Elul, the Month of Mystery, unfortunately...
By N. Shuldig
It is difficult to believe that there are people who do not know that Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur mark the Jewish days of divine judgment, and by 'people' I am referring to the current population of the Western world, i.e. non-Jews. Rosh Hashanah is so well known that even the astrological figure for the zodiac at this time is the scales. Therefore it should not be remarkable that the Jews themselves know this. But if this knowledge of the non Jewish world of this Jewish holiday is remarkable, would you not agree that how much more so should the following be remarkable:
The month before Rosh Hashanah, (in Hebrew: Elul), is a month of preparation for Rosh Hashanah. What is extraordinary is the sad fact that few Jews know this and even those sparse few are actually moved to do something about it. This month, Elul, is supposedly purported to be set aside for such hither-to un-practiced activities known by a few as soul-searching. This means reviewing one's personal activities of the year gone by, measuring one's success in spiritual endeavors, in honesty, and in general a inspection of one's status, both in the physical and in the spiritual, prior to that big and holy day in which all stand before the Judge of judges, the King of kings.
Besides actually making the decision regarding purchasing a seat in the synagogue (not too close to the Rabbi or the air conditioner) and making certain to pick up enough food and drink for the holiday, what preparations does the average Jew do? Perhaps it is to call his/her parents and wish them a good year? Good, but not enough!
We unfortunately live in a time when there is a multiplicity of rabbis who are fighting to lead the less enlightened in some particular direction. Of course there is a plethora of rabbis who distinguish themselves by their ability to conceal their personal ignorance and yet they possess the ability to convince those less knowledgeable of their scholarly merits. Never have we lived in a time when there is more ignorance and ignoramuses parading as knowledgeable scions of the rabbinate. The mark of excellence in rabbinics seems to have been lowered to permit not just dim students to earn the mantle of respect to be called a 'rabbi' but also has given charlatans and unscrupulous entrepreneurs the means of extracting money from unsuspecting followers who believe in the validity of the rabbi's statements by virtue of this 'rabbi's' ability to speak convincingly and effectively; but the lay persons themselves understand neither the correctness of his statements nor the subject of Jewish laws and customs to any depth.
Sadly we can find this phenomena of ignoramuses leading the naive in all sectors of the Jewish population, in all various groups, from the less observant to the ultra-extreme. We live in a time when not only do rabbis disagree on various new matters, (disagreement has existed since the time of the Mishna) but even on simple basic fundamental aspects of Judaism. That which has never been doubted since the giving of the Torah (and even before!) is now in doubt. How can a person be held accountable for his own personal sins if the rabbis disagree as to what is being done is a sin or a mitzvah?
It is incumbent upon all Jews to take their heritage back in their own two hands. To escape from this ridiculous situation, a Jew must set aside time to read the Torah hinmself, if not in the original Hebrew, then in the various translated texts that fortunately flourish in Jewish book stores. He/she must exert his own personal brain to understand the texts and only afterwards ask questions. How else can a person be true to himself and his G-d if he does not himself read the text?
Today we can find rabbis permitted eating of pork, being a homosexual, destroying property in the name of "shabbes" and a host of absurd other rulings that only are manifestations of deeper agendas whether for political or financial gains it is harmful to the individual and to the Jews in general. By reading the Torah even in English it will be clear that like pork is clearly forbidden, homosexuality is clearly forbidden and so is hooliganism in the name of sanctifying the Shabbat. Once we, the lay Jew, object to the misuse of the honored mantle of the rabbi utilizes this title's respect for his own goals, then perhaps we can work on the need to break down barriers between the various factions of Jews and at the same time get closer to our Maker.
It seems that this Ellul, our work is cut out for us. We must at least make amends by taking upon ourselves personalized and individual study of the Torah; by learning what are sins and what are mitzvoth, by making a resolve to become a more spiritual person. When we just take upon ourselves this resolve we will become a better person and when we actually act upon this resolve, we will be doing what G-d has asked us to do for the high holydays.
Perhaps we can make this Ellul different; make it what it should be. In which case a person is promised a good judgment on Rosh Hashanah.
from the August 2009 Edition of the Jewish Magazine