Shoftim – Elul Resolutions
As difficult as it is to be on the road so often, it does provide benefits. I have a problem with restlessness and find myself constantly getting distracted by things that need to be done and I don’t give reflection and learning the focus they deserve. A few hours in the car, limited to one place and eyes on the road, provides a unique opportunity.
I spent nearly seven hours in the car last Tuesday, and next Tuesday I will spend 2 1/2 hours on a plane and another four hours in the car. Before setting off I always make it a priority to transfer some Torah lectures onto CDs so I can make the most of my time in the car. This week, rather than going for my usual subjects, I browsed online for topics related to Elul and Rosh Hashanah. I downloaded five or six lectures for the trip. I found that the speakers that resonated with me several years ago and the topics I once enjoyed are not necessarily my choice today. We all change over time, and we are inspired by different messages in different stages of life.
One lecture I listened to was by Rabbi Pesach Krohn, a high caliber, New York based speaker. Most good speakers pepper their message with stories, in order to illustrate their points and make the lessons more memorable. Pesach Krohn does the reverse – he throws some messages into his repertoire of stories. He is a genius at story telling, and although I did not find his talk as inspiring as I used to find his talks, I did pick up an important point.
We have entered the month of Elul this week, and only a few weeks remain before Rosh Hashanah is upon us. As before any Yom Tov, we will get tied up with the preparations for Rosh Hashanah very soon. We have to plan for three days of Yom Tov since Rosh Hashanah spills into Shabbat. We have plenty of baking to do ahead of time; the honey cakes have to be baked and delivered as well as the other traditional Yom Tov foods. In the rush of it all we hardly take the time to prepare for the other aspects of Rosh Hashanah, those relating to personal growth and self betterment.
We don’t get very far when we try to make big changes. Temporary changes also don’t often leave a lasting impression on us. But small goals are achievable, are easier to maintain and therefore bear more impact.
On Thursday night we prepared the dining room table for Shabbat. (This was something Pesach Krohn suggested) We didn’t put out the plates and silverware, but the table was cleared and the Shabbat cloth was spread. Flowers were in the center and we placed the Challah board and cover on the table. That was all. Friday morning the dining room had a different look. Friday was going to be hectic as usual. It would still be a mad dash to get everything ready in time for Shabbat. But the atmosphere the table provided would change the entire mood of the day.
We hope to keep this up on a regular basis. For some people this would not make a difference. Other lifestyles have different challenges and this approach would not be a fitting goal. For us this makes a difference.
For some the challenge is to add more spiritual meaning to a Shabbat meal. Politics can be discussed in any setting and maybe the Shabbat table should be a platform for more meaningful, Torah related discussion. For others the reverse may be true. Sitting for an extra hour discussing Torah at the expense of others who are exhausted from preparing for Shabbat and have clean up waiting for them may not be the best overall plan under the circumstances.
Every setting has its own appropriate response and our work in preparation for Rosh Hashanah is to ask ourselves how we can best serve God in the circumstance in which we are placed.