Why is it that in Europe, in the Yeshivas and even among the balabatim, there was a real sensation of Aimas Ha’din during Elul and Selichos while here in America we don’t see that type of feeling? Aren’t we frum just like they were in Europe?
Let me explain something to you. In the ancient times – and by ancient, I mean a hundred years ago – when they bentched Rosh Chodesh Elul there was a trembling, a tziternish. Yes. As soon as they mentioned Elul there was a tziternish. And that’s because in those days people lived with Emunah. Today, even though we have very frum people, you have to know that we are saturated with the outside world’s apikorsis. So many people, Orthodox Jews, frum Jews, are really apikorsim right underneath the skin. The mind is full of the atmosphere that comes in from the street. And one has to work very hard to fight this influence. You really have to work on it. Once upon a time, a hundred years ago, did they have any significant contact with the goyim? No, nothing at all. They did business with the goyim. They bought and sold. But did they read goyishe things? Never.
But here we are facing a gezeirah. Our children in school must read English books. English books, even if they are not full of apikorsis, they are still goyishe books, you have to know. And the best goyishe books are a harmful influence. I know what I’m talking about. The best goyishe books are a harmful influence. They get into the heads of our children. And into our heads, as well.
That’s why we say, “vi’kavtzeinu vi’hatzi’leinu min ha’goyim.” Hashem, please make us free from the goyim. We want to be able to come together once again, and live as Jews are supposed to live, without any influence at all from the outside.
And therefore, what’s even the question? We’re very far away from how they used to approach Elul because we’re very far away from Emunah. As Rav Yeruchem, the Mashgiach, once said. He said this about eighty years ago. He said, “We cannot even understand the greatness of our great-grandmothers.” They had such Yiras Shamayim that even Rav Yeruchem himself couldn’t feel it. The outside world had begun to seep in. It was gradual, but it began to make its way in. And that’s how the Jewish world began to spoil.
And although today, Boruch Hashem, there is a big movement for teshuva, we have to also make a very big movement for teshuva pnimis. To create a pure Torah mind requires work. A very great movement is needed. We have to work very hard in order to regain just part of the attitude that our great-grandmothers and great-grandfathers once had. The Jewish street was mamash saturated with Yiras Hashem. You have no idea – no idea at all – what it was like to walk in the Jewish street.