On Tuesday evening, August 23, Shira Smiles, well-known speaker from Eretz Yisrael, delivered a live, powerful shiur at the Young Israel of Holliswood about the month of Elul and how to approach it properly. She noted that we are used to freedom to make our own choices. We don’t want to be told what to do. That was Adam’s struggle and challenge. Do we have the ability to listen and to give of ourselves to Hashem? The greatest person who ever lived was Moshe Rabbeinu and he was an anav.
We are in a struggle – a tug of war for obedience and disobedience. Our t’shuvah in Elul is for all the times we put our ego in front of Hashem. When we sin, we are saying that our needs are overarching Hashem’s will. A true valuable servant burns with motivation and constantly wants to do the wishes of his master. She stated that, “My will is to do the Ribbono Shel Olam’s will.” We need to make r’tzon Hashem paramount in our lives. To change, we need to focus on an area where we clearly see our will was dominant. The idea of being batul is knowing our place.
When we recite Modim, we bow down. Bowing shows that G-d’s will is supreme. We subjugate our will to His. We demonstrate that Hashem is the ultimate director of our lives. Bowing acknowledges that a force is greater than us and that is the Supreme Force. When we bow, we should focus on breaking our unwillingness to submit to Hashem.
During Elul, pick one t’filah a day to focus on. In Modim, when we bow, we can focus on breaking our resistance and recognizing that Hashem is the true Master of our life. This keeps us on the right path. Bowing is a very powerful act. It’s not about us. It’s about Hashem.
On Rosh HaShanah, we stand like a poor person at the door. The shofar is bent to remind us that we are to bend to Hashem’s will. The shofar starts from narrowness. From narrowness, we call out to You, Hashem, and Hashem answers us from expansiveness. Narrowness is us. We look at our life and what is good for us. Expansiveness is to give ourselves over to Hashem, and then we become greater. Our challenge is to step outside of ourselves and realize that the real idea of Yiddishkeit is that every aspect of our lives is supposed to be dedicated to what Hashem wants. We are all in a process. She explained that we are all construction sites.
She shared a moving story that happened recently. A man from Beitar, in Israel, was leaving for the airport, and he somehow overslept, and when the cab came to take him to the airport he realized he had to either daven quickly by himself or possibly miss the plane and ask the cab to wait while he davened with a minyan. He asked the cab to wait, and he davened with a minyan. When he entered the cab, the driver who looked totally not religious informed him that he used to be religious and he shared what had caused him to go away from Yiddishkeit. Today, seeing this man willing to miss his flight, and to pay extra to do what Hashem wanted, made him think about his life, and he decided right then that he was going to go home and change his ways.
Shira Smiles then pointed out that Elul is about stopping and thinking about what is important for us in our daily lives. It means looking at ourselves and what our priorities are. We need to ask ourselves: What is the focus of my life? It is a time to embrace the idea that I am here to do G-d’s will. It may seem like sacrificing, but you need to know that in the end you are not losing, you are gaining. “The moment you give something up to do G-d’s will is when you gain and become more G-dly.” She taught that when we chose the right option in a moral choice, then we expand into horizons we didn’t know existed.
Elul is about moments of clarity of giving up our freedom to Hashem. When we do this, then we can work on our connection to Hashem. Another part of Elul is working on our relationship with Hashem. She pointed out that we need to search our mitzvos, our Torah learning, and things we did right, and see how we can do even better. Ask yourself how you can make your relationship with Hashem more powerful.
Judaism is about a relationship with Hashem – continuously talking to Him and being as connected as possible. A person could perform all the mitzvos and not do sins but miss the inner core. Rav Wolbe said that a person could daven and not once think about Hashem. Rav Moshe Feinstein talked about a dream his father had. His father’s friend, who had died, came to his father and told him that, in Shamayim, Hashem wants our heart.
Rav Pinchas taught that Shabbos is one long Sh’moneh Esrei. It’s like being in the yichud room as a chasan and kallah with Hashem. We need to focus on our time with Hashem on Shabbos. Shira Smiles also taught that we need to slow down and focus when we recite a brachah.
She then shared a few ways to work on growing closer to Hashem during Elul. First, work on emunah, not just that Hashem exists but that Hashem is with me at all times. The key to being able to work on putting Hashem first is to work on our relationship with Hashem and our emunah. We need to open our eyes to the fact that everything that happens to us is yad Hashem. She suggested learning from a sefer on emunah ten minutes a day with a chavrusa.
Second, work on understanding that everything happens because Hashem wants it. This is exemplified by the brachah She’hakol.
Third, ask for whatever you need in life; the Chofetz Chaim taught that you should turn to the direction of Yerushalayim when you make these requests. Thank Hashem for your blessings. “Thank you” opens a time of favor for you to ask for something.
Fourth, keep a hashgachah pratis notebook and write down two things each day that were hashgachah pratis.
Last, When performing a mitzvah, be careful to focus on it and not do anything else during that time.
By Susie Garber