Rabbi Michael Barclay
Elul: A Time to Prepare for Intimacy
On September 6th Jews around the world will begin observing the holiday of Rosh HaShanah and the Ten Days of Awe (YomimNoraim) that end with Yom Kippur. During those ten days we are to open our “Book of Life”, look at how we have behaved over the past year, clean up any messes we have created, and commit to living better in the coming year. A nice practice of self reflection for people of any faith.
As we approach Rosh HaShanah, our Sages of old are clear to teach us the importance of the month of preparation immediately preceding it, which begins this coming Monday, August 9. This Hebrew 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 during the upcoming Days of Awe. It is a time for our souls to “wake up” (which is why we blow the Shofar each morning during the month of Elul), and to “show up” for our partnership with the Divine.
We find the key to understanding the preparations of this month in the name itself. “Elul” (אלול) is a Hebrew acronym of a phrase from the Biblical book, Song of Songs: “Ani L’Dodi V’Dodi Li”. This phrase 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 a reminder that we need to have the same intimacy with God that we have within our deepest of intimate relationships. We must remember that with this intimacy comes awareness; both our awareness of God, but also God’s awareness of us. As we prepare for the self-examination of the upcoming holidays, 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? Since God is walking intimately among us, 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 especially 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 deepest in our hearts, and this is a month of preparing ourselves to be aware of how we interact with others.
As a couple stands underneath the Chuppah, the Jewish wedding canopy, 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, beginning next Monday, 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
August 5th, 2021
27th of Av, 5781