Rosh Chodesh Elul
The moment we hear the shofer on Rosh Chodesh Elul, we enter a very precious time. The first day of Elul is the day the process of Teshuvah begins.
Before we begin we must focus on our spiritual situation in which we find ourselves and strenghten our spirituality at the beginging of Elul. But even when the month has almost passed, we still didn't missed the chance for Teshuvah. Since every day of Elul including the very last day we are still given the oppertunity for Divine assistance.
How to prepare ourselves for the Holiest of all days and the advantage of the Ten Days of Repentance.
The first Gate
When someone does not begn the process of Teshuvah on the first day of Elul, it is being said that there will not be a ascend in spirituality during the whole month.
Also when someond ignores the signals that are meant to awaken us to Teshuvah damages being sensitive to these signals in the future. The first moment of the shofar blowing on Rosh Chodesh Elul are extremely important to do Teshuvah, but how do we prepare ourselves?
The most important thing is to accept our responsibilities, and the will to listen to the message of Shofar.
We cannot begin to repent when the will is not there to change our ways.
The Second Gate
It is dificult to evaluate our actions to rules in all four sections of Shulchan Aruch. Even for the more religious Jews who are fully commited to the Torah it is a dificult experience.
The consequences of our actions by our habits, which often are embedded from our childhood and forms our personality and character.
We do not always are aware, or question our numerous Mitzvos that we transgressing every day.
Listen to yourself when you have the feeling: Something is not right!
The Third Gate
The process of Teshuvah, begins on Rosh Hashanah and continues into Yom Kippur. To be sure we perform it in the right way, we have to take it step by step.
The first step is to strengthen our avodah even further and being careful to avoid sin and pay more atrention in performance of Mitzvos.
We also should strenghten our tefiliah by being more punctual anout the times of tefillah. To improve the quality by increasing our concentration. The words of Kriyas Shema and the first bracha of the Shemoneh Esrei should be understood. Special attention to raise our level of concentration during the prayers Ahavah Rabbah, Atah Chonen La'adam, Hashiveinu, Selach Lanu and the brachos of Birkas Hamazon.
Apart from strengthen tefilliah, we should strengthen our Torah study, according to our own individual level and avoid conversation irrelevant to Torah study.
When we are unable to devote all day to study Torah,we can be stricter during the hours we do have to study, the hours we made available to study for this purpose.
When we strenghten Teffilah and our Torah study, it will uplift us spiritually and essential is in the process of Teshuvah, and increases the will to repent in the right way.
The fourth Gate
This is the second step and here we should devote our time to thirty minutes a day to study Mussar. During the first days of Elul our strenghtening of Torah study should be studied. Maalos HaTorah, by the brother of the Vilna Gaon and the fourth chapter of Nefesh Hachayim.
The third step, after we studied Mussar for some days, we should now study Sefarim, which discusses Yiras Shamayim and Teshuvah. In general the Shaar Hateshuvah in the Sefer Orchos Tzaddikim, and the second chapter of Shaar Teshuvah.
We should wait a few days before we start a self- examination of our deeds, as we are are stronger and feel less incapable of change that might stop us in the process of Teshuvah.
The fourth step can be taken around ten days intensive tefillah, Torah and Mussar study and prepare ourselves for the next stage of Teshuvah.
The Fifth Gate
The fifth step, Elul resolutions and to begin studying Shaarei Teshuvah by Rabbeinu Yonah. One section a day and the the study should begin two weeks after Rosh Chodesh Elul and the entire chapter should be finished by Yom Kippur.
The text should be read many times until the meaning of the words become clear. This should be continued many times over, to the point where it profoundly goes deep into our heart.
How do we make resolutions? Making a resolution could help in the whole process, but we should feel when making a resolution that we are able to fulfill. The resolution should be kept until after Yom Kippur. Whatever it is when feel a strong desire, we could turn it into a resolution and refrain ourselves for that period of time.
Even when we are unable to fulfill our resolution, we should continue our path to Teshuvah. We could always try again, making another resolution.
The Sixth Gate
Ten days before Rosh Hashanah, we should do a more specific self- analysis, but before we perform this on ourselves, we should be aware of the two different types of transgression and each of these transgressions requiers a different methode how to correct this properly.
There is the irreregular transgression, this is what the frum Jews in general trying to avoid, for diffrent reason the yetzer hara could be overpowering and he sins, eventhough it could be unintentionally or intentually through a mental failure.
Through prayers and pleadings recited during Elul and Yom Kippur and in combination refraining ourselves in the futur. With sincere feelings of regret over our sins we commited in the past will guard ourselves from making them in the future.
For the purpose of our weakness we should study reguarly during the whole year and keeping the level of self- awareness during Elul.
Our irregular transgressions are: not being punctional in tefillah, vulgar speech, material that stimulate desires, comsuming food that are not Kosher, embarrassing other Jews in public and talking during Torah reading or Kaddish etc.
Whatever we desire, we should not picture this in our mind in exact same detail as the transgression. We should be able to control ourselves and refrain all these types of transgressing. Does HaShem has such unreasonable expectations and how do we expect to overcome this? We are expected to strive and gradually correct our faults throught constant effort, through the process of Teshuvah. When try hard enough to overcome our faults to the best of our ability, HaShem will be there with us and help achieve these goals.
Without the help of HaShem we will not overcome the yetzer hara.
Thinking about past sins, will repeats sins. When we have a complete clean out and get rid ourselves from past sins, we will be less likey to make it into habitual transgression, whether it is unintentionally as a lack of knowledge of Halacha or habitual transgression intentionally ; Lashon hara, uttering the name of HaShem in vain, lack of control over anger, jealousy, hatred, performing malachos during Chol Hamoed and Yom Tov, fraud, dishonesty, lack of respect for our parents, lack of respect for our Torah scholars, teachers and elderly people. Neglecting Torah study outweighs them all.
We should not be discouraged by our failure, eventhough we didn't make a huge succes. We must have faith our efforts and that they are not in vain. In the world to come, every individual will be rewarded for every effort we made to correct ourselves.
When we follow all these directions we will succeed in doing Teshuvah.
The Seventh Gate
We are all unique, but with a different spiritual level. Some of us will succeed, were others will fail. Sometimes we put in a honest toil and still be unsuccesful, as we don't make progress at all. Should we feel a failure? When motivate ourselves, and understand that every bit of effort we expend to reach succes in process and get us one step closer to our goal.
When we on the journey to Avodas HaShem, should not get distracted by a lack of achievement, even when we still feel trapped by the yetzer hara, we must consentrate on going forward and tell ourselves that every step brings us closer to freedom.
The Eighth Gate
There is a methode which will correct the transgression from our not desirable character traits of this habitual transgression. We could make a list in areas we need more strengthen. As stated before we could do this by making a resolution, but not more than one, as a single resolution that can be easily fulfilled rather than several that can not.
The habitually in coming late in Shul for tefillah, can be easily been solved in coming 5 minutes eariler. There is another reason why this is important arriving on time at Shul,as the Shulcan Aruch says that Pesukei Dezimrah must be recited before the tefillah. There must be also time to put on Tallis and tefilin, before Boruch She'amar.
Similar when we are aways at the last minute to get ready for Shabbos, best to be ready 10 minutes earlier. We must determine which resolution is the most beneficial to us. For example try to fulfill the obligation to say Hamapil and Kriyas Shema before sleep in a correct way, or remember to wash your hands next to your bed in the morning. Saying Amen and Yehei Sh'mei Rabbah with more concentration.
As for all other transgressions, as we mentioned earlier, when the intentions are there and being sincere to correct ourselves, we can built a platvorm from which we start a war against the yetzer hara. When we know what causes the sin and the root of the problem, we can follow this methode: And to man He said, " Behold, the fear of HaShem is wisdom, and to depart from evil is understanding ".
During the year, we recite thoudsands of Brachos without concentrating. We wash our hands before eating out of habit. We make ourselves ready for Shabbos, but we forget from preparing ourselves spiritually. Except from tefilliah, we are very far away from Yiras HaShem. The first Halacha in Shulchan Aruch is the obligation to be constantly aware of HaShem's existence. Not to fulfill this obligation is a major cause of our other transgressions.
As one of our major problems is our lack of intention during tefilliah and brachos, in truth just a symptom and the root is it the inability to really perceive the existence of HaShem. We have to create a greater awareness and the sympton caused by the disease will cure all by itself. But have to intergrate this concept of awareness or it will trouble us for the rest of our lives.
To cure ourselves is to increase our level of Yiras Shamayim, but how do we do this? The basis of Yiras Shamayim is the realization that there is a creator. When we can internalize this realization that is a creator by just pondering on the basic element of Emunah: That the creator is all- powerful and all-surrounding,that He reigns over the entire world and each and everyone of us, and that He rewards those who fulfill His Mitzvos. Receiting the Ani Maamin is the way to review these concepts.
And with constant reviewing these concepts, the realization that there is a creator will gradually internalized, which is important and must be accomplised during Elul
HaShem is aware of our actions, thoughts and feelings and will be with us during this process in achieving our goals.
The Ninth Gate
As mentioned before, the dificulty of breaking bad habits,dealing with desires and correcting these failures in a short period of time. We must understand and believe that negative character traits are very harmful to us. The more sensitive we become to the critical consequences, the more able we are in correcting them.
When we ponder about our charactic unfavorable traits, that will distract us from staying on our true path, and instead we fallow a path of emptiness. The most effective way to deal with this is logic and common sense and this is what this particular verse means: " And a man He said, Behold, the fear of G-d's wisdom, and to depart from evil is understanding " - Iyov 28:28.
When we approach our negative traits with wisdom, we can uproot them by the source.
The Tenth Gate
The importance to distance ourselves from desire is to avoid situations, which might arouse us in a negative way.
Because once the senses are aroused,the yetzer hara takes hold of our heart and even someone who consider himself to have Yiras Shamayim is even in more danger of failure. We have to be aware that the yetzer hara creates deception and confusion and it will convince ourselves that whatever will satify our desires is permitted. And this point it is hard to reason with and to control desire is to completely avoid these temptations. When we mediate, we won't feel the need to fulfill these desires.
" Know that desire is not advantageous to the individual, rather, it causes embarrasment and unhappiness.- The Rishonim.