Photo by Charles Ward

Reflection on the Month of Elul

We are about to begin our countdown to the High Holy Days – Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.  The Jewish month of Elul begins with the new moon on August 12th.  Elul is a time of preparation and reflection.  It is when we think about the New Year that is fast approaching.  We remember all we did in the year that will soon be behind us.  We especially remember those we love who are no longer physically with us.  And, we look at ourselves, reflecting on how we lived our lives last year and how we can improve in the year ahead.  We think of relationships we have with others and our special spiritual relationship we have with God.

There are no coincidences in our Hebrew words and their meanings and numeric values (Gematria).  I find the study of this fascinating and every time I delve into a specific Hebrew word, I am amazed at what I learn and how truly mind-blowing it is.  Take the Hebrew word “Elul,” the name for this month that precedes the High Holy Days.  Elul is formed from the Hebrew letters alephlamedvav and lamed, which are an acronym for the phrase (from the biblical Song of Songs) ani l’dodi v’dodi li, which means “I am to my beloved and my beloved is to me.”  It is a phrase which many couples say to each other at their weddings.  It symbolizes the joining of one heart to another. 

The month of Elul, is the key to unlocking the inner and most potent meaning of the heart. The first Hebrew letter in Elul is an aleph.  This is the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet and it has a numeric value of one (1).  Aleph symbolically represents God – Adonai (which also begins with aleph as do most of our other names for God). 

The word Elul also contains two lameds with a vav connecting them.  In Hebrew, the word for heart is lev, which is spelled lamed-bet. In order for there to be a relationship, the two lameds need to be connected – face to face.  Vav is a connecting word and often means “and.”  It connects the two lameds.

So, in the word Elul, we have God (aleph) and we have two lameds connected by vav.  It is significant that there are TWO lameds because the word lamed means both “to learn” and “to teach.”  This shows us that it is necessary to have both of these letters in the word Elul and that the two letters are intertwined.  In any relationship, we must be willing to learn from one another, therefore making one person the learner, the receiver and the other person the teacher, or the giver.

To take things a step further, consider this:  The Torah is a guidebook for how we relate to God and how we relate to one another.  Our Torah is not a book with a beginning, middle or end, but rather a never ending scroll that we are able to constantly turn and turn and look at from many different angles.  There is a Kabbalistic principle that states, “the end is wedged in the beginning, and the beginning in the end.” 

Elul is the set up month for the High Holy Days.  We are ending our old year and coming to the beginning of a new year where we can start all of our relationships fresh.  The reading of the Torah is also coming to an end where we read from the last chapter of Deuteronomy and begin anew with the first chapter of Genesis.  If we look carefully, we notice that the last word in the Torah is Yisrael which ends with the Hebrew letter lamed.  And the first word in the Torah is Bereisheet which begins with a betLamed-betLev, the Hebrew word for heart.  The essence of the month of Elul.  The essence of our ends and beginnings.

All things are connected and intertwined.  In just this one simple, four letter word – Elul – there is so much symbolism.  All things emanate from the heart. We become aware of relationships not only between two people (a giver and a receiver), but also the relationship between us and God.  This is what the month of Elul is all about.  It is a time of reflection, a time of searching, a time to consider our relationships with others and our relationship with God.  It is a time of endings rolling into beginnings where we all have a chance to start anew.

May we be blessed with the ability to open our hearts to the reflection of the month of Elul, to recognize and reveal our ability to both learn and teach, give and receive, and through this, be able to come face to face with ourselves, with our loved ones and with our Creator, as we are cradled in love.

Amen

"My job as a Rabbi is to bring people closer to G-d..to be an extension of G-d...to be with people in their happiness and in their sadness."