In Tishri we face the Almighty Judge but in Ellul we get ready for the court appearance, and that is when we should really shake with dread.
Of course many people use the days and weeks before facing the music – of any kind – looking for alibis and excuses that might mitigate the sentence.
“I wasn’t there, Your Honour, when the crime was committed”… “Everybody knows I am incapable of committing a crime”… “I have a psychological condition and cannot be held fully responsible for my actions”…
We all become paragons of virtue at times like these – anything to avoid being given a heavy sentence.
A modern syndrome? Far from it.
The Talmud (Yoma 35b) records what people in those days might say when asked why they did not study Torah and keep away from sin. “I was too poor,” one might claim. Another: “I was too rich”. A third: “I was busy with my health and looks”.
The first one was told, “Were you poorer than Hillel? He had hardly any assets yet nothing would ever get in the way of his learning Torah”.
The second one was told, “Were you richer than Elazar ben Harsom? He had a huge business yet nothing impeded his Torah study”.
The third one was told, “Were you better looking than Joseph in the Bible? Yet he would not succumb to the temptation to sin!”
We can look for excuses but what is best in the end is to confess, Aval anachnu chatanu – “We admit our failings; we have indeed sinned”.
That’s what should occupy our minds in Ellul, the month of real trepidation.