She shall spend a month’s time mourning her father and mother. (Devarim 21:13)
The Meforshim ask, “Why was it necessary for her to mourn her parents for a month’s time?” There are a wide range of explanations; but what it is clear from almost all of them is that the period of a month changes a person’s attitude and brings them to a new reality. We are familiar with this concept regarding the halachos when one is uncertain if he said the correct phrase of “tein tal umatar” or “mashiv haruach”. If we are within 30 days of the date of change, then he can assume that he is still in his “bad” old habit; whereas after 30 days he can assume that the new habit has been reinforced to the point that he naturally said it correctly.
Rav Ruderman made an observation regarding a difference in the custom of Sefardim versus Ashkenazim in the month of Elul. The Sefardim say selichos starting on Rosh Chodesh Elul, and the Ashkenazim wait until the first motza’ei Shabbos that is at least 4 days before Rosh Hashanah. The reason for Ashkenazi custom is that before a korbon is brought, one must inspect it to ensure it has no blemishes, and that halacha demands 4 days of inspection. Yet, the Ashkenazim do not start to blow the shofar only 4 days before; they begin a month beforehand on Rosh Chodesh Elul. They too seem to realize the importance of a month’s time.
In fact, the Vilna Gaon says that the reason we don’t blow the shofar on Erev Rosh Hashanah is so that we should not have 30 continuous days of blowing the shofar. If we did, we would not be exhilarated with the shofar blowing on Rosh Hashanah.
Explains Rav Ruderman: We cannot expect everything to “start and stop on a dime”. We need time to grow into things. To switch gears from the regular mode to the selichos mode needs preparation. Therefore, we work on ourselves close to a month’s time in order that our selichos be said with urgency. (It seems to me that this is reflected in the custom of the Sefardim to say the same selichos every day, while the Ashkenazim say different selichos each day.)
Now that we are well into Elul and have started the process of trying to perfect ourselves, the Abarbanal echoes in my mind. He writes that this woman is obligated to cry for a month straight, while following her future husband around. The Abarbanel explains that the man will find this woman “annoying” and decide not to marry her. So too, by now, as the Shofar has started to wake us up from our slumber, I am sure that we have noticed some of our “annoying” old ways, which we had come to accept as normal.
I would like to conclude with an observation that is very real to most of us. Five months ago, if one would have told you that living with Corona or COVID-19 would become part of our lives and we would take it in stride, you would respond “it just can’t be!” Recently I have spoken to people and they have come to a conclusion that this may be part of our lives, and they have learnt to work around the difficulties and accept as “normal” what would otherwise be unacceptable. Chazal tell us that when Hashem gives us a punishment we are expected to heed the warnings and change our ways. If we do not do so, we are guilty of yet another sin.
I urge one and all not to accept the present state as the “new normal” and as we cry out for selicha, mechila and kapara, we must have in mind this particular “pandemic” and all that it has brought with it.