The very mention of the name of this month suffices to send a shudder up many a Jewish spine.
On Sunday morning and every weekday thereafter, the shofar will be sounded after Shacharis. Sephardic Jews will begin reciting Selichos, and Jews across the spectrum of Torah Jewry will engage in thoughts of introspection and spiritual self-improvement.
Harav Yoel Chapler, one of the closest disciples of Harav Mordechai, the Rebbe of Lechovitch, would often relate that it was during Elul that he overheard a villager declare to a friend, “If we won’t work the field this month, we will be hungry all year.” For years to come, Harav Yoel repeated this saying every Elul and Tishrei. “If we will not work and return to Hashem during these two months, we will starve all year.”
This is a time for soul-searching. Like a defendant facing a momentous trial, we engage in a desperate search for extra merits.
On Shabbos and Sunday, as we recite Hallel in honor of Rosh Chodesh, we will state the passuk, “It is better to take refuge in Hashem than to rely on nobles.”
In his classic sefer Ahavas Chessed, the Chofetz Chaim gives us a wonderous insight into this passuk, one that also illuminates our path as we seek extra zechuyos. He explains that the “nobles” in this passuk refer to the Beis Din shel Maalah. Though most of the angels who comprise the Heavenly Court are malachei rachamim — angels of mercy, they also use a certain amount of din — strict judgment — when issuing their decisions. In contrast, when the Ribbono shel Olam — so to speak — Himself passes judgment, He does so with abundant mercy.
When does one merit to take refuge in Hashem, Who will rule in his case in place of the Heavenly Judges? When that individual invokes Heavenly mercy by himself engaging in acts of chessed and compassion, the Chofetz Chaim explains.
We live in a generation that exhibits enormous amounts of chessed. Yet, with so many hearts shattered by personal struggle, there is so much still to do.
Despite the economic upturn, many in our community continue to spend their days unsuccessfully searching for work. Many others are seeing their small businesses faltering, their freelance work drying up, or are spending long hours toiling at low-paying jobs that don’t cover their basic expenses.
The Rambam teaches us that the highest form of tzedakah — a mitzvah that is taught in this week’s parashah — is to help someone gain parnassah in an honorable way.
Some courageous well-to-do individuals in our community have chosen to focus their investments not on where they would be most likely to reap greater profits, but where they would help create new positions for members of our community.
For those able to do so, creating new jobs and raising the living wages of their current employees is the highest form of tzedakah. So is helping individuals find employment and offering solid advice for job hunters.
Along with parnassah, the parashah of shidduchim is one that Chazal has compared to crossing the Yam Suf. In too many homes, worried parents and older singles wait desperately for the phone to ring, or spend their time trying to reach harried shadchanim, begging them to suggest a name.
In some situations it is advisable to allow an experienced matchmaker to help bring a shidduch to fruition, but all of us can help by brainstorming and networking for suitable ideas. While it may be a source of parnassah for some — and the idea of a sizable shadchanus is often an ideal motivation — it is vital to realize that regardless of financial compensation, helping build a bayis ne’eman b’Yisrael is a great act of chessed, and must be performed with great sensitivity and tact.
There are far more resources currently available for widows, widowers and orphans than there were only two decades ago. But they still need the support and assistance of close family and friends. In too many cases, due to misunderstandings or a reluctance to ask for help, their needs fall through the cracks.
In the case of divorced or separated individuals and their children, there are far fewer resources available. They often face severe financial struggles, and need and deserve the non-judgmental support of our community. We must overcome the tendency to speculate or make assumptions, and recognize that our obligation to help has nothing to do with the private details of what led up to their current circumstances. All that matters is that they are Yidden in need of our emotional and financial support.
As we search for zechuyos in these weeks leading up to Rosh Hashanah, there are many others who can use a helping hand as well. All it takes is looking around us — at our neighbors, at our acquaintances — and opening our hearts to their needs.
In the merit of the chessed of Klal Yisrael, may each and every one of us merit a kesivah vachasimah tovah, and may we speedily hear the shofar of Moshiach.