Ellul, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur
By Howard Pollack
Ellul, the month before Rosh Hashanah, and the ten days from Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippur are known as a special time for coming closer to G-d. Although all through the year, a person should try to be close to G-d, this period is a unique time set aside for returning to G-d's presence.
It is related that during this time, Moses went up for the second time to Mount Sinai to receive the second tablets of the Ten Commandments. On the first of Ellul he ascended to the top of Mount Sinai; there he fasted for forty days and nights and came down forty days latter, on Yom Kippur, with the second set of tablets of the Ten Commandments.
Moses broke the first tablets when he descended from Mount Sinai upon seeing the Jewish People engaged in idolatry. The giving of the second tablets was a sign that the repentance of the Jewish People had been accepted by G-d. Thus the period from the first of Ellul through Yom Kippur is a period that is marked as a time of G-d's favor towards the Jewish People.
Yet we see from our long history, that with all the good favor that G-d has shown towards his "chosen people", we have lingered in the galut (diaspora) for some two thousand years. During this time, although as a nation we have continued our national existence, yet we have experienced the worst tortures and pogroms that any people on the face of the earth have experienced. Even today, through the grace of G-d, we have begun to reclaim our national home; we are beset with the plagues of terrorism, and still do not live in peace in our land.
If indeed Ellul is the time of repentance and becoming close to G-d, why must we continue to suffer like no other nation has suffered?
Perhaps the answer can be understood through a "mushal," a story, that can explain our situation:.
A teacher had a son whom he loved very much. As the son grew he entered school and each year was promoted to the next grade. Imagine the joy of the father when the son finally reached the grade that the father taught.
As natural, the son being a young boy, he could not concentrate one hundred percent of the time and would have short periods when he would play in class instead of learn. The father, being a seasoned teacher, knew that this was normal, although his son was a fine boy, still he was young and the nature of young boys is to play a bit during periods of tiredness from studying instead of concentrating on their school work.
The father was able to forgive his son for this lack of proper behavior and their love continued even though the son was not the perfect model of a student.
One day a group of students decided to rebel against the teacher. This group of students were the "bad boys" of the class. They rarely did their homework and liked to "goof-off" in class. They misbehaved in class and out of class. They decided to go to the principle of the school and complain that the teacher misbehaved, did not teach properly and took improprieties with the students. The son of the teacher decided to join this group of students, thinking that this was great fun.
The scheme backfired; the principle was not fooled by the group of misbehaving students. The teacher was very angry with the students and punished them very severely. They were thrown out of school. His son, too, was punished, by being expelled from school.
The father was very sad. The other students had no real connection with him other than the few hours each week that they spend in his class. He could understand that they were basically boys from homes that lacked proper parental supervision and therefore they turned out bad. But his son, how could he be so stupid to join them! He lived in the same house as his father, the teacher. He knew that his father was a kind and generous man. How could he do such terrible acts?
The son was banished from his father's home and forced to live on his own. The "bad" boys were very upset with the teacher, for they also were punished severely. However, they took their wrath out on the son, for although he was their partner in crime, it was their was of getting back at the teacher who had them expelled.
The father is waiting for his foolish son to come back to him and repent. Each time he is set upon and beaten up by his former classmates, the father cries hoping that the son will finally have the sense to return. But alas the son lacks the common sense to do this.
The Jews are the children of G-d - his delight and joy. However, since our terrible encounter with idolatrous behavior we have been exiled among the nations and it is incumbent upon us to return to our Father. During the period of Ellul through Yom Kippur, G-d sits in judgement over the entire world. Where is his son? Why does he not return to his father's home and ask for forgiveness? Certainly if he did his father would take him in and protect him from the bullies outside.
The period of Rosh Hashanah is a period of judgement over the entire world. It reminds G-d of his children. If he sees that they want to return to him with a full heart, he declares that they should have a good year, in hopes that this will help them to truly return to him. However if he sees that they are not trying to return to him, he decrees that they should have a bad year. Perhaps the difficulties that they experience will cause them to return.
Each day, each Jew can return to G-d. But Ellul is the time in which G-d opens the door for them to enable them to return easier.
from the September 2001 Edition of the Jewish Magazine