Preparing for Elul  

How do we prepare
ourselves for Elul and the High Holy Days so that we feel at least something of
the sense of awe that was so much more common in past generations? What
can we do to assure that when we pound on our hearts while saying vidui,
our hearts pound on us with an awareness of G-d which moves us and directs us to
change our lives?

The Torah never mentions just where the Temple should be. It
says only “the place which G-d will choose.” It sounds as though G-d hadn’t
chosen it yet. But the place of the Temple existed from the time of the creation
of the world. Adam made a sacrifice on the first day of his creation on the
exact spot of the Temple. Noach offered his sacrifices on that spot. Avraham
placed Yitzchak on an altar on that exact spot. Yitzchak and Yaakov prayed on
that spot. Surely, there was a tradition of where the Temple was to be. So why
does the Torah seem to conceal it’s location and suggest that it had not yet
been established?

The Sifri says, “You should inquire and investigate after
the Shechinah,” in order to ascertain where the Shechinah dwells.
But, according to halachah, the place of the Temple can only be established by a
prophet. The Sifri comments, we might think that we should wait until a prophet
comes and points it out to us. No, you should inquire and investigate after the Shechinah:
You must investigate and do your best to find the place. Only then will a
prophet come and say, “Yes, build the Temple here.”

But then why make the investigation? Why try to find the
place of the Temple on our own? If the prophet knows, let him tell us. What does
our investigation add to the knowledge we receive through his prophecy? Why
waste time using reason and research to discover what the prophet can tell us
with certainty?

There are many answers to this question. Perhaps this is also
an answer. When the Sifri teaches us to seek the Shechinah, it does not
use the word es, which signifies a direct object. Rather, it uses the
prefix of a lamed, which suggests relationship. If it were referring to the Shechinah
as a direct object, we might well wonder why we should not wait for the
prophet to give us the needed information. After all, it’s just a matter of
getting information. But the lamed indicates that we’re not just concerned
with information. Translated with the lamed in mind, the Sifri would read:
Concern yourself with the Shechinah. Before a person can relate
meaningfully to the Temple, he has to have opened his heart and elevated his
consciousness by investigating the Shechinah. The prophet can only tell
us where on this earth the Temple should stand. Where will the Temple
stand in your heart? That’s up to you. For that you have to know what the Shechinah
is and what is expected of you; you have to know what the Temple represents
and how it can enhance your relationship to G-d. You have to prepare yourself to
enter the Temple if, upon entering the Temple, you want to enter the Presence of
G-d. To know the place of the Temple, we need a prophet, but to recognize and
appreciate the kedushah that makes a place for the Temple—for that, the
prophet has little to offer. That task is our own.

The Michtav MiEliahu writes that one of the worst
punishments G-d could impose on the Jewish people would be to take away their
scholars. The Torah does not mention this punishment openly, but it is suggested
in the same place where it rebukes us for doing mitzvahs merely out of custom
and habit. Jews become thoughtless when they leave it to their scholars to do
the thinking for them. Feeling secure that their scholars are thinking, they
allow themselves to live superficial, uninquiring Jewish lives. When that
happens, G-d remedies the situation by taking the scholars away. With no one to
do his thinking, the Jew confronts his commitment to Torah and is compelled to
think out the issues of spiritual life for himself. With the thinkers gone, the
ones who don’t think are confronted with their ignorance and start thinking.

This is the idea which is suggested by the Torah when it
conceals the location of the Temple. The prophet will tell you where to build
the Temple, but don’t wait for him. You apply yourselves to the problem. You
study and inquire, delve and investigate with all the resources at your command.
Then, when the prophet comes, he’ll tell you whether you’re on the right
path.

Just as there is kedushah which is located in place
(the Temple) there is kedushah that is located in time: holidays, Shabbos
and, especially, Yom Kippur, for Yom Kippur is a Temple that is located in time.
And in reference to Yom Kippur, we are instructed: “Seek G-d when He can be
found.” Elul and the 10 days of teshuva are days of desire—days in which G-d
wants to be close to us, when He makes Himself evident and immanent, when He is
easily found by those who seek Him. And so, we are told, seek Him out. If you
don’t try to find Him, to discover who He is, you won’t be prepared to see
Him, you won’t recognize Him when he comes. Just as we prepare ourselves to
enter the Temple by dedicating our thoughts to the Shechinah, we have to prepare
ourselves for Yom Kippur so that the Divine Presence which descends into this
Temple in Time also descends into our hearts.