We are starting the Hebrew month of Elul. The letters of the name of this month are an anagram for Ani LeDodi VeDodi Li, which means “I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine.” This quote from the Song of Songs is a metaphor for a loving romantic relationship; each one is central in the other person’s life, each gives a piece of themselves to the other, and each person holds within themselves a part of their beloved’s unique self. As we approach a new Jewish year, 5780, we can take this metaphor to a different direction.
As the New Year, and with it, the Days of Awe draw near, we begin the process of accounting for our actions in the year that passed.
- Did we act mindfully in this world, giving everything we can to make this world a better place?
- Did we achieve our goals?
- Did we live our lives to the fullest, enjoying every moment and learning from our experiences?
As we think about these questions, we will recognize that probably most of our answers cannot be an unmitigated YES. As human beings we will fall short, we will sometimes miss the mark and we will make mistakes. We are not always able to be the person we aspire to be. Elul, if seen through the lenses of the things we haven’t accomplished, can become a month of trembling as we review our lives.
We can choose, however, to see this time as a time of reflection and rejoicing about the things we have accomplished. According to our tradition, the month of Elul is also a month of spiritual union between the people of Israel and the Divine. The Divine is our beloved and we belong to the Divine. We have a part of ourselves that belongs to the Divine and a part of the Divine that belongs to us. We are made in the Divine’s image, in Tzelem Elohim, and that connection has to be celebrated at this time of the year. Just as each partner in a loving relationship is able to see each other’s actions with tenderness and friendship, God gives us the opportunity to rejoice in our accomplishments, with tenderness, without harsh criticism.
With that insight in mind, reviewing the year doesn’t have to be a moment of dread. In the month of Elul, we review the past year and scrutinize our actions with the awareness that God welcomes our Teshuvah (repentance, turning back to God) with the love and fondness of a partner. In this month of Elul we are not supposed to be perfect; we are supposed to recognize our mistakes and ask forgiveness for them, while balancing this recognition with the enjoyment of the things we did right. We can truly look into ourselves and be confident that God is standing by our side, encouraging us to be better people. We eliminate the feelings of guilt over our shortcomings and we celebrate the accomplishments of a life well lived. We can trust in the love found in our relationship with the Divine.
I wish for all of us, at Congregation Etz Hayim, a truly balanced month of Elul. I hope that we can start the process of Teshuvah and trust that the Divine is cheering us on, helping us to have a balanced view of our past year. As we go through this process of spiritual growth may we be blessed with recognition of the tenderness, friendship, love and fondness, so we can truly celebrate our accomplishments, recognize our shortcomings in order to better ourselves and have a meaningful, balanced, and blessed new year.
Shana Tova U’metukah / A Good and Sweet Year / שָׁנָה טוֹבָה וּמְתוּקָה
Rabbi Lia Bass