Nitzavim-Vayelech – Our Duties during Ellul

This month of Ellul is very important to embrace as we march toward the Yomim Noraim. The Rabbis describe this month as the time of potential reconciliation between ourselves and our fellow human beings, and ourselves and G-d.

How do we achieve this most important task? After all, there are so few of us who do not harbor some form of anger and resentment toward others. And what a burden that is. How much nicer it is to feel at peace and loving toward others. So how do we deal with these feelings, and how do we create reconciliation? Let me share with you some of the principles of the Musar (psycho-ethical) thinkers of the 19th century. These principles can be utilized between two people, or with a third party present.

The first task is to muster up the courage to face our ‘adversary.’ Perhaps it might help to imagine that G-d, as well, wants peace between fellow human beings and will aid the process if we take the first step. But the ‘face to face’ dialoguing is most crucial for success. The willingness and desire to make peace, as well as to fight, is a basic part of all our natures. If we are both expected and required to make peace during this season, this also aids the process. The atmosphere of peace is in the air. (This is one of the strong reasons that I have always loved our Jewish tradition. We do not only live in ‘Calendrial’ time, but in the realm of ideas that the tradition creates for us, i.e., Ellul equals the season of peace-making So let us take advantage).

The second task after sitting down face to face is remembering. Both people need to try to remember the whole history of the conflict, every detail so that it can all be exorcised, be made conscious. Too many of us don’t live an ‘aware’ life. We don’t pay attention to our feelings, and live with these inner resentments. Well, let us begin to pay attention, and bring our minds to the details of the past that have created this conflict between ourselves and our ‘adversary.’ REMEMBER, this is our important task right now, as we sit facing the other.

The third task is non-stubbornness. We are going to try to talk directly and listen attentively. The fact that each of us is doing his/her best to show his/her willingness for reconciliation and understanding is very important. When you try your best, don’t worry about the outcome. Doing your best is enough. The other person will do his or her best as well. This is the atmosphere of Ellul. It is expected by the heavenly court, and by your brothers and sisters as well.

The fourth principle is de-escalating some of the feelings; after expressing some of the anger, the pain. After listening to the other and hearing the other side, some of the insights and new ways of looking at the situation should act to de-escalate these feelings and promote reconciliation– the expectation of Ellul.

The fifth and final stage is taking responsibility and admitting your own part in the transaction (the confessional). If you yourself can admit your error (rather than the other pointing it out), it helps the other person feel better. You might say, “On that day I was not very sensitive. I said such and such which wasn’t very nice. I’m sorry.” This encourages the other to confess something of the same magnitude. This atmosphere is encouraging, helping the de-escalation to become realized. The pressure of each person from his/her anger will lighten. In this kind of environment, the capacity for mutual understanding and acceptance will be born. We will think of the well-being of the community and not just our own feelings. We will be ready to yield to some sort of compromise.

So let us all do our work this season, so we can feel greater peace within this coming year and be able to look at our fellow human beings directly, accepting them for who they are, and allowing them to express their unique potential as a result of our own inner peacefulness. May we all be blessed with a sweet year.

by Rabbi Mel Gottlieb

The views expressed in this drash are those of the author. We welcome Torah insights and teachings from all viewpoints, and encourage dialogue to strengthen the diversity of our academy.