Did You Pass Your Smog Test?

smog.jpegA few months ago someone donated a car to Chabad MidPen. Being that it was quite a few years old it had to go for a smog check. That's when I got an education about smog tests. There are different kinds of tests depending on which model car and which year. Of course if the car doesn't pass, there are some things that can be done to fix it up, so that the car will pass the second time around.

We were able to fix it up and the car passed! Thank G‑d, the car continues to serve chabad's needs for the past few months.

This reminds me of the theme of this time of the year. This Shabbat and Sunday is Rosh Chodesh Elul. Traditionally this month leading up to Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur is a time to take a spiritual smog check. During this month we take stock of the previous year and pay attention to the areas of our (spiritual and religious) life that we are doing right and focus on amplifying them; as well as the aspects of our life that we are not doing right and focus on changing them for the better.

But taking stock of our life can be a daunting task. Are there any shortcuts? What specifically should we focus on?

I will share with you a formula for taking stock in the month of Elul.

The Hebrew word of Elul is made up of four letters, alef, lamed, vav, lamed. This can be read as an acronym for different sentences found in the Tenach. In fact we find five sentences that are spelled out using the letters of the word Elul. For the next five weeks we shall focus on one of these verses. Interestingly these five correspond to body, heart, mind, spirit and essence. This week we will focus on "body".

In the megila we find a verse that is spelled out with the Hebrew letters of Elul. "Ish Lere'eihu Umatanos Lo'evyonim" - "a man to his friend, gifts to the poor." this is referring to the mitzvah of tzedakah - charity, which is an extra focus on Purim.

The mitzvah of charity is something that we do with our hands, the physical act of giving to those in need. This is the most elemental mitzvah, one that we do with our body.

In this week's Torah portion of Re'eh we find two general categories of charity (Deut. 14:29). There is the charity that people gave of their fields for the leviim and kohanim known asmaaser rishon - the first tithe. This tithe was to ensure that the infrastructure of Jewish life was supported. The temple, the team that staffed the temple, etc.

Then there is the charity for the orphan, the widow and the destitute, known as maaser ani - tithe for the poor. This second tithe was to ensure that all those who had fallen on hard times would be taken care of.

Today as well, we should focus on these two aspects of charity. We should take responsibility to ensure that today's Jewish infrastructure is being supported, for example: synagogues, schools, community centers etc. As well as look out for the poor and destitute and unfortunate among us who need a helping hand and the organisations that focus on them, for example: food banks, free loan society, etc.

This week, we focus on taking stock of our spiritual body. How charitable and generous have we been the past year? Did we give of our money? Did we volunteer time? Did we give as much as we could have?

After all, the Hebrew word for charity, does not mean charity at all! The Hebrew word for charity is tzedaka, which means justice! for giving tzedaka is the just thing to do, giving charity is the right thing to do! (More on this a different time).

Shabbat Shalom