We are now beginning of the Hebrew month of Elul, the final month of the year. It is a Jewish custom to spend this month in introspection and prayer, reviewing our deeds and spiritual accomplishments during the past year and determining how we can improve during the coming year. It is a time for teshuvah, and to take on good resolutions for the coming year.
In some communities, the main emphasis during Elul is on the upcoming day of judgment, and the fear and terror that this engenders. After all, on Rosh Hashanah G-d will determine “who shall live and who shall die, who by fire, who by sword, who by beast, who by famine…” as we say in the well-known prayer. With this vivid imagery it is no wonder that some approach the Days of Awe with dread.
However, in the teachings of Chassidut we find a different approach. Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov, founder of the Chassidic movement, introduced a new attitude into our Divine service, one based on love rather than fear. True, G-d judges all of us on Rosh Hashanah to determine what kind of year we will have; however, we approach Him as a loving father rather than a fearsome king. He lovingly and mercifully awaits us to turn to him in prayer.
Although we know that our lives hang in the balance on Rosh Hashanah, the predominant emphasis is on G-d’s kindness and compassion rather than His severity. We carefully review our deeds from the past year and examine what we need to correct – but we do this in a spirit of love, not fear.
We find this same approach in the Chassidic attitude towards the imminent Redemption. According to the prophets, there will be a day of judgment with the commencement of the Messianic Era. Some look forward to the Era of Moshiach with dread for this reason.
However, Chassidic teachings present this upcoming day of judgment in a different light. As Rabbi Joseph I. Schneerson, previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, writes: “The judgment of Moshiach will be that he will examine, see and sense all the reasons that caused the sinner to sin. He will sense that the sinner did not truly desire to do what he did, but was not able to overcome his inclination.
“Moshiach… will enter into the difficult lives of the Jewish people in exile, he will arouse compassion for them and find merit for them, that they did not really want to sin but did not have the strength to overcome the evil inclination. He will see their good side, and therefore – Jews! Do teshuvah, have regret for your past misdeeds. The teshuvah and regret will help us merit the revelation of Moshiach.”
What awaits us in the time of Moshiach is not a fearsome day of judgment, but a loving reunification with our beloved father, under the leadership of a just and righteous king. We will merit an outpouring of Divine favor and miracles, ushering in an era of perfect peace and harmony.