The September/Elul Tension

September connotes many things. It signifies the end of summer. It is the month that starts the new school year.  It signals the change of season. The month of September also contains many activities:  There is the purchase of new clothing, and school supplies. It is the month right after the children come back from camp.  It is often the time when families send a child off to Eretz Yisrael. And sometimes it is a time when families move into a new neighborhood, to enter a new school.

In short, it is a busy season with little time to think and take stock.

For better or for worse, September usually coincides with Elul.

Elul, on the other hand, is just the opposite. It is the month that Hakadosh Baruch Hu gave us to prepare for Rosh Hashanah — the Yom Hadin. It is the month set aside to ponder and contemplate what our role actually is in this world. It is the time that we are to reflect upon how successful we have been in meeting our obligations to Hashemand to our fellow man. It is our last chance to mend our ways before He judges us and decides what kind of year we will have.

But we are busy. It is September. The tension rises. How can we allow what Elul is about to eclipse and outshine what September is all about?

Each of us, of course, has to find their own unique way to fight this battle. Let me share with you mine.

To fight this battle I think of my rebbi zt”l, Harav Dovid Kronglas, the Mashgiach Ruchani of Yeshivas Ner Yisroel in Baltimore.

Reb Dovid, as he is generally called, was born in Kobrin in Lita in 1910. He was orphaned at a young age and traveled to learn in the yeshivah in Mir. While he was there it was recognized that he had a special knack for working with “out-of-town” bachurim (those who came from America or Germany). Consequently, he was assigned the task of overseeing their progress.

Rabbi Naftali Neuberger, z”l, who had been one of his charges in the Mir, was so impressed with him that he tried to get Reb Dovid to come to Baltimore before the war. He was not successful and Reb Dovid traveled with the Mirrer Yeshiva to Vilna, from there through Russia, and ultimately to Shanghai.

Immediately after the war Rabbi Neuberger finally succeeded in getting Reb Dovid to Baltimore.

Legend has it that when he arrived he asked the Rosh Yeshivah, Harav Yaakov Yitzchok Ruderman, zt”l, what shiur he would be giving. Harav Ruderman was slightly taken aback. He had hired a Mashgiach, not a Rosh Yeshivah. Reb Dovid explained that American bachurim will not have respect for a Mashgiach unless he is also a talmid chacham. Harav Ruderman agreed and Reb Dovid took on the double role of delivering the shiur directly under the Rosh Yeshivah’s, as well as being Mashgiach, giving shmuessen and vaadin.

His shmuessen did not meet with instant success. Although he was a great pikei’ach and was used to advising American bachurim because of his position in the Mir, he was often appalled at what he saw as the hanhagah of American bachurim in America. He was firmly set upon raising the standard, come what may. He therefore started with fiery shmuessen, giving no quarter. He firmly admonished the bachurim for their behavior and demanded of them the very same standard that the European yeshivos had required of their talmidim.

The bachurim complained bitterly to the Rosh Yeshivah. The Rosh Yeshivah, with remarkable vision, supported Reb Dovid. The rest is history. Hundreds of talmidim molded by this master mechanech in Torah and mussar have become teachers and Roshei Yeshivah. They are also firmly committed askanim and baalei batim, bearing the standard of Torah throughout the world. But all this is not what we are referring to.  What I remember is his Elul.

Once, long ago, I was leaving Baltimore for the summer and wanted to discuss with Reb Dovid an important personal issue that would be applicable on Sukkos. I realized that when I would return after the summer, it would be Elul. It was well known that in Elul Reb Dovid would not discuss anything other than Torah and mussar. I knew that I had better discuss it with him before I left for the summer.

This is the exact point I wish to share. Everyone knew what the Mashgiach’s Elul was all about. It was not just another September. Its essence was the exact opposite of a typical September.

In yeshivah we spoke about preparing for a court case that will determine our future. In Reb Dovid we saw it. In his Elul shmuessen, aside from taking us through the tefillos of Rosh Hashanah, he would give us advice on how to prepare our court case before the Ribbono shel Olam.

He gave us many ideas, but the most precious thing he gave us is the d’mus d’yukno of Reb Dovid himself. To this day, the memory of his Elul inspires thousands of his talmidim to aspire for more. It is this legacy, the very memory of Reb Dovid himself, that I consider most valuable. His memory is a precious tool that inspires me to distinguish Elul from any other time.


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