We are now, as you know, in the Hebrew month of Elul.Throughout the month of Elul we busy ourselves with teshuva, or repentance. This preparation is what is necessary as we lead up to the the first 2 days of Tishrei- Rosh Hashana.
The word "teshuva" literally means to "return". To what is it that we are returning? What have we distanced ourselves from that we are trying to return to? The answer is that we are returning to our close relationship with Hashem. Every person has a neshama, or soul, that is derived from Hashem himself, that is now tasked with working to reattain the closeness that we once had.
This begs the question- what does it mean to be close with Hashem? How is it possible for someone to be "close" to the creator of the world who has no physical essence? I believe that there are three main ways:
To model one's behavior according to the directives of Hashem. When someone is acting in accordance with the Torah, when their behavior is aligned with Hashem's will, that brings about closeness to Hashem. This is closeness to Hashem in the sense that this person is now more similar and more closely aligned, categorically, with Hashem.
To pray to Hashem, to speak with him as one would with a friend. When someone speaks to Hashem, they are acting in a way which brings into their consciousness Hashem's very real existence. Behaving in this manner leads one to feel Hashem, sense Hashem and brings about a tangible closeness to Hashem. This is closeness to Hashem in an emotional sense.
To learn Hashem's Torah. When we learn Torah we are training our brains/ hearts to think like Hashem. The Torah is not merely a book of Jewish Law, rather, it is the proper and straight thinking- rationale and logic- of Hashem himself. This is closeness to Hashem in both an intellectual and emotional sense as well as making a person more similar and closely aligned with Hashem.
How do all of these things happen from the study of Torah? How is it that by studying Torah a person can attain both aligning his actions and shaping his behavior to be like Hashem, while also connecting himself emotionally to Hashem?
R' Yisroel Salanter explains that the emotions, the sub-conscious of a person can be trained and educated in the same way that one would learn any subject. One of the ways to do this is to study in-depth whatever it is that a person wants to train himself into. This in-depth study is not merely an intellectual exercise, rather, it makes an imprint on his soul, on his sub-conscious self, which will slowly be reshaped to make him into a different person.
The heart/mind are the command center for the entirety of the person. When someone's mind and heart are trained and honed to think like Hashem, this changes everything about him to now help him to better emulate Hashem. R' Yisroel explains, that the real effects of this training and work can be be seen from a person's knee-jerk reaction, or impulse in different situations, slowly, over time. As a person grows and hones himself to think like Hashem, he will begin to sense his feelings and mindset not only being less of an obstacle to proper behavior but to help him make proper decisions as well.
Wishing everyone a k'siva v'chasima tova
and a wonderful Shabbos,
Rabbi Eli Meir Kramer