Based on a Naaleh.com shiur by Mrs. Shira Smiles
What is the definition of greatness? What do we hope to achieve in Elul? When I posed this question to one of my children, she answered, “V’ani kirvat Elokim li tov”-And for me closeness to Hashem is good. A great person is one who can reach a level of kirvat Hashem. Rav Pincus in Nefesh Chaya, lists five steps to greatness. This is based on a statement of Chazal which describes the service of the angels. These five attributes are listed as follows:
1) They appear as a lightning bolt
2) Where they go has no end
3) They go forward and backward
4) They do Hashem’s will like a storm
5) They bow in front of Hashem’s throne
These five elements give us direction on how to reach our goal of coming closer to Hashem.
Human nature tends to make us aspire to reach tremendous heights in avodat Hashem, while we simultaneously tell ourselves ‘we’ll never get there’. Saying, “Why should I bother trying,” is a mistake. Rav Pincus notes that even if we never reach the highest point, if we touch a lightning bolt, a flash of it, we are still considered successful. Rav Dessler teaches us that ambition and believing in oneself is crucial. If a person wants to reach a certain level in avodat Hashem, he must have a feeling of bitachon. He may not be successful one hundred percent but if he continues forward and accomplishes one aspect of his goal then to a certain degree he’s been successful. In Kol Dodi, Rav Schwadron explains how people take on different kabalot in Elul and then fall back to routine. A person may think it was all for nothing but that is wrong. Every good deed makes an impression. Touching greatness propels a person forward.
Sometimes we won’t do something because it seems petty, and we think, “Why should I involve myself in something so minuscule?” This is wrong. There is nothing too small for Hashem who feeds the tiniest insects and directs every detailed aspect of our lives. Minor acts such as a smile, a compliment, or a cheery good morning can make the greatest difference. These small things have no end. Additionally, every mitzvah whether significant or minor has tremendous importance. It’s all part of one integrated system. In Alei Shor, Rav Wolbe notes that doing any mitzvah properly can draw the Shechina down.
This world is a journey of ups and downs. The forward and backward movements of the angels parallel our own ascending and descending. Rav Nissel writes that Hashem created man in order to give him pleasure. The ultimate pleasure is a relationship with Hashem which is formed through prayer. Troubles are a catalyst for a person to daven and awaken to the fact that we are dependent on Hashem. If a person is in a constant state of communing with Hashem when things are going well, he will not need any suffering to remind him. This is the secret of the shofar. “Tekiah”-the straight blasts are when things are going well. “Shevarim”-the broken blasts signify the setbacks in life. “Ashrei ha’am yodeiah teruah Hashem b’eor panecha yaleichun”-The breakages in life are a means for us to walk on the path of Hashem.
We must emulate the angels and do Hashem’s will with fiery zeal. Being sensitive to detail, davening to Hashem with intent, and performing the mitzvoth with enthusiasm, inspires passion. Rav Frand notes that children shouldn’t experience mitzvoth as a burden but as an enjoyable aspect of life. Our avodah in Elul is to work on our mitzvoth, not only on our aveiroth. We can never say we’ve reached it. Even if one thinks one has arrived, we need to bow down and realize there is still a long way to go.
This Elul let us work towards greatness by knowing what are ambitions are, being careful with the small details in life, understanding that life’s ups and downs are a catalyst for growth and prayer, and that we’re just on a point of departure in our journey towards Hashem.