by Rabbi Yossi Paltiel of InsideChassidus.org
Elul, the month leading up to the High Holidays, is a time of heightened spiritual awareness and introspection. There was once a group of Rabbis (non-Chassidic) who wished to capitalize on this heightened sense of Jewish interest (either between the Six Day War and the Yom-Kippur War, or maybe it was in the early 1980’s) who organized a speaking tour in various US cities to speak about the importance of Teshuva or repentance. But they were the fire and brimstone type, from the old Mussar school, and their talks were critical and negative, targeted at the lack of religious observance and piety in American Jewish communities.
The Rebbe had certain auto-responses, that you knew exactly how the Rebbe would react, and such approach was just one of those things. Anyone who’d speak down to Jewish people, or critically of them, would elicit a vigorous and passionate response from the Rebbe – very similar to how the Baal Shem Tov responded to the fire and brimstone Maggid styles of his day. The Baal Shem Tov, and later the Rebbe, preferred a more positive, loving and uplifting approach and had a distaste for the approach that was based on fear and negativity.
So when this crusade of sorts began, the Rebbe encouraged Chabad Chassidim and his Shluchim to take the opposite approach. Reach Jews with love, build on their strengths, discover and develop their inner Jewish connections.
Here’s a story that happened in one city, in the month of Elul – leading up to Rosh Hashanah: A well-known rabbinic orator was brought in to speak. He had a way with words and the gift of parable. He told a full synagogue of people to imagine themselves as the owner of a small business, already pressured with the challenges of running a business, who is notified that the IRS is coming in for an audit the next morning. Wow, the pressures that come along with that notice! Even if he’s no crook, even if he’s a decent guy, it’s inevitable that some irregularities or issues will be found once the business is scrutinized by a team of auditors. Imagine the stress and anxiety of this businessman! Would he sleep that night? Of course not! His sheets would be wet with perspiration, crumbled from all the tossing and turning. He would be pacing, his mind would be racing…
The orator turned to the crowd and explained his parable. Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur is like an audit. G-d is checking our books. And unlike the IRS, you can’t play with books or figures because G-d has His own set of books and knows the truth. So how are you all sleeping soundly at night!!??
The crowd sat in stunned silence. The speaker sat down, and the next speaker was the local Chabad Rabbi, also invited to address this inspirational gathering. His mind was racing. He knew the Rebbe would want him to share words of encouragement, positivity and warmth. But this orator’s parable was so well-said and so compelling, how could he respond? He prayed for the right words as he ascended the bima to speak.
The Chabad Rabbi got up and said this: “It is true that our behavior is audited on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. And it’s important that we rectify our ways and try our best to improve. But here’s something you should know: The auditor who is coming? He’s our father.”