Thursday, August 26, 2010

Dubno Maggid on Chodesh Elul

The Dubno Maggid gives a mashal (parable) on the month of Elul, the penitential Hebrew month leading into Rosh Hashana, the New Year. Elul is a time of teshuvah (repentance), introspection, and the recounting one's deeds from the past year. Because when Rosh Hashanah is upon us we are already asking to be inscribed in the book of life for the coming year. There are many stories of tzaddikim from yesteryear who literally walked around with frozen faces, frozen with fear during the month of Elul, because Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur were almost at hand, and they knew that soon they would be judged for the past year's activity. A man once came to the chassidim of the Chozeh of Lublin on motzei Yom Kippur (evening following the holiday), and saw the chassidim dancing festively with the utmost joy. The man asked the Chozeh, "what are they so happy about? Yom Kippur just ended!" The Chozeh replied, "they're dancing because they know that they've been inscribed in the book of life. You see that man sitting in the corner over there crying?...." And now to the mashal.

The king had decided that he wanted a new goblet. He was looking to out-due royalty. No expense would be spared in the making of what would become the true treasure of the palace. And so a master craftsman was called in for the job. The craftsman was given gold, silver, emeralds, diamonds and rubies. He was given one year to fashion out of the materials what only an expert craftsman could conceive of. One year, and no more.

The craftsman had been in debt. During the first month he got the idea into his head that he could sell a couple of the diamonds, and quickly work his way out of it. This worked out quite well, and without really thinking too hard about the consequences, he began to sell off some of the rubies. At the same time, he became lax in constructing the goblet. In fact, it was three months through, and he had not yet begun his royal work. More time had passed, but he had only gone about his daily routine, thereby not fulfilling king's wishes. In fact, the goblet really wasn't much on his mind at all. As the months passed, he sold off a few more jewels, and continued his humdrum life of laziness and laxity.

One month before the end of the year he caught the date, and smacked himself on the head. "Woe is to me! The goblet for the king!" And he frantically began working with the few resources he had remaining. When the month was up he came to the king. The entire king's retinue was standing around the king's royal table. The craftsman unwrapped the goblet, and presented it to the king. "What a sight!" they said. The king picked up the goblet, and remarked on how intricate the silver pastoral scenes etched into the goblet had been. The goblet shined so brightly. But just then, the treasurer walked over. "The goblet is all silver," he remarked. He went over to treasury books, and saw that gold, silver, diamonds, rubies and emeralds had been allocated. "This goblet is only made of silver!" he shouted. And at his shout, the craftsman fell down on his knees, and began to scream, "please, please, spare me my life!" And this is us on chosdesh Elul and Rosh Hashanah, says the Dubno Maggid. A whole year goes by, and we waste our resources that Hashem has been gracious enough to send down upon us. We don't pray like we should, we don't learn Torah like we should, we don't visit the sick like we should. Then comes the months of Elul, and fear sets in. We try the cram all the year's deeds into one month in penitence of what we've missed out on throughout the year. Then comes Rosh Hashanah, and we fall down before the king, and we beg for our lives. We beg to be inscribed in the book of life for the coming year.

One more mashal. There was once a businessman who went into a shop to buy goods at wholesale prices. He asked for one of these, one of these, and one of these. The storekeeper wrote up an invoice, and handed it to the businessman. The businessman said, "please sit down. I'm sorry to say that I don't really have the money to pay you right now, so what I'm asking is that you give it to me on credit." And this is what we ask of Hashem on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. "Avinu Malkeinu, chaneinu va'aneinu ki ein banu ma'asim." "Our Father our King, grace us and answer us even though we don't have worthy deeds." Even though we did not live up to our potential in our relationship with you, and in our relationship with others, and in our relationship with ourselves, please extend our life for yet another year. We don't have the deeds to make such a request, but please give it to us on credit, so that in the coming year we may exert ourselves and form a truer bond with you Hashem.

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