Elul is a unique opportunity. Every year Hashem gives us a month packed with rachamim to be used in preparation for the upcoming judgment that will take place on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. What is the way to properly utilize this extraordinary gift? The answer can be found in the Ramban in this week's parsha.
The Torah exhorts, "Tzedek tzedek tirdof" - Righteousness righteousness shall you pursue so that you will live and inherit the land (Devarim 17, 20). After explaining the simple meaning of the pasuk, the Ramban quotes a Medrash which explains the pasuk with a kabbalistic approach. Although the complete intent behind his words is beyond our comprehension, there is still an important message that can be gleaned from the explanation: "Tzedek refers to the attribute of judgment in the world. If you judge yourself, 'You will live' and if you do not judge yourself, Hashem will judge you and force you to live."
How does one judge himself? Rav Wolbe (Da'as Shlomo) explains that he must answer the following question: "What do I want to achieve and accomplish with my life?" i.e. "What is my true desire?" The Gr"a (Mishlei 16, 2) writes that every person has an underlying core desire which is the source of all his actions and speech. This desire encapsulates the true aspiration of his life. However, this desire is buried deep inside a person and is therefore difficult to unearth. When one succeeds in discovering this desire he will have gained clarity into his essence and his truest aspiration.
This revelation has the ability to bring a person to teshuva. When he realizes that his actions are directed by a wayward desire, this should galvanize him to rectify the situation. Indeed, this is a difficult task and it can be compared to a heart transplant! He must uproot the desire and plant a new one in its place. This is not a task which can be completed in a day. It could very possibly take months or years to completely correct the situation. Yet, the very fact that he wishes to change his errant aspiration already places him in the category of "one who comes to purify himself" and is guaranteed that "he will be helped".
The teshuva process begins with the realization that one is straying after a core desire. This realization can only be achieved if one asks himself the above question. If one takes a minute each day of Elul to ask himself what he really wants from life, he will be well prepared for the Yomim HaNoraim. As the Ramchal writes (Derech Eitz Chaim) this pointed question is "the best and strongest remedy that one can find against the yetzer hara; it is simple and the results are tremendous!"