According to Jewish tradition, the month of Elul represents the time that Moshe spent on Sinai preparing the second set of tablets after the idolatrous incident of the Golden Calf. Moshe ascended on Rosh Chodesh Elul (Head of the month of Elul) and then descended 40 days later on the 10th of Tishri, the end of Yom Kippur, when the repentance of the people and their acceptance from HaShem was complete. The month of Elul therefore represents the time of national sin and forgiveness obtained by means of teshuvah before the L-RD. I believe that in order to understand the true meaning of teshuvah that we as believers must adapt the Scripture that is found in the book of Matthew, chapter six and verse thirty-three to our lives. It states that we must…”seek first his Kingdom and his righteousness.” This I believe is true teshuvah, turning from our desire(s) and turning towards His desire(s).
It was my good fortune to have grown up in a G-dly environment and to have known many people of faith! Those of you familiar with me are aware of my parents and the witness that they left when they passed from this world, but there are so many others that have made me understand Who the G-d of all creation really is and I would like to speak of one of them here.
As a child and a teenager up into my young adulthood, I grew up as a second generation believer in the Messiah of Israel, Yeshua. Being from a small southern town with even smaller congregations, we often joined together to partake in a nearly forgotten celebration called a homecoming. Churches would gather and “break bread” together from a table fit for a king and then would assemble in the sanctuary to listen to gospel singing. On every occasion for such a celebration that I can recall, there was one woman who constantly stood out in my mind and I am sure in the minds of many of my contemporaries.
Her name was Christine.* I could never figure out just how old she was and her age really didn’t matter, her music did! In my mind’s eye I can still see her making her way to whatever stage she was going to sing from. Once she stood behind that pulpit, all eyes were on her as she began to sing to the Most High! It never failed that a few things would happen…one: there would not be a dry eye in the room and two: she would never fail to call every young person from standing alone age and up to the stage to sing her last song with her! We learned to love this beautiful woman of Faith with a love that has endured even to this day! When I run across people from those days, they always bring to remembrance the beautiful voice that so blessed us growing up. Chris was one of those women that every little boy wanted to find one like as he began to look for the right wife and every little girl wanted to be like when she grew up! No matter where she was, she brought life to the situation. Her smile was infectious and her faith was inspiring. She seemed to have everything that anyone could ever want right in the palm of her hand.
As I grew into a teenager and a young man though, I began to see things that I had never noticed before. My eyes began to open up to a whole new revelation of who this Christine was that touched so many lives. One Sunday, Christine stood behind a pulpit in a small local church here in NC and shared her testimony (not for the first time, but for the first time that I remembered and understood). She spoke of how, as a child, she had been exposed to polio (a crippling disease rampant in the early 20th century). She told of how it had crippled her for life and that although her parents and then, she and her husband had searched for answers that there never seemed to be any. I think that my first thought was, “she’s crippled?” I realize that may sound strange, but it never dawned on me before that there was something wrong with Christine because her joyous nature was so blinding. She stated that she had been angry at G-d for some time, but then He revealed to her how He was in the middle of everything that was going on in her life…yes, even those bad things! At some point, she said, it dawned on her that G-d’s ways were greater than she could imagine and that had He not placed her here in this situation she might never had known the joy of serving Him so selflessly.
True teshuvah doesn’t just mean turning and repenting my friends, although that is a definite part of it. It means turning towards G-d and seeing Him as He is, where He is and how He is working for your good. It means acceptance of Him regardless of what you may be facing at the moment! It is said, “m’lo kol ha’aretz k’vodo” (the whole earth is full of His glory). He is everywhere and in all things! It is up to us to say as the Talmudic sage, Nahum Ish Gamzu would say in all matters…”gam zu l’tova” (this too is good).
As we near the end of the days of Teshuvah and look to Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) may we understand as my friend, Christine that we must look beyond our present situations and find our hope in Him. Oh, and by the way…the last time that I saw Christine was back in the nineties. I was visiting someone in the hospital when I heard from the next room a very familiar voice singing praises to G-d! I thought to myself, that has to be Christine, but wow, she must be really old now…so, surely I am mistaken! A few minutes later, shuffling and holding to a walker a white haired lady with a familiar limp shuffled into the room in which I was sitting. With an award winning smile, she asked forgiveness for interrupting our visit and started to leave. I spoke up and said, “Christine?” She turned and responded positively. I asked her if she remembered me and after a while she recognized a now 40 something year old man for the little boy and teen that she saw me as last. She spoke of my parents and my ministry work, glowing in the fact that I was still serving G-d! I asked her why she was in the hospital. Telling me her reasons for being in the hospital…surgeries, etc…She stated that the real reason she was there was to shed the Light of His Word to those who were hurting. I asked if we could sing a song while she was there, beaming, she began to sing of the love of G-d and His Messiah. Before she left, she prayed for both me and the patient I was visiting. Then she turned around, and shuffling out the door, she called back, “G-d bless you!” Moments later, her voice began joyously singing in the next room.
In Habakkuk 2:4 we find the words… “Tzadik b’emunato yihyeh” (The righteous will live by faith). Teshuvah then is returning to the faith of our fathers, knowing that in all things that He is in charge and that His thoughts truly are not ours, or His ways ours. His ways and His thoughts are higher and we need to simply turn to Him. (Isaiah 55).