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R' Feldman's Derasha - Parashat Ki Tavo (September 21, 2019)

09/25/2019 10:53:18 AM

Sep25

There is no month of the Jewish year more laden with hints than Elul.  Like all of the names of the months, it came back with the Jews from Babylon.  But the fact that it is not Hebrew has not deterred many Sages from finding reference to it all over Tanach.  

I want to point to a reason for this explosion of hints, and then speak about a few of the most prominent ones.  

The cognitive faculty that works out Remazim, or hints, is what we call Bina.  It is an analytic function which closely examines something that has been received and takes it apart.  The original piece of knowledge we refer to as Chochma, or wisdom.  Even if it is intelligible, it is still somewhat raw.  

No one ever sees a Remez, or a hint, in the original received information.  When one reads a verse, the first thing one perceives is a simple understanding of it.  Take the first well-known hint about Elul in the verse “Ani L’Dodi V’Dodi Li” -- I am for my beloved and my beloved is for me.  It is a statement of mutual love, popular under the Chuppa.  That is fine, as far as it goes. But by analyzing the verse more closely, one can discern that the first letters of each of the words spell out Elul. That’s the hint.  

That sense which discerns something more is called Bina.  It gives a new cast to the verse by way of a second thought.  That second thought certainly changes the status of the first thought.  Sometimes it reveals a depth that renders the first thought superficial.  Sometimes it renders it almost false. It’s certainly an improvement if only because it adds an aspect that was missing at first.  

This is why Elul shows up in many hints.  It is the month of Bina, the power that generates those second thoughts.  Second thoughts that discern superficiality, or second thoughts that reveal mistakes.  

There's an proof to this in a Gemora in Megilla. The Gemora tells a story about successive attempts to figure out the end of the Babylonian Exile.  They knew it would be 70 years but they don’t know when to start counting. Everyone got it wrong. The Gemora says that even Daniel got it wrong.  How does it know? Because the verse says, Ani Daniel Binoti B’sefarim, “I am Daniel, who understood books.”  From this use of the word “Bina,” the Gemora says, we know that Daniel too originally erred.  

And, for Morad, we know the kicker, of course, is that the word Elul is same Gematria as Bina.

The three most famous hints about Elul -- where the word “Elul” can be found in the first letters of a series of words in Tanach -- are these: 

  1. The verse we already mentioned, Ani L’Dodi -- אני לדודי ודודי לי .  
  2. The verse in next week’s Parasha which describes a circumcision of the heart for you and for your children -- וּמָ֨ל ד' אֱלֹקיךָ אֶת־לְבָבְךָ֖ וְאֶת־לְבַ֣ב זַרְעֶ֑ךָ 
  3. In the Megilla of Esther, the Mitzva of sending Mishloach Manot and gifts for the poor also contains a hint:  וּמִשְׁל֤וֹחַ מָנוֹת֙ אִ֣ישׁ לְרֵעֵ֔הוּ וּמַתָּנ֖וֹת לָֽאֶבְיוֹנִֽים׃
     

What are these hints about?  The first is about a relationship, and is about Elul as a month of Davening.  Sephardim already started at the beginning of the month but we will start tonight to say Selichot.  This is an extra Davening service with the recitation of the 13 attributes of mercy playing the role of the Amida.  We add this service because the connection to Hashem for individuals is closer in this part of the year than anywhere else in the calendar.  The extra Davening is to take advantage of that. 
 
The second verse comes in the context of a section about Teshuva, or return.  After the curses, there is a return to Hashem, which means a renewed attention to the Torah.  The act of Teshuva is not separate from coming back to do the right things that one had stopped doing, and refraining from doing the wrong things which had become routine.  The verse about the circumcision of the heart is about a renewal of this connection in the context of Teshuva.   

The final verse is about portions for friends and gifts to the poor, or Tzedaka.  The literal meaning of this is known, but it also refers to the sharing of one’s time or energy.  Sometimes, people have fewer material resources but they still have their time or energy or ideas to share.  That too is the Tzedaka need of this time, a time to think about ways to give over the coming year.

Taken together, the three hints are about Teshuva, Tefilla and Tzedaka, the three pieces we mention during Davening on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur which can save us from the judgement.  They are all in focus in Elul, the month of re-thinking. Second thoughts are much better than first thoughts, like later drafts are better than first drafts.  The hints call on us to do that re-thinking.

Tue, October 22 2019 23 Tishrei 5780