Ellul: the Importance of Collective Repentance

The month of Elul is the month of queries and doubts. It the month when one squirms about the misdeeds done and about the sins made. Thus it is the month of repentance and remorse. Learn more about the month of Elul and about the special significance it has. Also refer this page to your near, so that they as well learn about the true significance the month of Elul holds and as well the kind of repentance that is severely needed to lead a hassle free life thereafter.

Elul: the Importance of Collective Repentance

Every year at the time of Teshuva, during the month of Elul almost every soul squirms about a common question as to "Have I really mended my ways since the last Elul? Will I succeed any more in the coming year than I did in the one that's ending?” And once one recalls their previous track record, these kinds of queries are bound to arise like "What's the point of going through the motions of Teshuva, when my track record is so discouraging?"

One of the answers to this frequently asked questions can well be found in the commentary of the Ramban, Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman, (1194-1270) on Parshat Ki-Tavo, which is always read at this time of the year.

In this Parsha, the Torah brings mentions a list of immoral deeds that are usually perpetrated far from the public eye (Deuteronomy 27, 15-26). In fact the Moses commands the Levites to name each of these deeds and declare that its perpetrators will be cursed. The last admonition on the list is "Cursed be he that confirmeth not the words of this law to do them" (Arur asher lo yakim et divrei Ha-Tora ha-zot la-asot otam).

Thus what exactly is the nature of this last transgression? Rashi sees these words as a general admonition to accept the entire Torah. The Ramban, after quoting Rashi's explanation, gives this admonition a more pointed interpretation.

For as per his opinion the 'acceptance' requires that one affirming the commandments in his heart as the truth, is believed to observe all that is requited with the best of rewards and thus if he transgresses them, he will be penalized, and if someone denies any of them, or considers it void forever then he will be cursed. However, if one transgressed any commandment because of his desire or due to his sheer laziness then he is not included within this ban, for Scripture did not say 'who does not perform the words of this Law' but it states that 'confirmeth' not the words of this Law to do them. Thus the verse [before us] is the ban on those who rebel [against the authority of the Torah] and who deny [its validity]."

(Chavel translation; brackets in the original)

Thus the Ramban's explanation leads to a deeper insight of the power and necessity of collective Teshuva. Just as in the weeks before Passover the feverish activity of each individual of cleaning the Chametz (unleavened bread) out of their individual homes becomes in essence a collective experience, so too does the individual soul-searching that is required of us in the Jewish month of Elul become a collective experience. This Collective Teshuva ensures that the individual’s weaknesses and flaws continue to be perceived by society as weaknesses and flaws that each individual must strive to overcome. The outcome of this perception is critically important. For ultimately, Collective Teshuva ensures that individual’s weaknesses do not become the norm, the standard accepted behavior, of society. Even more, it ensures that human frailty, the very human tendency to stray from the right path into a moral downslide, with all its destructive potential, does not become the Ideological Standard.

Through the prayers on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur in synagogues all over the world, one pledges to be mutually responsible for each other as individuals and as a people. Each Jew is thus responsible for each other or which known as Kol Yisrael Arevim Zeh La-Zeh. Each Jew's virtues and vices are thus part of the collective fabric of society and thus form an integral part of the face of Klal Yisrael -the People of Israel.

During the prayer on Yom Kippur, one verbally takes the responsibility for and thus asks for forgiveness for the list of sins enumerated in the Machzor. Thus through these saying one tends to pledge that even though we they have committed sins, we will recognize them as sins. Thus through prayers, the Jews pledge that they will not justify their misdeeds. Hence one must do their best to fulfil them because they were commanded by G-d, who is not only our Creator, but also our King.

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