Based on a Naaleh.com shiur by Mrs. Shira Smiles
The Sefat Emet teaches that the essence of the month of Elul is understanding the interplay of the word ‘lo‘ as expressed in the verse in Tehillim, “Hu asanu v’lo anachnu. He created us and we are His.” ‘Lo‘ can be translated interchangeably as ‘to Him’ or ‘we are nothing.’ We have the ability to attach ourselves to Hashem to the extent that we nullify ourselves. This is encoded within the word Elul – spelled lamed, aleph, lamed, vav.
What does nullifying oneself mean? Rav Tatz explains that our inner struggles are linked to the root challenge first faced by Adam. Adam reasoned that if he would sin he would bring himself and the world down from its pure state into a world of physicality. If he could then stand firm against temptation, he would achieve much more than by resisting sin on an elevated level. However, he was mistaken. Where there is an illusion of independence, where there’s a wrong choice that contradicts the Divine Will, there is a death. We all face this challenge. Being told what to do is a negation of self. Adam wanted to use his entire being to serve Hashem. But he failed to realize that the greatest assertion of free will is giving in to a Higher Will. Elul is a time to introspect and ask ourselves, how many times did our will and Hashem’s Will clash? How many times did we insist on our own will? It’s a time to work on nullifying the ‘I’ and committing our will to Hashem.
There’s also the second aspect of ‘lo.’ We belong to Hashem. The Netivot Shalom writes about the pasuk, “Nachpesa diracheinu, Let us search our ways.” We must not only think about our sins but also about our mitzvot. What is our mindset when we do mitzvot and learn Torah? Are we just going through the motions and missing the essence? When we say a bracha or daven, do we visualize that we are talking to the Masterof the world? Elul is a preparatory time to analyze our relationship with Hashem. We must open our eyes to find Him.
There’s no aspect of life devoid of Hashem. Whether it’s physical or spiritual needs, we must turn to Him for help. When we do this, even for minor things, He becomes more involved in our lives. The Chazon Ish told a student that the main thing to ingrain in a child’s mind is emuna and hashgacha pratit, recognizing that Hashem is intimately involved in every aspect of our life. This is how we develop an emotional bond with Him. The mindset of a Jew has to be, “V’ani kirvat Elokim li tov. For me closeness to Hashem is good.”
If we spend Elul focusing on making Hashem’s Will our own and on developing a relationship with Him, we can then stand before him on Rosh Hashana and crown Him king.