Elul: The Month of Love
It’s the last scene. In the midst of the windswept field stands our gallant hero, face fixed in stony acceptance. Besides him, tears well from the deep blue eyes of the golden-haired belle (or perhaps from the flashing eyes of the raven-haired beauty). As the glowing sun dips behind the distant hills, they turn from each other and begin to walk away. The music swells, and the film is just about to end. But wait – all is not lost! Moments before disappearing off-screen, our young warrior turns around. With a quickening heart, he sees that the woman of his dreams has glanced back too. Wordlessly, they rush to each other, and as they stand there face-to-face, the screen dims, the credits begin to roll, and we know that our stars have found their happily ever after.
With their backs to each other, we understood that the love story was over. She was going back to her duties (elderly mother, promised suitor, ill sibling) and he was going to do the honorable thing and let her go. Yet the moment that they turned back to face each other, we were shown that all was not over, and we know that the young couple have found their dream ending; a long and happy relationship.
We are told that the Hebrew month of Elul (which begins this Sunday) is the month of love. The Zohar explains that we begin the month achor el achor – back-to-back with G-d, yet we end it panim el panim – face to face. We may enter the month with complete disconnect and alienation from our Creator, yet ultimately the power of the month can bring us once again into a loving relationship.
In fact, the four letters of the Hebrew word Elul are a famous acronym for the words Ani Ledodi Vedodi Li – ‘I belong to my beloved, and my beloved to me’. In this special month of closeness to G-d, merely days before the days of Judgement and Reckoning, we get a taste of what Judaism and our relationship to G-d is all about.
The essence of Judaism is that all that G-d wants from us is a relationship; our love, closeness and dependence. G-d didn’t make an entire universe encompassing countless people and extending through numerous millennia because He had a penchant for craggy peaks, rolling oceans or exquisite flowers. He created our world solely so that He could create us – His children. So that He could love us, and give to us; much like the relationship between a parent and a child. Our work as Jews, following His commandments and all that it encompasses, is solely to help us to open our hearts and to receive that love from G-d, to craft a life that has space for Him, where we can walk alongside Him.
Ours is not a religion of devils brandishing pitchforks, of fire and hell, ashes and brimstone. Undoubtedly, there are consequences for our actions; as people and as Jews we are powerful and we are significant, and likewise are our actions, both good or bad. However, above and beyond all, Judaism is about love and mercy, and a connection with our Creator as defined by His commandments.
In the month of Elul we can picture ourselves as the wayward son who goes out into the vast open world, forgetting that he leaves at home his father, his once close companion. Old and frail, day in and day out, his father sits in his chair, milky eyes peering out of the dusty window. ‘Perhaps today my son will come back to me. Perhaps today I will catch him rounding the corner, hurrying towards me. Perhaps today the door will open, and I will see his face. For he will come back. He is my son.’
Always and forever, yet particularly in this month, G-d sits and waits, eyes gazing lovingly towards us. Perhaps this year, they will repent. Perhaps this year, they will come back to Me. For they are My children.
As we traverse through this month of Elul, we have a unique opportunity to open up our hearts to our Creator. Far though a Jew may be, each of us has the potential to end the month closely connected to our Father in Heaven. We aren’t required to reach our end goal; we don’t have to achieve perfection. All we have to do is to open our hearts, turn around and come back home. Because our Father who loves us is waiting.