By Shayna Doretsky, Contributing Writer
During the month of Elul we recite the following perek (psalm) tehillim:
לדוד ה’ אורי ([A song] of David, G-d is my light) twice a day. One of my favorite lines in this perek is “אחת שאלתי מאת ה’ אותה אבקש” or “One thing I ask of Hashem, that I request.” Upon a first or second reading, this seems redundant — it seems that David is asking and then requesting — but I don’t think it is redundant at all. In order to request something, you have to want it — we don’t make requests for things that we don’t want. Here, David is asking Hashem to make him a person who wants to be close with Hashem. Here we see that if we want to be close with Hashem, we first have to recognize it as our goal and even ask Hashem to help us, no matter how close with Him we already are.
I think that this is a truly beautiful idea: How often do you hear or see someone do something and think, “Wow, I wish that was my thing” or “I wish I wanted to do that.” David wants to be close with Hashem, so he is asking Hashem to get him to the point where he wants it and it becomes something that he does. This is especially relevant to all of us in Elul. We all want a meaningful experience leading up to Rosh Hashanah, but we may not think that we are able to take on more. Instead of being overwhelmed or frustrated, we could remember that even David asked Hashem for help in wanting to be close with Him.
Even during the rest of the year, this is relevant to all of us here at YU. We are given tremendous opportunities for growth, both intellectually and spiritually, but it is up to us to want them badly enough, which is half the battle, and to take them. I don’t want to make it seem like an easy task. Often, we aren’t doing things for the simple reason that we don’t want to. So, how do we change our perspective? How do we teach ourselves to want?
The answer is in a book that we all know, Mesilat Yesharim (Path of the Upright). The first step to want, is to do. If there is something that you want to want, saying you want it won’t help, but doing it all the time, will. Changing our habits, like choosing to study when we don’t want to, will help us become more comfortable with our actions, and eventually will allow us to build a habit. After we have built a particular action into our schedules or way of life, we must focus on why we want to do it. Almost everything we do can be attributed to a bigger goal or purpose. We don’t choose to study because we like to study, we choose to study because we want to learn and do well in school.
The same is true for taking on a new halacha. Say for example somebody wants to start keeping kosher. At first s/he must make it a habit, starting to choose kosher options over the non-kosher ones (even if it is difficult) until it becomes natural. Then it becomes less difficult, and one must remember why s/he chose to do this halacha in the first place, and from there the intention changes. One is no longer doing it because s/he “has to,” but because the person wants to do more mitzvot, to bring him/her close with Hashem (or whatever the case may be).
Eventually, the person will be happy to eat the kosher food instead of the non-kosher food, signaling that s/he truly wants it — but nothing in Judaism is that simple. There are almost always significant obstacles that we must overcome, it is not as easy as a few simple steps, as all growth takes hard work, dedication, and willpower. Even then, when we finish the cycle, we begin it again, whether through embracing a halacha, a study habit, or a middah (character trait). There is always something more that we can be doing to further our growth, which I believe bears reminding in Elul.
We, as students, have just started the semester: We are busy, teachers are piling on work, we are holding on to the last bits of summer, and of course are looking forward to the break, but we would do well to remind ourselves that between all of the activities that we are struggling to schedule, if we want to badly enough, we can make room for an extra shiur (lecture), an extra hour of homework, or more time for ourselves, to further our own growth.