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THE MONTH THAT MAKES IT OR BREAKS IT
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THE MOST CRITICAL MONTH OF THE YEAR
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WHAT IS A LIST FOR?
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AGAINST ANGER
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THE ``CONCEALMENT FACTOR``
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PASSING THE ANNUAL INSPECTION
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We must take a critical look at ourselves and our shortcomings.

 

Without any particular warning or explanation, the feeling comes.

Adam Israel opens his eyes to the ringing of the alarm clock one Monday morning, and decides that somebody must be kidding. Why exactly is this square little dictator with two outstretched arms ordering him out of bed!?

All of a sudden, life seems a burden. The point of the daily shove into the subway to the office is now unclear.

At first glance, it would seem that this unwelcome feeling has chosen the wrong person to visit. Indeed, Adam usually has no time to entertain feelings or thoughts of this sort. When this young executive is not putting in megadoses of overtime at the office, he is on the latest best-seller in the sun room of his new penthouse.

But at this moment, 7:01 on a Monday morning, even the memory of his recent trip to China will not assuage his unease. Something is wrong and none of the psychological resources at his disposal are able to push him out of bed.

It is a moment when the sound of the alarm clock is drowned out by a voice from within that whispers: "There must be more to life." The voice is not very explicit, not very logical and yet is disturbing, even frightening.

Contrary to what Adam may think at first, this is a golden moment. It is evidence that the man is still functioning. It is a moment when a window opens in the shell of superficiality which envelopes him. A life of materialism is about to give way to an eruption of vibrant spirituality which churns within.

It is a moment ripe for teshuva, return to G-d, and the true joy of living that comes with it.

In a simple, but powerful parable, the Talmudic Sage Rabbi Levi puts his finger on what is really eating our Adam:

The situation can be compared to that of a small-town dweller who married a princess. Even though he brings her all the delicacies in the world, he still hasn't done his duty.

Why? Because she is a princess. Similarly, whatever a person does for his soul is insufficient. Why? Because it is from above (Midrash Koheles).

In other words, the soul within us is flush with desire. But not for physical pleasure, like the body. Our soul desires spiritual satisfactions. This desire is the source of the restlessness we feel. But instead of providing the soul with the satisfactions for which it longs, we try to substitute. Our underlying spiritual hunger is transmuted into the pursuit of success, money, honor, and the like.

In this light, we can understand the comment of the first man to scale Mount Everest. When asked about his feelings on finally reaching the Earth's summit, Sir John Hillary replied that he felt a great spiritual uplift at first, followed by emptiness.

We, too, may have scaled our own Everests. We may have accumulated wealth, achieved social and professional stature. But true happiness has somehow eluded us.

So we search for new goals – change careers, perhaps – and set out to scale another Everest. But when we reach the summit, the story repeats itself. The dissatisfaction recurs. And we face a mid-life crisis, or worse.

Why?

"Because it (the soul) is from above."

Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzato, puts it even more sharply. The soul, he notes, mocks the pleasures of the limited, finite material world. These will not satisfy it (The Path of the Just, Ch.1).

It is during the moments and hours when the hunger of our soul makes itself felt that we suddenly lose our taste for the materialistic life we are living.

Our Tradition warns us against banishing this dissatisfaction from our consciousness, or smothering it in still greater quantities of physical and material indulgence. To do so would only be to postpone the ultimate reckoning with ourselves.

On the contrary, we are asked to take this feeling of dissatisfaction and use it as a tool for self-renewal, as a point of departure for a different kind of life. The sense that "there must be more to life" can afford us a new perspective on ourselves, on our achievements and on the world. Indeed, it contains the seeds of teshuva.

This is what the month of Elul is all about. This is what Rosh Hashanah is all about, too, the station to which Elul brings us. Likewise, "The Ten Days of Teshuva" which lead from Rosh Hashana to Yom Kippur.

These are the days when G-d calls us to "bring ourselves in" for the annual "inspection." He asks us to take a critical look at ourselves and our shortcomings. He asks us to get in touch with the soul within us, to rediscover things that we have forgotten, truths that we have neglected. He asks us to slake our spiritual thirst, and in so doing, breathe a living soul into the New Year about to be born.


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