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Once again, Rosh Hashanah is upon us. This time of year is primarily and rightfully looked at as a time of repentance, retrospection, and recognition of Hashem as our King. However, this whole period from Elul to Yom Kippur is also about developing our relationship with Hashem. There is a famous teaching that the month of אלול is an acrostic for the phrase “אֲנִי לְדוֹדִי וְדוֹדִי לִי” “I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine”, found in Shir HaShirim (6:3). This teaches us that the whole point of the Elul and Aseres Yimei Teshuvah process is to reach a stage where we feel that bond between us and Hashem, both on an individual and national level.
The relationship between Hashem and Bnei Yisrael is described throughout Shir HaShirim, with both parties referring to each other as דּוֹדִי. Rav Shalom Schwadron, in his famous sefer on Elul, Kol Dodi Dofek, examines a number of these pesukim and shows how we can use them to enhance this time of year and develop our own דּוֹדִי relationship with Hashem. I would like to examine one such example.
Perek 5 of Shir HaShirim begins with the beloved (Hashem) coming to visit in the middle of the night, but we hesitate to open the door since we are already in bed. The pasuk continues, “דּוֹדִי שָׁלַח יָדוֹ מִן הַחוֹר וּמֵעַי הָמוּ עָלָיו” “My beloved stretched out his hand from the hole, and my insides stirred because of him” (5:4). Rav Schwadron explains that the hole must not have always been here, otherwise, the beloved would have reached in immediately instead of asking and waiting for us to open to door. Additionally, the fact that this hole is important enough to be mentioned means we must discuss its origins. Where did it come from? How was it made?
Imagine if someone knocks on your door in the middle of the night. Not only that, you have just finished all your preparations for bed, and are just sliding under the covers to go to sleep. Whoever knocks now better be very important or you’re not getting out of bed! And that in of itself is a tremendous sign of the relationship.
This example is the exact same situation as is written in the pesukim! And while we reply to our beloved that it would be hard for us to get out of bed, the very fact that we bother responding to him shows that he is important enough to us to warrant a response when we are exhausted, lying in bed. Someone who we don’t value at all, wouldn’t even get any response out of us at all!
This is just a small gesture, perhaps not even a very respectful one; but Hashem in His mercy considers this the beginning of Teshuvah. Even a small acknowledgement of His value to us is enough to create a small hole in what was a solid wall. Upon seeing this “hole”, Hashem immediately jumps forward and sticks His hand in, to better enhance that connection between us.
But if we create the hole and Hashem reaches out to us, how come the pasuk says “my beloved stretched out his hand from the hole”, if Hashem is outside, He should be stretching His hand towards the hole! Rav Schwadron explains, this is the secret of Teshuvah. If we put in even just a little effort from our side, then not only does Hashem help us, He comes over to our side and pushes us towards Him! He stretches out His hand, not towards us, but from behind, guiding us and bringing us even closer to Him. However, that assistance only comes as a result of our efforts, therefore, even with Hashem behind us, the hole remains small.
However, this explanation contradicts a different statement of Chazal. There is a famous medrash on this Perek that says if we will open even a small hole for Hashem, He will expand that hole to fill the whole world (Shir HaShirim Rabba 5:2). So on one hand, we see that Hashem supports us only in accordance with our efforts, while on the other hand, we see that Hashem expands the hole even with just a small effort on our part. Which way is it?
The difference is simple. If a person wants to develop a relationship with Hashem, but he’s not willing to improve himself to the point where he appreciates and understands the significance of such a relationship to get it, then his hole remains small. And while Hashem will assist him, it will only be as much as the person is willing to do himself. But if a person really wants to change, if he really wants to do Teshuvah, then Hashem will help him to the nth degree!
By either person, this is a tremendous show of kindness from Hashem. Even someone who is only interested in putting forth minimal effort will still find his efforts rewarded, but only to a point. But for someone who is willing to do what it takes, it doesn’t take much effort either! Just beginning the journey, with just the small bit of effort at the beginning, Hashem will provide you with everything you need to reach your destination.
May we all merit a wonderful and meaningful Rosh Hashanah and Aseres Yimei Teshuvah. May we all concentrate our effort on forming a relationship with Hashem; and by simply beginning to show that we care, we should all merit the Siyata Dishmaya, the divine assistance to reach that goal.
K’Siva Vachasima Tova!
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