Dvar Torah for Elul
Based on Likutey Moharan I, Lesson #141
A little pain never hurt anyone. In fact, the right type of pain at the right time can be extremely beneficial, if not actually life-saving. Yet we are often too enmeshed in the pursuit of happiness to allow ourselves to feel any pain. We force ourselves to deny it any time it appears on our radar. Galloping down avenues of escape - even spiritual avenues - makes our hearts numb.
Pain is not only good because it helps us keep our hand out of the fire. "If one is worthy of truly feeling the pain of his wrongdoing" is how Rebbe Nachman begins Lesson #141. We are in the first days of Elul, the month preceding Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, a period especially conducive to teshuvah (repentance). An excellent time to feel our own pain. If we make our pain heartfelt enough, others will sense it, and have their own heartfelt pain as well.
Any time we approach a special occasion, for example, a chatunah (wedding) or Shabbat, which offers us the opportunity to incorporate into our lives more kedushah and emunah (holiness and faith), we are met by corresponding forces of confusion which mean to keep us away from kedushah and emunah. This confusion almost always involves the preparations for the special event or day. Some occasion-enhancing plan, which we imagine to be "absolutely necessary," is frustrated. In order to receive the available kedushah and emunah we have to exercise patience. To do so, we must remind ourselves to STAY FOCUSED, keep our eye on the prize.
This is especially true in Elul. The prize is teshuvah, the tikun-self upon which a great deal of tikun olam is built. The confusion we face in Elul is often generated by the frustration of our teshuvah-design, the plans we have to do "more" or "better" in prayer, Torah study and mitzvot. Certainly we must strive to improve in each of these areas. Yet, we imagine that since we have decided to improve, God will automatically let us do so. It ain't necessarily so. He may tell us, "You don't deserve to pray/learn/do more." He does so by confusing us.
Someone may become ill, a check may bounce, domestic tranquility may go the way of the dodo bird - in short, confusion threatens to reign. What's the point? Doesn't the good we do add to God's honor? Haven't the prophets told us God wants our teshuvah? Yes, He wants our teshuvah, and yes, He is honored when we do as he commands. The point is, "The Merciful desires the heart" (2 Zohar 162b).
God is poorly honored by a numb-hearted Torah lesson and teshuvah is not teshuvah if the heart is numb. In order to re-sensitize our hearts God insults us. He says "No" to our planned mitzvot so that we will be shocked into silence, a silence of admission; we don't deserve to do them - yet. Being thwarted in our spiritual quest is never an outright rejection; it is a test of our mettle.
In Likutey Moharan I, Lesson #6, Rebbe Nachman teaches that if, when we are insulted, we remain silent because God bids us so, our hearts are drained of insensibility. This is the path of teshuvah.
During the month of Elul and the Ten Days of Teshuvah, which end with Yom Kippur, the Gates of Compassion are opened for us. Yes, we must seek His help and strive to improve our learning, prayer and mitzvot, but even more, we must BEG God to help us feel the pain of our wrongdoing, so that we will walk the path of teshuvah.
"One who says, 'I'll sin and I'll repent' is not provided with an opportunity to repent" (Yoma 85b). The Talmud is not dealing with an individual who wants to sin and eases his conscience by telling himself he will repent in the future. The Talmud is dealing with an individual who wants to repent, but does not feel that the time is right. No, says the Talmud. If you wait for a better opportunity to improve yourself, it'll never come, for when it does come, you'll just wait for another better opportunity. No matter what confusion and insults surround you, the time is right for teshuvah.