The Holy Power of This Year’s Elul

By Rabbi David

We’re on the High Holy Day “runway.” Watch the moon grow full during the first few days of August, then slowly wane. The new moon, just after mid-month, will start the holy month of Elul leading to Rosh Hashanah.

Every year, Elul’s approach arouses in me familiar feelings that begin to transport me. The music, the taste of apples and honey at Rosh Hashanah, sense of shared journey with others, ancient words, immediate relevance, rousing of soul, flow of emotion, depth and height – they all start to move me. I begin to notice feelings, thoughts and behaviors that ask attention. 

Around this time, I remember that Elul (אלול) is an acronym for the Hebrew Ani l’dodi v’dodi li (אני לדודי ודודי לי) – “I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine” (Song of Songs 6:3). I reflect on how “beloved” is a Biblical metaphor for God, spirit or meaning. I recall Judaism’s ancient teaching that Elul is so powerful – maybe in itself, maybe because it magnetizes us toward our season of meaning – that what we call the sacred can feel closer, more proximate, more accessible, right here.

This year, of course, is a bit different. This year, “right here” will mean not our physical house of worship but rather our homes and anywhere else life takes us. In a sense, that’s always true (the holy always is as close as our next breath, our heartbeat, the next spark spoken into being, the next choice), but this Elul might find this truth feeling more palpable.

So this year I re-think Elul’s “I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine” – not just in a shul, but in my kitchen, my car, on line at a market, with so many people wearing masks and feeling tired, drained and more. This year, these words feel especially radical and full of holy chutzpah:

I am my beloved’s” – If so, then Elul reminds that each of us ‘belongs’ to God. Each of us has a holy share in this belonging that’s unique for each person. Elul asks whether and how we live that truth in every “right here” that the world might bring us.

And my beloved is mine.” – If so, then Elul reminds that God ‘belongs’ to each of us. Each of us personally has a unique capacity to shape the sacred flowing in the world. Elul asks whether and how we live that truth in every “right here” that the world might bring us.

Maybe we feel it – and maybe we don’t. Maybe the feeling comes and goes. That’s okay: it’s all part of the ancient High Holy Day journey. After all, Elul itself is a process. Elul is a journey of noticing, stirring, limbering up, feeling, and remembering who we really are and who we want to become.

So look up this month. Watch the moon change. Watch yourself change. Elul is coming, and with it our sacred season to make right in our lives, and each other’s lives, and the world. May the light of the moon, and the soul light that is our beloved, bless and guide us all.

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