Rosh Chodesh Elul is the "head" of the month of Elul. Because Elul is the month preceding and preparing for the High Holidays, it is a month of accounting, when a person reviews his or her behavior over the last year and resolves to correct what was inappropriate. Elul has a salutary effect on the corresponding days of each month in both the preceding and the upcoming years. This concept connects to the portion of the week, Shoftim, which opens "Shoftim [Hebrew for 'judges'] and police you should place at each of your gates". (Deut.16:18) "Judges" refers to the Torah learning which teaches us how to act. "Police", whose task is to enforce the law, refers to the actual performance of the commandments. The Torah is reminding us that it is imperative, especially during the month of Elul, that each person appoints for him or herself "judges" and "police" to affect proper behavior.

Also, "at all of your gates" is in the singular, to emphasize that every single person must supervise the "gates of the body": the mouth, eyes, ears, nose, etc.. These especially need supervision so that they will allow only what is acceptable to Torah to pass through. My friends, take a minute and think how different our lives would be if we and those around us invest, even slightly, in guarding what we see, hear, say, and eat. Try replacing a kind word for a sharp one next time and see how much time you save.

We have to serve G‑d in every aspect of our lives….

On the other hand, the challenge is sometimes being "too holy". Rebbe Michal of Zlotshuv says that just as the evil inclination presses us to sin, similarly it seduces us to try to be more righteous than appropriate. Rebbe Michal explains the meaning of the verse "Righteousness, righteousness you should chase, in order to live". (Deut.16:20) You can translate the Hebrew word "chase", in Hebrew "tirdof" as "escape". We should run away from someone who has an inappropriate level of righteousness. We should have just enough righteousness "in order to live"; we must train ourselves to find the "middle path". The Shelah writes that the double "Righteousness, righteousness", literally "correct righteousness", refers to the virtue of compromise. This is important advice, especially for married couples.

In the end, what is required - more sanctity or less? What is required is to be honest. There is a short story about the tzadik Rebbe Zeev Wolfe of Zbariz whose wagon once became inextricably stuck in mud. "Master of the universe", he began to cry, "I know my sins are impossible to bear, therefore you have decreed that I should sink into this mud and muck to push me to return to you. But I ask you, Master of the universe, standing in mud up to my neck, is this how you want me to return? I beseech you, take me out of here and I promise that I will return completely before you." (Don't ask me what happened to his wagon. It did not say.)

On the verse, "You should be perfect with the L-rd your G‑d", (Deut. 18:13) the Be'er Mayim Chaim brings in the Baal Shem Tov's teaching on the verse, "You should know Him in all of your ways": (Proverbs 3:6) it is not enough to serve G‑d only with learning Torah and doing the commandments; we have to serve G‑d in every aspect of our lives. Clearly, a person whose divine service includes only certain limited times or activities, even good ones such as prayer, or Torah study, is not wholly serving G‑d because the rest of his or her day and energy is spent self-serving. Therefore, "Perfect you should be with the L-rd your G‑d": all of your service should be complete and perfect.

Shabbat Shalom, Shaul

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