Question for Elul – How did you practice loving forgiveness towards yourself? How did you show love and forgiveness to another?
One of the most fascinating aspects of tshuvah is that we first need to repair relationships with our fellow man before we can really ask forgiveness from Hashem. In order to reach this elevated state of caring and love for our fellow man we must take another step back and first love ourselves, then our love for others will come from the most authentic place. We can’t give to others something that we have not truly experienced ourselves. So to is the case with forgiveness. We cannot expect Hashem to forgive us if we have not internalized the experience of forgiving others.
Our tshuvah, whether personal (bein adam l’makom) or interpersonal (bein adam l’chaveiro) must be properly framed and contextualized. The cheshbon hanefesh that we undertake during the month of Elul is not meant to focus our attention on the details of our lives, but rather on the underlying foundational truths that guide us in our life decisions. Of course we need to be keeping mitzvot, constantly growing in our understanding and observance, but that can’t be all. We can be doing all the right motions, but if the initial intention isn’t kadosh, l’shem shamayim, then we are missing the crucial piece of the puzzle. It’s like having a check with a bunch of zeros on it – meaningless. But put a number, just one number before the zeros- it takes on a completely different meaning.
To paraphrase a teaching by Rav Steinsaltz, in Elul we begin a journey forward, but like any journey, before setting out we must first set our sights towards our goal. Our purpose is to bring geula (redemption) to the world, to uplift and perfect the world for the coming of Mashiach. Every facet of our lives is directed to this goal.
Rav Steinsaltz emphasizes that the entire idea of Elul, and tshuvah is to align ourselves with a greater purpose, and to not allow ourselves to get distracted by the small things. Think big picture. The intention to bring Mashiach is our primary focus and it is upon us to be striving for the biggest redemption. We must build ourselves – our bodies and our soul – so that ours will be the path on which Mashiach arrives. We should be prepared for this, not settle for less than this, and not want anything besides this.