“And you shall return to the Hashem… with all your heart and soul” (Devarim 30:2)
We have all been in situations, where after reconsidering, we realize that we didn’t do the job to our fullest potential. For example, Reuven is rushing to work, but can’t find his wallet, so he asks his wife Sara, “Have you seen my wallet recently? I can’t find it.” Sara replies “I saw it in the top drawer in our bedroom.” “But I already checked there, and I didn’t find it there.” replies Reuven. “What do you expect,” wondered Sara, “that it will pop out and say ‘hello’? I saw it there just five minutes ago.” What should Reuven do now? Should he dig in with determination, knowing that he has checked the top drawer thoroughly, or should he acquiesce that maybe his wife knows better than him and that he might not have done as thorough a checking as he thought?
There is a story told about the Baal Shem Tov, who was in his home with his student “The Toldos”. A gentile fix-it man came by and asked, “Do you have anything that needs to be fixed?” The Baal Shem Tov thought for a moment and replied “No, thank you. Everything is in order.” To that, the fix-it man asked, “Are you sure? Go through all your items. I am sure you will find something that needs to be repaired!” Suddenly the Baal Shem Tov’s countenance changed and he turned to the Toldos and asked, “Do you hear what this man is teaching us?” The student looked back at his teacher quizzically, not seeing any lesson in the exchange. The Baal Shem Tov exclaimed “Don’t you understand that this fix-it man is a messenger from shamayim telling us: Though you may think that all of your Avodas Hashem is in order, you had better recheck all that you have done.” The Toldos heard what his teacher was saying, but still felt this was nothing more than a businessman trying to drum up some business for himself. The Baal Shem Tov told him “I am sure you will conclude that everything is a message from Hashem.” The Toldos took leave of his teacher and rushed off to his next task of his very busy day. On the way, he chanced upon a man whose wagon was stuck in the mud. “Excuse me, but can you please help me push my wagon out of the mud?” asked the wagon driver. The Toldos replied “I am sorry, but I am on my way to another appointment and don’t have a moment to spare.” The wagon driver replied, “If you really wanted to fit it in, you probably could.” These words rang in the ears of The Toldos as a shocking revelation. He immediately turned on his heels, helped the driver get out of the mud and on his way, and ran to his next appointment, making it on time. He now understood that messages from Hashem could be shown to us all the time, if we are just looking for them.
In the month of Elul, we check and recheck our actions, in order to try to improve them. But after checking and rechecking, there most likely comes a point when we feel that we have a handle on who we are and we know which of our deficiencies are still in need of repair and which don’t. It is as this precise moment that we can become complacent, convinced that we have thought things through as needed. The message of the story is that we must overexert ourselves beyond our regular levels of research because our lives depend on the upcoming judgement.
With this we can understand the words in this week’s parsha “and you shall return…with all your heart and soul”. When your life depends upon something, you get infused with adrenaline through using all your heart and soul. Our job in this time period is to use adrenaline to become a super self-examiner. May we merit that this year our teshuva should really meet our real potential.