• Northeast Kollel

Elul: First in Line

By Rabbi Yonah Burr

It is well known that in previous generations Elul was a time of trepidation. The fear of the upcoming judgement was palpable. It is told that when the Chazzan would so much as announce the Rosh Chodosh Elul, Rav Yisroel Salanter would almost faint from the mere thought of the Days of Awe.

Most of us are not on these lofty levels and we might even have trouble imagining what these great Tzaddikim could possibly fear. Clearly, though, those on a higher level understand more deeply their obligations.

A Practical Approach

What can we do to optimize our Yomim Noraim experience and ensure that it is the most meaningful it can be?

The Gemara in Meseches Rosh Hashana tells us that on Rosh Hashana we all pass before Hashem one by one - "כבני מרון". What is the meaning of k’bnai maron?

The Gemara gives three parables:

  1. Like sheep being counted for the tithe.

  2. Like soldiers who pass in military formation.

  3. Like a line of people waiting to cross a narrow bridge.

What is the deeper meaning of these parables?

Rav Yitzchak Blazzer from Petersburg, one of the prime disciples of Rav Yisroel Salanter explained based on the teaching that that it is always best to stand on trial earlier in the day, before the attribute of strict justice intensifies. How does one merit to be judged first? The Gemara gives three criteria:

  1. Sheep are counted one by one as they pass through the opening of the pen. The sheep that is strongest will push its way through by virtue of its sheer strength. So, too, the utterly righteous, will ‘push’ their way first, by virtue of the strength of their deeds.

  2. Soldiers, on the other hand, must blindly obey what their generals command. They themselves do not always know why they are marching in any particular order. Likewise, it is at times beyond our comprehension why some people are favored in judgement while others suffer.

  3. Finally, there is the line of people waiting to cross. Who goes first? On what basis? It is first come, first served. He who arrives first crosses first! We sometimes hear of the stories of people camping out early to be first in line to purchase the newest gadget, or to be first to view the newest entertainment. The same applies to the awesome Days of Judgement. Whoever ‘arrives’ first will be served first! Whoever prepares themselves early on, and uses every day of Elul to mentally ready themselves will have the privilege of being judged early, before the intensity of the day sets in. The preparation itself is the merit, and our efforts will be rewarded with an easier trial.

Elul is a time of closeness to Hashem. Hashem is waiting for us and ready to accept us with open arms! Let us utilize Hashem’s gift and show Him we want to be first in line!

May we all be inscribed in the book of life, health and happiness!

Have a wonderful Shabbos.