As we approach the time of Rosh Hashana, our Sages are clear to teach us of the importance of the month of preparation immediately preceding it. This month, named “Elul”, is the time of ultimate intimacy between God and humans… a time when God is closely interacting with us to see how we are preparing for the heavenly trial that is about to take place.
We find the key to understanding this preparation in the name itself. “Elul” (אלול) is an acronym of a phrase that many of us recognize: Ani L’Dodi V’Dodi Li”. This phrase, from Shir HaShirim (Song of Solomon) is recited at Jewish weddings; and means “I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine”. It is the ultimate statement of intimacy; and the name of Elul immediately prior to the High Holidays is a reminder that we need to have the same intimacy with God that we have within our deepest of intimate relationships. We need to remember that with this intimacy comes awareness; both our awareness of God, but also God’s awareness of us. As we prepare for the trial that awaits us, we are to remember that each of our actions, words, and intentions are known by the One who is totally present and intimate with us at all times. The Sages teach that “The King is in the Field”… the King of Kings has chosen to leave His Heavenly Palace and walk among us to see how we really interact with each other during this month.
What does this mean on a practical level? If God is walking intimately among us, then the verdict of the Heavenly Court will be based on God’s perception of how we really treat each other. How are we treating our fellow humans? Are we acting with respect and giving honor to our children… parents… teachers… colleagues… friends… and even “enemies”? Are we loving our neighbor, or are we acting selfishly and without compassion? The King is in the field, and knows what we are really doing… so we need to be careful not to act poorly this month, and then mistakenly think that we can get away with being less than fully honest during the 10 Days of Awe. God sees and knows what is in our deepest hearts, and this is a month of preparing ourselves to be aware of how we interact with others.
Talmud teaches us to be aware of where we came from; of where we are going, and before Whom we stand. This month of Elul is the time to be extra conscious of “before Whom we stand”. Our actions are always seen and known in the most intimate of ways by the Holy One at all times; and Elul is the time for us to be especially aware of this intimacy with God.
As a couple stands underneath the Chuppah, their lives change. Their acceptance of full intimacy into their lives together brings additional joys and challenges to their relationship. Their lives achieve levels that they could never have dreamed to attain individually. Similarly, during this month of Elul, we have the opportunity to fully embrace our intimate relationship with the Holy One. When we allow ourselves to sink into this Divine embrace, we can feel strength and joy; forgiveness and passion; peace and love. As we enter Elul, may each of us be aware of our intimate relationship with the Divine; and prepare our souls with consciousness, awareness, and awe for the powerful holy days that are coming upon us.
“I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine”. May each of our hearts and the heart of God be unified, and may each of us bask in the intimacy of the Divine relationship as we prepare to enter these upcoming Days of Awe.
Rabbi Michael Barclay