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6 Elul 5783

Rabbi Sam Zwarenstein

Emanuel Synagogue, Woollahra, NSW

If I am not for myself, who will be for me? But if I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?” (Pirkei Avot 1:14).

This famous teaching from Hillel the Elder allows us to focus on one of the key principles of the month of Elul, teshuvah(translated as repentance, but also referring to the need to return to upright ways).

When we look at each of the three statements in Hillel’s teaching, we discover important lessons in how we should approach this time of reflection and repentance.

In the first statement, we are encouraged to be true to who we are, to account for ourselves in a fair, yet realistic manner. When we seek to be better versions of ourselves through true teshuvah, we allow others to see that we are committed to changing and doing better. In doing so, theywill recognise that we believe in ourselves and be encouraged to believe in usas we undertake this journey.

The second statement is an acknowledgement that teshuvah is also about how we treat one another. By only focusing on ourselves, we ignore that others are important in our journey as well. Helping others helps us to be more aware and caring.

The last statement is a reminder that we must not delay teshuvah. We have to act now, because we must acknowledge that it is important now. Postponing this journey only leads to further delays and results.

Let us consider these three statements in the one teaching, and embrace the separate messages as part of one lesson.

See more Elul Reflections