The days of the Hebrew month of Elul are days of journeys - inner spiritual journeys as well as journeys of miles and kilometers traversed across the hills and highways of Israel, Europe and America. Since the early days of Chasidut, it has been a tradition to travel to a tzadik, a righteous saintly person, for Rosh Hashanah, for in the merit of the Tzadik, one can hope to be looked upon favorably on the annual Day of Judgment.

In years past, the journey to the Tzadik was often not so easy, and it required great self sacrifice on the part of the chasidim as well as their families. The path from Warsaw to Gur, was often full of barefooted chasidim walking through the fields in order to save their shoes to wear for the honor of the holiday. Some chasidim were gone for a month or more, and their families were left to provide for themselves. Yet many wives and families urged and blessed their husbands and fathers to make the yearly pilgrimage for the month of Elul, Rosh HaShanah, Yom Kippur and Sukkot.

In the company of such seekers, it is possible to attain a healing of the soul….

The trip to the Tzadik in times past had a special flavor. Chasidim would travel for days and weeks in the company of their brethren to reach their destination. The trip was usually made in the company of one's friends, often chasidim of the first order and highest caliber, all traveling together in a bond of unique and unwavering friendship. Chasidim used to say, that in the company of such seekers, it is possible to attain a healing of the soul (called "Tikkun HaNefesh") even before they reached the Rebbe.

Those early chasidim would quote a verse from the Book of Isaiah when reflecting on their experiences traversing the dirt roads of Eastern Europe on the way to the Tzadik: "I remembered the kindness of your youth when you went after Me in the desert; through an unsown and desolate environment." (Jeremiah 2:2)

Rebbe Elimelech of Lizhensk used to comment that this kindness, the willingness of the chasid to take to the road to visit the Rebbe/Tzadik in his own youth, during the years when he was in full strength, will stand for him in his later years. G‑d will remember him when his physical strength has waned, remembering his joy and enthusiasm and how he dropped all his worldly pursuits to travel in an unsown land, so to speak, as he traveled to be with the Rebbe. G‑d will remember him and grant the chasid the strength to make the journey yet another year.

The question is by now obvious. Why undertake the expense of time and money to make the journey to the Tzadik? Is it not possible for one to study in his own home from books of Chasidut and Ethics? Cannot one accomplish spiritual growth on his own without the trouble of the arduous journey?

When I travel to the Tzadik, he knows exactly what I am lacking and what need to repair my faults….

A chasid whose neighbor once asked him about the necessity of his travels to the Rebbe, answered, "When I sit in my house with a book and begin to learn, the Evil Inclination eventually gets up and begins to dance on my table and finally kicks my book open to the chapter that speaks about the inherent weakness of man and how he must exert himself to overcome the Evil Inclination. I instantly become forlorn, overcome with uncertainty about my ability to best the Evil Inclination. When I travel to the Tzadik, he knows exactly what I am lacking and what need to repair my faults. He strengthens me and gives me the fixing that my soul needs.

The desire to travel to the Tzadik is really the intense longing of the soul to shake off its impurities and empty husks and to return to a state of purity. It is the light of the Tzadik which cleanses and straightens out the soul of the Chasid.

In the month of Elul, any contact with Torah scholars or any Jews who serve G‑d with all their hearts will help one to prepare for the awesome days ahead.

(First published in B'Ohel Hatzadikim, Ki Tavo 5760)