Once we are on the way, we wonder, “What did we forget?” It makes no difference. Too late now. We aren’t turning back. Now that we are settled in the car and enjoying the scenery outside on this bright sunny day, I think to myself: Why all of this nervousness during our preparations? What would be so terrible if we didn’t have the EZPass for our trip? It would mean merely waiting another few moments by the toll booth.
And if I actually did forget something at home, would that really pose such a great difficulty? One of my children staying at home for the summer can always send it to me. And if we wouldn’t fill up on gas beforehand or buy water and snacks, we could always pick up something on the way. So why was I so nervous about all of these trivial matters? It was for mere convenience and nothing more. Then it hit me. There is another journey coming up soon for which I am nowhere nearly as prepared, and yet I am nowhere nearly as nervous about it. What, you wonder, is this trip?
The Chofetz Chaim was once in the city of Warsaw one Erev Rosh Chodesh. He tried to gather a minyan of mispallelim for Yom Kippur Koton but found it difficult, as most of the people did not have this minhag. He asked one of the chassidim there why he doesn’t say the Selichos for Yom Kippur Koton. The man replied, “Because it isn’t my rebbe’s custom.” The Chofetz Chaim said, “You remind me of an incident that happened a while back.
“I was once traveling by train to a city quite a distance away from my home,” continued the Chofetz Chaim. “It wasn’t so pleasant for me, as I had no companion for the trip and no one to talk to. Then, at one of the stations, a Yid got on the train and, seeing another frum Yid, he sat down right next to me. ‘Shalom aleichem,’ I greeted him excitedly. ‘Where is a Yid headed for?’ I asked him. I was so happy to hear that he was going to the same destination that I was. Ah, boruch Hashem, now I would have company for the rest of the trip. He settled down and we began to converse in divrei Torah.
“However, right before the very next stop, I was disappointed to see the man getting up, picking up his baggage, and readying himself to get off.
“‘Where are you going,’ I asked him.
“‘I am getting off at this stop,’ he answered.
“‘But didn’t you say that you are headed for the same destination as I am?’
“‘Yes I did,’ he said.
“‘But that is the last stop,’ I said. ‘You still have a way to go.’
“‘I am well aware of that,’ he said, ‘but I must still get off at this next stop.’
“‘Seeing the bewildered look on my face, he explained: ‘Obviously you had enough money to pay for a train ticket all the way from your town until your destination, but I am a pauper with barely a penny to my name, and I don’t have the funds to pay for the entire journey at one time. Therefore, I pay for the trip from one stop to the next. When I get off the train, I will go around begging and collect enough money to get me to the next stop. I will repeat this from station to station until I reach my destination.’”
“We, simple people, on the other hand, are like that pauper. We don’t have the credits to pay for the entire year. We have only enough merits to get us from one stop to the other, from month to month. Thus, we cannot bank on just one Yom Kippur at the beginning of the year. We must fast and daven on every erev Rosh Chodesh to procure the proper merits to get us safely to the next month”
Now, whether or not we say Yom Kippur Koton, one thing is clear from the Chofetz Chaim’s message. We must view our life during this coming year as a long journey. This will not happen by itself. In order to make the trek successfully, it takes a lot of preparation to accumulate the proper funding, the merits of Torah, avodah and chessed, to get us to our destination safely, without any hitches.
This is a journey that should really make me worry. This is no trivial matter. Yet, for some reason, I think that a magical travel machine will get me to my destination without worry or much expended effort.
– – – – –
While enjoying the shade of a warm summer day, the pleasantness of the moment is augmented by a beautiful creature fluttering by in mid-air. The lovely butterfly enhances this cheery serene moment with its grace and pretty multi-colored wings. It moves from flower to flower, sucking up the sweet nectar, inadvertently picking up pollen from one plant and transferring it to another. It is part of Hashem’s master plan of sprouting vegetation far and wide.
This organism has many remarkable features, all testifying to the chochmah of the Borei Olam, but there is one specific aspect of its development that we can learn from regarding Elul. Unlike a bird, the butterfly is not born with an inherent ability to fly. It starts out as a mere worm, slowly crawling from place to place. But then it reaches the pupa stage, when it forms a cocoon around itself. There it remains for a while, immobile and isolated from the world.
Then, miraculously, it emerges from this envelope a totally different briah. Now it has beautiful wings that enable it to fly. It helps beautify the world and can travel by air for thousands of miles. There is a lesson here for all of us.
Throughout the year, we are confined in our spiritual growth by our various responsibilities. Our jobs, paying the bills, and navigating life’s difficulties shackle us and limit our ability to ascend to higher levels. Of course, our nisayon in life is to overcome these obstacles and reach lofty madreigos, but, all too often, we don’t pass this test.
There is one time during the year, however, when we can recreate ourselves entirely: Chodesh Elul. The days in Elul together with the Aseres Yemei Teshuvah number forty. This number signifies birth, as it takes this long for an embryo to be fully formed in its mother’s womb. During Elul, we can become revitalized and experience a rebirth with new kochos that we never even realized we had.
Elul is our cocoon, when we can resurrect ourselves. But like the butterfly, we must isolate ourselves from those factors that hinder our progress throughout the year. While it is unrealistic for us to just ignore our regular responsibilities, we must at least minimize or even eliminate those activities that are not absolutely essential and dedicate the extra time to what is of primary importance: limud haTorah, tefillah andchessed.
Nor would it be so tragic if at least during this period, we don’t follow the news media – with its biased views and corrupt outlook on life – so regularly. Living Elul means total dedication to the world of truth. If we do this, we, too, can emerge from our spiritual cocoon reinvigorated, with the ability to soar to great heights, levels that heretofore we thought were way beyond our reach.