On Sunday evening, August 8, Chazaq, TorahAnytime, Tallis Man, and Stories to Inspire hosted an amazing event featuring powerful stories. Robbie Aboff, Chazaq Events Director, emceed the event.

First, Rabbi Steven Burg, CEO of Aish HaTorah, shared a hashgachah story. When he was an NCSY (the OU’s National Conference of Synagogue Youth) Regional Director, he was running a Shabbaton in California in a hotel which was also hosting a wedding party. One of the members of the wedding party approached Rabbi Burg and asked if he could join the Shabbos program. Rabbi Burg readily agreed. A few years later, Rabbi Burg was speaking at Ohr Somayach, and a frum-looking man came over to him and asked, “Do you recognize me?”

It was the young man who had asked Rabbi Burg if he could be part of the Shabbaton in California. He told him that he had started to take on mitzvos when he was at the wedding at the hotel, and he saw that it was too hard to keep Shabbos with the wedding party. When he saw the Shabbaton, he was so happy to be able to join. He added that he was so inspired by that Shabbos that the next day, he took a plane to Israel to begin learning, and he became totally shomer mitzvos. Rabbi Burg concluded the story: “We do what we can, and we have to realize that Hashem is our partner.”

Next, Rabbi Nachum Scheiner, Rosh Kollel, Beis Medrash Ohr Chaim (Monsey, New York), shared a story that illustrated the idea that we are sleeping, and the reason for the shofar blowing now in Elul is to wake us up. “We are all sleeping in one way or another. Hashem wants us to get up and not to miss the opportunity of Elul. Hashem is here for us. He wants us to utilize the opportunity.

Following this, Rabbi Yechiel Spero, author of Touched By a Story, shared that it is time to be judged again. Hashem gives us one month to prepare. During Elul, we should increase kindness to one another.

There is a pasuk that says, “It is possible for me to exist, to stand before You.” This encourages us that we can do it. We can view Elul with fear or trepidation – or with the attitude of “I can do this.” We need to believe that great things will happen.

Next, Rabbi Eliyahu Maksumov, well-known speaker, shared a story that Rav Ovadia Yosef zt”l used to share about French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte. Napoleon laid siege to Moscow and was waiting outside the walls of the city for them to surrender. He wanted to know how long it would take, as it was the dead of the cold Russian winter. He and an officer dressed in disguises and climbed over the wall. They went to a local inn to see what was happening. They found out that the city was ready to surrender. One of the patrons of the inn thought he recognized Napoleon, so the officer quickly punched the Emperor and said insulting things about him to try to show that he couldn’t be Napoleon. Later, after the victory, this officer apologized to the Emperor, saying he was sorry and that he knew he deserved death for punching the Emperor. Napoleon said: No, you saved my life and I will give you the highest honors. Rabbi Maksumov explained that, many times, we don’t intuit what is happening in life. Only G-d sees the good behind the bad. “Challenges are there to strengthen us.”

Next, Rabbi Eliezer Abish, author of Portals of Prayer, shared a story about Rav Shlomo Carlebach. One time, Rav Carlebach was asked to visit Jewish prisoners, and he brought them latkes and doughnuts. He spoke words of encouragement to each prisoner and hugged each one. He also sang and told them stories.

A group of non-Jewish prisoners asked that he come visit them, and so he did and he hugged each one. As he was leaving, a large man ran after him. He said, “Please, may I have another hug.” He told Rabbi Carlebach that the hug he had received was the first hug he ever got, and if he had had hugs before, he might not be in prison right now. Rabbi Abish taught that Hashem is saying: I want to give you a hug. We have to take a step forward to Him. Our task in Elul is to come closer to Hashem, to receive His loving way.

After this, Rabbi Chanan Gordon, famous speaker, noted that we are up for review from Hashem. “He added that Hashem loves us more than we love ourselves. He wants only good things for us.” Elul is a time to reflect on what we are going to cut out of our lives, the mistakes we made, and it’s the time to apologize to folks we may have hurt. It is a tragedy if you are the same person this year that you were last year. “We are asking Hashem for another year of life. We need to show Hashem that we are going to grow.”

Then, Rabbi Yaakov Rahimi, Chazaq teacher, spoke about the gift of Chodesh Elul. “These are days full of opportunity to draw close to Hashem.” Elul is a time with special koach. We can draw close to Hashem in a speedy way. A person can repent all year, but now we are flying on “t’shuvah mode.” It’s easier now to change bad habits. If you take something upon yourself, you will be able to do it more quickly. “Hashem is asking us for a sign of life.” Tell Hashem, “I want to come back to You!” There is a special force from Hashem this month.

The last speaker, Rabbi Shmuel Reichman, renowned speaker, shared that Elul is a time to check ourselves. The problem is we fear the process of self-analysis. We need to change our perspective to what can I become better at – not what I am doing wrong. We need to fall in love with the process of growth in Elul. We need to turn this into a journey of excitement.

Robbie Aboff concluded the program by saying, “I am sure we can apply these stories and lessons to become our true selves. This is the time of year of connecting.”

By Susie Garber