Dear Readers,

I met a woman who told me that her daughter attends an elite school where academics reign supreme. Her daughter studies excessively and considers herself a failure if she achieves a grade below 90 percent.

I was shocked to learn that her daughter was only in sixth grade! Apparently, the road to success starts young. Only those at the top of their class are guaranteed entry to the best high schools, where the stakes became even greater for acceptance at the best universities.

Too often, if feels like we designate and rank people based on numbers or letters. What’s your earning power—can you boast a six- or seven-digit salary? Do you live in a McMansion with seven, eight or more bathrooms? What’s your IQ? What’s your SAT score? What’s your net worth? How many Likes or Friends do you have on social media? What’s your BMI and weight?

Do we judge people and define their worth as human beings based on how they rank in these many areas?

We are now in the month of Elul. Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, the Alter Rebbe, employs a parable to illustrate how G‑d is especially near us during this month. To have an audience with a king, in the royal palace, requires the admission of a hierarchy of dignitaries. But every once in a while, the king goes out to the field to see his subjects, where he converses with them and addresses their needs.

When the king enters the field, the field equalizes everyone. Everyone is empowered and permitted to greet him. All partitions that usually separate him from the populace—status, power, money are nullified.

Similarly, during Elul, “G‑d is in the field.” Though G‑d is always accessible, during this month G‑d comes to us, and it is our chance to seek Him in a more open and personal way. Irrespective of what we have or have not achieved in the last year—or how we compare to the guy or girl next door—it’s our opportunity to focus on strengthening and developing our personal and intimate relationship with G‑d.

This week marks the 18th of Elul, the chai or “life” of the month. This day is the birthday of the Baal Shem Tov and the Alter Rebbe—revolutionary pioneers who spread the teachings of Jewish mysticism. These spiritual giants taught that we are all children of G‑d, who loves us more than the love of a parent to an only child. No matter where we are on the spiritual rung, societal hierarchy or any other ranking, each of us possesses a Divine spark. Every individual—no matter how simple or learned, no matter our lineage, state of observance, talents or net worth—is completely bond to G‑d, whose love for us is infinite and unconditional.

We are here in this world to grow, improve and connect to G‑d. Our shortcomings do not define us; rather, they give us reason to celebrate our efforts in coming closer to G‑d and revealing our Divine spark.

Chana Weisberg

Editor, TJW