Elul – Preparing For The Days Of Judgment
The verse states, “Judges and officers shall you appoint in all your gates” (Devarim 16:18). From here we see just how the deeply the holy Torah sees into man’s behavior, and just how powerful the evil inclination is. Although the Torah is actually an antidote to the evil inclination, it is still difficult to conquer it with the Torah alone. We must also appoint judges and officers who will oversee our deeds so that we do not come to sin.
It is odd that the Torah mentions judges before officers, since the role of an officer comes before that of a judge, given that it is an officer who brings people before a judge! Furthermore, an officer protects a judge so that nobody attacks him. Officers should therefore be mentioned first in the verse. To explain this, we may say that these parshiot are read before the month of Elul, and the Sages have said that the initials of the expression Ani ledodi vedodi li (“I am my Beloved’s and my Beloved is mine” – Shir HaShirim 6:3) form the word Elul. The very same idea is expressed in regards to the verse, “A lion has roared; who will not fear?” (Amos 3:8), where the term ari (“lion”) is formed by the initials of Elul, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur – which are soon approaching – for who will not fear at that time? The greatest tzaddikim tremble before the day of judgment, and everyone prepares themselves by shuddering on Rosh Hashanah, for we are judged at that time: Who will be raised, and who will be lowered; who will die, and who will live; who will grow poorer, and who will grow richer. Although the tzaddikim have not sinned, they tremble for their flock, which has sinned, and they fear being caught in the sins of the generation. We must all learn from this, namely to fervently prepare ourselves for the day of judgment, and plan on bringing good defenders before Hashem. These consist of the Torah and mitzvot, and the more we prepare, the better things will be.
The Torah tells us to appoint “judges” and “officers” in all our gates in order to prepare ourselves for the day of judgment. In fact Hashem judges the whole world and places us on the scales. A person must therefore prepare himself correctly to prevent accusers from getting in his way. Hashem will then judge us favorably, and officers will accompany the innocent back with great honor. If the judgment is against us, however, these officers will also fulfill their mission, but this time it will consist of placing the guilty person “in prison.” We can now understand why Hashem first judges and decrees, and then an officer comes and carries out the sentence issued by the Judge, the Holy One, blessed be He. If a person returns to Hashem through love, the power of his repentance is so great that his accusers are transformed into angels of mercy, and his intentional sins are transformed into merits (Yoma 86b). This only happens, however, when a person repents of his sins with a broken and contrite heart. These are the angels who accompany a person at the end of Yom Kippur, as the Sages have said: “On the night after Yom Kippur, a Celestial voice proclaims: ‘Go, eat your bread with joy and drink your wine with a glad heart, for G-d has already approved your deeds’ [Kohelet 9:7].”
At that incredible moment, the Holy One, blessed be He, comes closer to us, “my Beloved is mine.” He is prepared to help anyone who asks Him as the Judge of the entire world, so that no one falls into the hands of accusers and is found guilty on Rosh Hashanah. We therefore have the sacred duty of using this proximity to Hashem, which does not exist during the rest of the year, for we can thereby successfully emerge from the days of judgment. We will merit a new year of life, a year that we will use to serve Hashem, a year filled with Torah and mitzvot, one rich in good deeds. Amen!