From the Pulpit: This is a time to open our hearts with rachamim

By Rabbi Chaim Mendelsohn, Chabad of Centrepointe

As the glorious summer comes to an end, we begin to anticipate the High Holidays.

The mystics tell us the High Holiday season is actually a journey beginning in the month of Elul, one month prior to Rosh Hashanah and concluding after Simchat Torah. In fact, there is a custom that we begin sounding the shofar daily (other than on Shabbat) beginning the first day of Elul as a way of marking the onset of this spiritual and uplifting journey.

Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, founder of the Chabad Lubavitch movement, gives a fascinating analogy to describe the relationship we share with God during the month of Elul. He compares it to a king who leaves the palace, stripping himself of the majestic bravado that would ordinarily create distance between him and his subjects. He heads to the forest where he greets everyone with a broad smile, sensitively engaging with every individual. In other words, during this month, God engages with all of creation in a personable and meaningful fashion. Hence, the month of Elul is often referred to as chodesh harachamim, a month of God’s compassion.

During this era of COVID-19, when many of us are struggling physically, emotionally and economically, we can certainly use some personal God-time where we feel His compassion.

I would argue further that specifically during this tumultuous year of 2020, there must be an even more meaningful message with regard to the month of Elul. The call of the shofar during this month must serve as a wake-up call to each and every one of us to open our hearts with rachamim (compassion) toward our friends and neighbours in need.

It is at this time, when our synagogues and community centres are either closed or opened with limitations, it is our time to remember that we cannot only rely on the institutions to provide the city with love and community, we must step up as individuals and open our hearts to those in need.

As a child of 12, growing up in sunny south Florida, I distinctly recall my father coming home one day with a bumper sticker that he stuck onto the front door of our home. It proudly stated this home is a Beit Chabad/Chabad House.

As many of you are likely aware, Chabad House was the affectionate name given to the thousands of Chabad centres charged with bringing the warmth and light of Judaism across the globe.

But why then would my father place such a sign on our front door? We were not recognized as official Chabad representatives. My father was a Judaica salesman and my mother a beloved school teacher.

My father was merely following the revolutionary call of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, who empowered all Jews to transform their own homes into a Chabad House. He articulated that not only do our community institutions have the responsibility to share inspiration, care and comfort to others, but demanded that every private citizen share that same responsibility.

In the spirit of chodesh harachamim, let us all heed this timeless call and open our homes (when safe) and our hearts to our lonely and less fortunate friends and neighbours.