Last week, my wife woke me up at 1:30 am, saying “Get up quickly! Someone is knocking on the front door!” I was half asleep and tried to ignore reality. “Get up now! Somebody’s knocking on the door and I heard the phone and your cell ringing.” Sure enough, there was pounding at the door and the doorbell was ringing. At this point, we were both scared. What could be happening at 1:30 in the morning? So, I dialed the number that called my cell phone. It was the Passaic Police. “Why did you call me?” I asked. “We’re responding to a call about an attempted break-in at your house. The Police are at your front door right now!”
At that hour, my brain was still in a fog. A break-in? Here? Police? I looked out the window to see three police cars and several officers on my front porch. This wasn’t a dream. I opened the door to let the police come in. They had already checked the perimeter of the property and found nothing. Then with our permission, they did a sweep of our house. Nothing again. It seems the caller gave the wrong address – likely Crescent Place, not Crescent Ave. When they left, our hearts were still pounding. Baruch Hashem, no one broke in. Still…my wife said, “It’s Elul and Hashem sent these policemen in the middle of the night to wake us up! The shofar started blowing at shul, but we needed a greater awakening.” We recited Tehillim at our dining room table, with thanks for all of us being safe. What a night!
The shofar blasts reverberate throughout our communities every morning in Elul at the end of Shacharis. The Rambam says the reason we blow shofar is to wake us up from our slumber. We certainly got woken up at our house that night! Now, it’s time to take the message to a higher level to awaken our sleepy soul. Elul is the time to do that! Each day is precious.
From Rosh Chodesh Elul through Yom Kippur is a forty-day period. The Chofetz Chaim says these days are most auspicious, since Moshe spent that amount of time in heaven writing the second luchos (tablets), which he brought down on Yom Kippur. Hashem providing the second set of luchos let us know that He accepted the repentance of the Jewish Nation regarding the sin of the golden calf and once more chose the Bnei Yisroel to be His nation by giving them the Torah.
The number forty is highly significant. The Bnei Yissaschar notes it’s the minimum volume of water required for a kosher Mikvah – 40 Se’ah (measurement of volume in the Gemara era). Each day of the 40 day period from Rosh Chodesh Elul until Yom Kippur corresponds to one Se’ah of the Mikvah and purifies one part of the person that became defiled. Forty days also corresponds to the development of a fetus and determines the gender of the baby. Each day is crucial. Each day is important
Rabbi Moshe Wolfson notes that in Parshas Ki Teitzei we also find the number forty in the punishment of lashes mentioned. Yet the offender, who transgressed a negative commandment, only receives thirty-nine lashes, for the sages extrapolate the verse to mean forty minus one-thirty-nine. Each of the lashes is meant to purify part of the person who was defiled. If we perfect thirty-nine areas of the person, then Hashem makes the final product, the fortieth portion, complete.
The same concept is found in Shabbos, since Shabbos is the day in which the world was completed. There are thirty-nine base melachosthat one may not do on Shabbos. The fortieth is Godly — that’s why Yom Kippur is the fortieth day of this time period. In each day of this time period the alarm sounds via the shofar, reminding us to wake up and make each day count.
Rabbi Nosson Wachtfogel (late Mashgiach of Beis Medrash Govoha) stressed that we should focus on the positive and not the negative during this time. Focusing on our faults is not useful. Rather, it’s the time period to be diligent about performance of mitzvos and Torah learning and to resolve to improve ourselves. Some people take on a little something extra. Every activity we do to better ourselves in Elul has extra power and impact.
The Shofar is blowing. Don’t require the police to be pounding on the door! Let us listen to the wake-up call! Do at least one positive action, as small as it might be, but let’s not press snooze and go back to sleep. In Elul, each day makes a difference.
Do at least one positive action, as small as it might be, but let’s not press snooze and go back to sleep. In Elul, each day makes a difference.