Wednesday, September 21, 2011


An Elul thought I'm writing up for this week's Toronto Torah:

I've been thinking about the ways we depend on viduy (our recounting of sin) to help us repent. The more I think about it, the more I think that viduy is insufficient. To me, based on my own experience and the experiences reported by others, a healthy drive for growth requires both negative and positive motivation, lo taaseh and aseh, avoiding sin and drawing closer to G-d.

Our need for the two halves is evident in two complementary mitzvot which summon us to remember the Beit haMikdash, to motivate us to rebuild it: Zecher l'Mikdash requires us to relive its splendour, and Zecher l'Churban obligates us to recall its destruction. Envisioning the glory of our past and recognizing the decline of our present, we are motivated to return to greatness in the immediate future.

The Jew approaching Rosh haShanah and Yom Kippur often performs a Zecher l'Churban for himself, counting sins and deficiencies and so recognizing the decline of the present. We klop al cheit, day after day. But where is our Zecher l'Mikdash? Do we dedicate time to recall our heights, to relive the glory days of our righteous relationship with G-d? Months we spent in yeshiva or seminary, years of training our children in mitzvot, the time we spent writing checks for tzedakah or tuition, learning with a chavruta, helping our spouses, volunteering for community organizations, taking care of our parents, these are our Mikdash!

As we approach the days of judgment of mercy, may we perform both the Zecher l'Churban and Zecher l'Mikdash for ourselves, and so be motivated to return to greatness in the coming year.


  1. Rabbi Breitowitz liked to say that tekia-teruah-tekia meant that before we break ourselves down by analzying our faults, we have to start by believing that we're good and whole people -- otherwise it's hopeless.

  2. Many years ago, when I had been observant for a few years, during Elul I got to feeling down about myself and my actions during the past year, and it really affected me negatively. Then suddenly it struck me that five years beforehand I had never prayed, and in the last year, I must have prayed with a minyan over a thousand times. This immediately gave me emotional strength to continue on with a program of improving my behavior and my relationships with God and man.

    This was the perspective I happened to need in my situation at that particular time, but I think everyone has something (even from their current life) they can look at and feel very proud of to give them strength to take responsibility for both their past mistakes and improving for the future.