The time period we are currently in is full of anticipation for the upcoming high holidays.
We are at the beginning of the month of Elul which ushers in the annual cycle of introspection and renewal.
We also begin the process of improving ourselves through active Teshuvah (repentance) focusing on things that we ourselves can do better, improving our relationship with G-d and repairing fractured connections.
One of my favourite things about the month of Elul is the acronym that the month represents. In Hebrew, the letters of Elul are an acronym that spell out ‘Ani LeDodi Vedodi Li’-I am to my beloved and my beloved is to me.’
This message is the overarching theme of the month itself. At this special time of year, we know that G-d is in the field ready to hear our requests and we must take the time to refine ourselves accordingly.
I love how Chassidic philosophy describes the days of Elul and Tishrei in the form of a parable:
Once there was a great and powerful ruler who dwelled in a high and lofty palace. However, up in this great abode the ruler began to feel a deep disconnection with the common people. Hence the ruler decided that every year there would be a dedicated set amount of days in which the ruler would set out and sojourn throughout the kingdom. All citizens were encouraged to speak and petition the ruler and the ruler, in turn, would greet them all with “a bright and jovial face.”
However, this intimacy between ruler and subject only occurred for a small period of time throughout the year. On any other occasion, a person would need to enter the palace and fearfully prostate before the ruler in order to present a request.
This metaphor illustrates the spiritual differences of Elul in comparison to other months of the year.
During the month of Elul, we go back to the parable that the ruler has come out to see the people. At no other time is there traditionally believed to be such a deep closeness and personalization between humans and their Creator as we get ready for the solemn days ahead.
However, the purpose of the month of Elul is not merely to assert these two aspects of our relationship with G-d.
In Elul, each person can strive to attain and refine their relationship with G-d. However, in doing so it must be hand-in-hand with recognition of the closeness that exists between all of Am Yisrael. We should also seek to refine our relationships with those we have fallen out with, family members we have quarrelled with and those that we need to apologize to.
In no other month is it be more fitting to observe R U OK? Day: the national day of mental health awareness and suicide prevention, which is held today, Thursday the 14th of September. Let us ask each other R U OK? Whether it’s a fellow shule member you’ve been meaning to introduce yourself to, a family member or friend you haven’t spoken to in a while, use today to make meaningfully contact with people around you to help support those who might be struggling.
Just as in Elul it is believed that G-d is found in the ‘field’ – so too must we go out into the unfamiliar ‘field’ and lend a helping hand or ear to those that might appreciate it. In Elul G-d’s presence is felt more than ever- so too we must be present for those around us.
This is why the period of Teshuvah and refinement is 40 days starting the first day of Elul to Yom Kippur, we are given the space and time to do our best job of self-refinement and to lift those around us.
May we all be inscribed and sealed for a happy, healthy and sweet new year.
P.S Both Mushka and I often receive phone calls or emails from community members who might be going for a routine check-up or have found themselves in hospital that would appreciate a visit. If you know someone that would appreciate Bikur Cholim please email or call me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or (03) 8658 4044