance, in a story. That before Nachum gets on a plane, he is accustomed to make a prayer. He prays to Hashem that his seat will be one that does not expose him to tests that sometimes confront people when flying. How beautiful. A person praying for a seat where he can stay close to G-d. I said to myself, I’ve got to try that prayer!
So, on the way to JFK from TLV two weeks ago, in middle of summer Bein Hazmanim, I made my prayer, and a miracle happened. There were only two yeshiva boys on my flight. One was from Brisk, and the other was a Bobover Chassid. I ended up sitting next to the only two yeshiva boys on the plane.
But on the way back, Nachumâ€™s prayer really pulled through. I got to Newark airport 2 hours before the 1:30 pm El-Al flight to TLV. I saw something that I had never seen before in an airport. There was a line of about 300 people waiting to check in. Probably because the flight was overbooked with students and young couples coming in for Elul and the new school year, and the people who were accompanying them, as they waited in line. But time was ticking, and I still did not have my boarding pass. I saw one of my students in the middle of the extended line as I walked to the very end, and I withstood the test of joining him, cutting the line and saying that he was reserving me a spot next to him. Instead, I prayed to G-d that I would get the best seat possible for me. When I got to ‘check in’, forty minutes before departure, they printed my boarding pass, and it said that my seat number was STBY, although my travel agent booked me a seat when I bought my ticket a month and a half before. I asked them what that was supposed to mean: I had already booked my seat! They rushed me along and said, “Just run to the gate; they will assign you your seat there.” I ran to the gate as fast as Security would let me, all the while praying Nachumâ€™s prayer. There, they told me to wait patiently, until everyone on the plane is seated, and then they will print me a ticket with my seat on it. I waited, and prayed, knowing that Nachumâ€™s prayer works. Finally, at 1:30 the flight attendant printed my ticket. 50D. â€œMa’am, can you find a better seat for me on the plane? Something closer up front?â€ â€œSorry. There are no more seats available!â€ I ran onto the plane. My back was hurting from the overweight knapsack I used to stick in whatever was too heavy for my carry-on, that knocked the protruding legs of the impatient people sitting in aisle seats. I was totally exhausted. The plane was packed. I walked passed the crying babies, the jumping kidsâ€¦ Finally, I got to my seat. Someone, a yeshiva bachur, was sitting in 50D. â€œExcuse me; my ticket says 50D.â€ He got up and said, â€œThatâ€™s odd. So does mine!â€ Again, I prayed Nachumâ€™s prayer.
I walked up to the stewards and stewardesses. â€œIt seems that El-Al booked someone else my seat. 50 D. I am weak and thirsty. This is not the El-Al I know. I am very upset.â€ They sat me down in one of the stewards’ seats with a bottle of water, while they tried to figure out a solution. I did not want to be bumped to another flight, even if they would give me another round trip ticket for free. I needed to head back to give shiur and be with my family. I kept praying, although I was starting to doubt that Nachumâ€™s prayer was working. Not only don’t you have a good seat, you have no seat! But patience would reveal that G-d didn’t answer my prayers for a good seat. He answered me with a BED!”
â€œSir. Itâ€™s your lucky day. My manager said we should compensate you for your trouble; you will be flying business class today.â€ And so it happened that I sat next to two big Talmidei Chachamim, and we became close friends on the flight. I ate like a king, learnt like a talmid chacham, and slept like a baby. I came home rested and ready to teach.
There is a reason why Shoftim is the first parasha in Elul. Shoftim teaches us about the judges we need to put at our gates, on a communal level, as much as on a personal one. Note the word ×©×•×¤×˜×™× ×•×©×•×˜×¨×™× ×ª×ª×Ÿ ×œ×š ×‘×›×œ ×©×¢×¨×™×š, Put Judges and officers at your (singular form) gates. This weekâ€™s parasha is teaching us about watching our eyes, watching our gates. R Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev said, that the way you become a Tzaddik is ×¡ ×¢ ×¤ ×¦ . The letter ×¡ is closed on all sides. The letter ×¢, also means eye. The letter ×¤ also means mouth. And the letter ×¦ also means Tzaddik. You need to learn how to close your eyes. You need to learn how to close your mouth. Only then you can become a tzaddik.
This weekâ€™s Parasha talks about appointing kings. Rabbi D. Pinto writes that a Jewish king is different than a Jewish Judge, for the king’s job is to be a living example to the people, of studying Torah and following in its ways. His logo is his miniature Sefer Torah that he carries with him, to be constantly learning the Torah and living by it.
Our Rabbis teach, Who are the kings? The Rabbis! (Gittin 62a) Why are the Rabbis called kings? Because the Rabbi is the man who lives by the Torah and is constantly in a state of self-discipline. The letters ×ž×œ×š are really the ×¨××©×™ ×ª×™×‘×•×ª, the first letters, of the words ×ž×— , ×œ×‘ , ×›×‘×“. In the ×ž×—, our mind, we have our Neshama, our G-dliness. In our ×œ×‘, our heart, rests our Ruach, our spirit; and in our ×›×‘×“ , liver, our Nefesh. The Ruach is the source of pride, anger, jealousy, and honor. The Nefesh is the source of physical temptations and materialistic drives. If we allow our Neshama to reign, and the letters are in the right order, allowing the Neshama to rule the other two, then we are the ×ž×œ×š, the genuine king. But if we switch around our priorities, allowing our ×›×‘×“ (Nefesh), or our ×œ×‘ (Ruach) to rule the ×ž×— (spiritual/intellect ), then the letters are switched around, making the letters ×›×œ(×•)×, nothing. When you feel emptiness in life, or you feel that your self esteem is very low, like a â€œnothingâ€, it is because you are â€œout of orderâ€. You have allowed your feelings and desires to rule over your â€œhard driveâ€, your intellect and spirituality.
Brian Tracy writes what his self-help master taught him. There are 999 success principles. But without self-discipline, not one of them works. With self-discipline, they all work. Brian defines self-discipline as the ability to do what you should do, when you should do it, whether you feel like it or not.
The first step to Elul transformation, is self-discipline. That is why the first parasha of Elul is Shoftim.