It’s that time of year again when, after three years, my car lease expires and it’s time to get a new one. What is a person living on a rebbi’s salary doing leasing a new car or even two? How can I afford it?
The truth is that I can’t, but on the other hand, I can’t afford not to. Should we instead go the used car route? Been there, done that, and it didn’t work for us. Perhaps it was our mazel, but we found that our cars spent more time by the mechanic than on the road.
One of the signs that it was time to give up used cars was when one non-Jewish mechanic told one of my kids coming to pick up the car, “Your father is one of my favorite customers.” The straw that broke the camel’s back was when I bought myself a small car, an old clunker just to get around town. I prided myself on the fact that it cost just a couple of thousand dollars and that it is so simple and efficient without any of the features. Well, that didn’t last for very long. The motor conked out on me after just over a month, two days after the dealer’s warranty expired.
That was it. Time and menuchas hanefesh are worth a lot to me, especially with a busy schedule that does not allow for cars that don’t cooperate. So we went the leasing route and, b’siyata diShmaya, it has worked well for us. But now there is a glitch. Because of the Covid pandemic, the production of new cars has been drastically curtailed. You can hardly get a new car, certainly not the car I had until now, and definitely at much higher prices.
What to do? My leasing agent, who is always a pleasure to deal with, suggested that I call the company and ask to have the lease to my present car extended for a few months until the situation with the availability of new cars might change. It’s a good idea, but then I started thinking. That peace of mind of driving a new car without any mileage or wear and tear will be gone. The car is at a point when things might start to break down and once again I might become good friends with the local car mechanic, a friendship I wanted to avoid in the first place. But do I have a choice?
Then it hit me. I am concerned about the newness of my cars and their efficiency. Have I given any thought to the newness of my neshomah and its competence and its freshness? There are major differences between them. To extend my car lease, I must call the company and I’ve been forewarned that they don’t grant extensions easily, and if they do, it’s not for the full time requested. Secondly, even when granted an extension by the company, you are driving a used car with mileage and wear and tear at a time in its life when things start to go wrong with it. There go the peace of mind and saved time.
How drastically different it is with our neshamos. This time of year, Elul, is when we get ourselves into gear for the Yomim Noraim. That is when we ask Hakadosh Boruch Hu to grant us a new lease on life, and as an Av Harachamim, He is overjoyed to do so when we daven with sincerity and truly resolve to improve our deeds and strengthen our relationship with Him. In addition, with the proper teshuvah, we can turn back the mileage and wear and tear on our neshomah. And yes, we can begin the new year with a fresh slate and renewed strength and vigor.
This, of course, also gives us special siyata diShmaya when requesting our own personal needs. What a great deal! Because every nick or dent in our neshomah and every speck of impurity not cleaned out means that there is a void there and our relationship with Hashem and the blessing that it brings are affected adversely.
“Hakadosh Boruch Hu looked inside the Torah and created the world” (Bereishis Rabbah 1:2). The essence of the world is based on Torah. The only reality in the world is using the physical creation to honor Hashem and to fulfill His commands. All of the turmoil in the world, the discord between nations, the political wars that occupy so much of people’s minds, the scandals that are concocted by the news media and the nations that think the pursuit of olam hazeh can bring true happiness are all tactics of the yeitzer hara to distract us from our true mission in life – following the Torah and relying on Hashem.
During the summer, while discussing the Covid virus with a coworker in camp, he said to me, “We started off on the right track, but then we got distracted.”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“We recognized that this was a gezeirah min haShomayim, an edict from Heaven, and we davened, we focused, we beseeched Hashem for rachamim. But then, all of a sudden, something changed. The situation became politicized. It became a Democrat-Republican thing. It morphed into anger and protests against de Blasio and Cuomo and the powers that be.”
“Well, don’t you think they were playing politics and deserve the backlash?” I countered. “They weren’t concerned about social distancing when it came to public demonstrations, but prevented mothers from taking their kids to playgrounds. And what about the total lack of consideration for small businesses, enforcing their closure and ruining their parnassah while allowing Walmart and other large stores to open? Should we just sit back silently and not protest this misuse of power?”
“Of course they have valid gripes,” he said. “But that should not be our focus. The politicians are merely puppets on a string to exacerbate our difficult situation. Our efforts must be concentrated on calling out to Hashem for a yeshuah for both health and parnassah, not allowing ourselves to be blinded and distracted by the apparitions and noises of the outside world.”
And he’s right.
Since Hashem created the world by first looking into the Torah, we must follow the same path.
As we are about to create our world for the coming year through our actions during Elul and the Yomim Noraim, we, too, must look into the Torah to gain insight on how to do this. In the most prominent kappitel of Tehillim that we say during these days, Dovid Hamelech declares, “Hashem Ori Veyishi, Hashem is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear? Hashem is my life’s strength. Whom shall I dread?” (Tehillim 27:1). Any forces counter to Hashem, His Torah, and His people are not real, and Dovid did not allow himself to be distracted by them.
One of the remazim to the month of Elul is found in the mitzvah of arei miklat: “Va’asher lo tzadah veHa’Elokim inah leyado vesamti lecha makom asher yonus shama – But if he did not aim at killing him, but G-d delivered him into his hand, then I will appoint for you a place where he shall flee” (Shemos 21:13). The first letters of the words “inah leyado vesamti lecha” spells Elul. What is the connection between these words and this holy month that is so vital for our success in this coming year?
It is precisely the aforementioned point that the Torah is alluding to. We are very much influenced by the society that we live in. We follow the news and we get caught up in the daily events, influenced by the subjective opinions of commentators. In the process, it is easy to forget that everything is orchestrated by Hashem, and our success and peace of mind depend on our relationship with Him.
Elul is an ihr miklat for us, when we must isolate ourselves in an enclosed place of refuge from the world. It is a time for contemplation to regain clear vision and grasp reality. We are an am hanivchar with special Hashgocha from Hakadosh Boruch Hu. Even when someone was somewhat negligent in causing another Yid’s death, it is inah leyado; Hashem brought it about. Similarly, our successes and failures throughout the year are brought about by Hashem. If so, the cause and effect of our blessings are not through our physical hishtadlus and what our senses perceive, but rather through Hashgocha from Hashem.
Just a few short months ago, one of the topics prominent in the news was the banning of disposable plastic shopping bags. The stores would no longer supply them and we would have to buy our own reusable bags. The ban was enforced for a few weeks and was indeed an inconvenience, but after the hardship and pain brought about by the coronavirus, does anybody even remember the new law? It is so insignificant in comparison to what has transpired since then that it doesn’t even register in our minds. The stores are so preoccupied with the aftermath of the disease, trying to keep their shelves stocked and maintaining social distancing, that the new law has been put on hold and the good old disposable bags are being distributed.
The lesson here is that when we are overwhelmed by a major issue, all side issues become trivial and fall by the wayside. During Elul and the Yomim Noraim, we must come to the realization that first and foremost in our lives is our closeness to Hashem. That is the key to our success, accepting Hashem as our King in every aspect of our lives. All other matters are trivial. This is expressed by Dovid Hamelech. If Hashem is my light and salvation, then I have nothing to fear.
This is the new lease that we are signing as we approach the yemei hadin. The more we work on the ani leDodi, dedicating our lives to our beloved Hakadosh Boruch Hu, the more we will experience the blessings of veDodi li, our Beloved will watch over us and guide us to a happy and healthy new year.