R' Moshe Schwab z"l (1918-1979) writes: With the arrival of the
month of Elul, we are faced with the question, "What is Elul?"
How is this month different from every other month?
R' Yisrael Salanter z"l said, "Every month _should_ be Elul,
but Elul _is_ Elul." R' Schwab explains: All year long, a person
should act the way we try to act during Elul. At the very least,
when Elul arrives, one should be aware that his life, both the
material and spiritual aspects, hangs in the balance. This is
true of oneself, of one's family, and of every member of the
Elul is the time to prepare for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur,
the days on which, we believe with perfect faith, we will be
judged. We understand that everything that will happen, whether
on a personal or communal level, depends on those days. Yet, one
cannot "leap" into Rosh Hashanah. One must prepare for it. To
the degree that one prepares himself, to that extent he will
experience Rosh Hashanah. Conversely, to the degree that one is
lax in preparing for Rosh Hashanah, to that extent he will miss
out when Rosh Hashanah comes.
A person who knows that he has a court date in the distant
future does not let his life be overshadowed by that upcoming
event. However, when that date looms near, the litigant begins
to fixate on it. So should we be when Elul approaches. All
year long, we know that Rosh Hashanah is in the distant future,
and we ignore it. When Elul comes, it is time to start focusing
on our upcoming court date. Chazal say that on Rosh Hashanah,
"Every living creature passes before Hashem." This really means,
"_Every_ living creature." There are no exceptions. (Ma'archei
Lev Vol. I, p. 57)
"Judges and police officers you shall appoint lecha/for
yourself in all your cities . . . You shall not pervert
judgment, you shall not show favoritism, you shall not
accept a bribe . . . Pursue righteousness . . ." (16:18-
The word lecha/for yourself appears to be superfluous. R'
Moshe Feinstein z"l explains it as follows:
One should judge himself to determine whether his actions are
proper. In addition, one should be a police officer who enforces
the judgments that one renders against himself. If necessary,
one should punish himself.
When one judges himself, he should not pervert the judgment; he
should be honest. One should not show favoritism to himself and
say that because he is learned his actions must be correct. One
should not allow himself to be bribed by his perceived self
How can one judge himself honestly? By pursuing righteousness,
i.e., having a qualified teacher.
"So that his heart does not become haughty over his
brethren. . . " (17:20)
R' Chaim of Krasna z"l (died 1793) taught: The Torah obligates
the king to lord over his subjects. A king may not even show
honor to a prophet or a Torah scholar. [See below.]
Nevertheless, this trait should only be for show. Inside, he
must be humble, as the Torah says, "So that his heart does not
However, a Jew other than the king should not say, "I will be
humble in my heart but haughty on the outside." Rather, we read
in Pirkei Avot (Ch. 4), "Be humble before every person," i.e.,
even when you are before people.
(Mayim Chaim, Section 25)
Rambam writes: "We show great honor to the king and we instill
awe and fear of the king in every person, as it is written [in
our parashah - 17:15], 'You shall place a king over yourself,'
i.e., that his awe should be 'over' you.
"All the people must come to the king whenever he wishes, and
they stand before him and bow to the ground. Even a prophet,
when he comes before the king, must bow to the ground, as it is
written [Melachim I 1:23], 'They told the king, "Here is Nathan,
the prophet," and he came before the king and he bowed to the
ground.' However, the Kohen Gadol need not come before the king
unless he wishes to, and he does not stand for the king; rather,
the king stands for him. Nevertheless, the Kohen Gadol must
honor the king, and he should ask the king to sit, and he should
stand when the king enters.
"Similarly, the king is commanded to honor those who study
Torah, and when the Sanhedrin and scholars come before him, he
should stand for them and seat them beside him. This is what
King Yehoshaphat did - when a Torah scholar would enter, he would
stand from his throne, kiss him, and call him, 'My master, my
teacher.' When does this apply? In the privacy of the king's
home. However, in public, the king should not do this, and he
should not stand for any man. He also should not speak gently to
anyone and should not call anyone except by his first name, all
so that people will fear him."
(Mishneh Torah: Hilchot Melachim 2:1 & 2:5)
Whether the honor of the king or the honor of a prophet is
greater was the subject of a dispute between King Chizkiyahu and
the prophet Yishayah. The gemara (Berachot 10a) states: "'Who is
like the wise man and who knows how to forge a compromise?'
[Kohelet 8:1] - Who is like Hashem who knows how to forge a
compromise between two tzaddikim? Chizkiyah said, 'Yishayah
should come to me just as Eliyahu went to King Achav.' Yishayah
said, 'Chizkiyah should come to me just as King Yehoram went to
Elisha.' What did Hashem do? He caused Chizkiyah to be ill and
He instructed Yishayah to perform the mitzvah of bikkur
cholim/visiting the sick."
Chizkiyah was one of our most righteous kings and Yishayah, one
of our greatest prophets. Surely their disagreement was not
egotistical. Rather, they appear to have disagreed over whose
honor the halachah ranks higher, the king's or the prophet's.
Why did Hashem forge a compromise? Why didn't He resolve their
dispute? Because, although the honor of a prophet is greater
than the king's _personal_ honor, the honor of the _institution_
of the monarchy is greater than the honor of the prophet. Thus
Rambam writes (Sefer Hamitzvot, mitzvah 173), "The level of the
King should be greater than the level of the prophet in our
eyes." It is only in our eyes that the honor of the king should
be greater. In private, the honor of the prophet is greater.
(R' Yisroel Reisman shlita, Pathways to the Prophets, Shmuel I,
An Astonishing Midrash
"Anochi/It is I, anochi/it is I, who will console you."
[From the first verse of the haftarah] - since "anochi" was
said twice, Bnei Yisrael will be consoled.
R' Yehonatan Eyebschutz z"l explains: The midrash says that
when Bnei Yisrael made the golden calf, Moshe argued to Hashem,
"The commandment, 'Anochi Hashem Elokecha'/'I am Hashem your G-
d,' was stated in the singular number, not plural [i.e.,
"Elokecha"/"your" is singular]. Bnei Yisrael thought that You
were talking to me alone."
But is that why Elokecha is singular, or is it so that the
Aseret Hadibrot/Ten Commandments will have exactly 613 letters?
If the Torah had used the plural form "Elokechem" there would
have been an extra letter! Maybe, therefore, there was no merit
to Moshe's argument.
Perhaps one could answer that had the Torah only been concerned
with the number of letters, it could have said, "Ani Hashem
Elokechem," i.e., taking one letter from "anochi" and giving it
to "elokecha" to make "elokechem." But could the Torah do this?
After all, the gemara states the word "anochi" forms the acronym
of certain worthwhile ideas. Had the Torah said "ani" instead of
"anochi" those allusions would have been lost!
In fact, however, the word "anochi" appears twice in the Ten
Commandments, and only one of them is necessary to provide the
allusions found by the gemara. The other one could have been
shortened to allow "elokecha" to become "elokechem" and still
left the Aseret Hadibrot with 613 letters. Since Hashem did not
do this and instead said "anochi" twice, Moshe can say that Bnei
Yisrael did not sin and they can be consoled from their
R' Meshullam of Bezier z"l
died approx. 4998/1238
R' Meshullam studied under his father, R' Moshe ben Yehuda of
Lunel, son-in-law of R' Meshullam ben Yaakov. The younger R'
Meshullam is best known for his Sefer Ha'hashlamah, designed to
"complete" the Sefer Ha'halachot of R' Yitzchak Alfasi ("Rif").
In reality, however, R' Meshullam often disagrees with Rif's
rulings. Sefer Ha'hashlamah is quoted by some later
commentators, especially Meiri (13th century), who refers to R'
Meshullam as "the great rabbi, father of all who dwell in the
tents [of Torah]." The work also is quoted in Bet Yosef.
The work printed in the margin of the standard edition of
Tractate Yevamot under the title Tosfot Chad Me'kamai ("Additions
by One of the Ancients") actually is an excerpt from Sefer
The elder R' Meshullam was the leading scholar in Lunel,
Provence in the middle of the 12th century. In addition to his
daughter, the mother of R' Meshullam of Bezier, he had five sons.
One of these was the R' Asher of Lunel who is quoted in Tosfot to
Bava Kamma 64a. The famous traveler, R' Binyamin of Tudela,
mentions meeting "R' Meshullam and his five sons who were wise
There were a number of other medieval sages with the name "R'
Meshullam," most notably R' Meshullam ben Kolonimus, also known
as "R' Meshullam of Mainz" and "R' Meshullam Hagadol (the
Great)." He authored many of the hymns in our Yom Kippur machzor
and died in approximately 1020. (Sources: The ArtScroll
Rishonim, p. 171, 161, 168, 184; Koreh Ha'dorot, page 16a)