Use these 40 days to rebuildShoftim, Deuteronomy 16:18-21:9

Use these 40 days to rebuildShoftim, Deuteronomy 16:18-21:9

The Jewish world just entered into the month of Elul, the final month before Rosh Hashana.  In this portion, we read: “Judges and officers you shall appoint to you (emphasis mine) … and they shall judge the people.” We are taught that, before passing judgment on others, one must first pass judgment on oneself — to make sure not to have the same faults that one “finds” in others. What perfect timing as we enter the High Holy Day season.
In order to help us be reflective, Elul is marked by daily prayers of forgiveness and hearing the shofar. What will we each do to prepare ourselves for the High Holy Days? On what basis will we judge ourselves?
Elul began 40 days before Yom Kippur, and we know the symbolism of 40. When Moses received the first set of tablets, he had been up on the mountain for 40 days. (Exodus 24:18) What do you think those days were like, alone on a mountaintop, ready to “meet his maker” — in the most positive sense?
After Moses came down from the mountain, tablets in hand, and saw the golden calf and the people dancing around it, he smashed the tablets. The covenant had been broken. Literally.
After the people were punished, they, and God, recommitted themselves to one another. When Moses went up to receive the second set of tablets, we may wonder, how did those 40 days differ from the first?
It was on Yom Kippur, according to Bavli Taanit 30b, that the second tablets of the Ten Commandments were given. Ari Elon from the Hartman Institute teaches us that Yom Kippur is the time to repair our broken tablets. And, if we didn’t break our own tablets — by looking inward, searching for ways to improve — then he says that there is no need for Yom Kippur.
How do we judge ourselves? By accessing our innermost beings, and using these 40 days to rebuild.
May you have a sweet, introspective, renewing New Year.

(This column is a service of the Greater Pittsburgh Rabbinic Association.)