Dear Congregation Beth Israel members and friends,
Chodesh tov/ happy new month to all! We’ve entered into the new month of Elul, the last month of 5773. Well: almost. Tomorrow is the first day of Elul. But this is one of those months with a two-day Rosh Chodesh, so even though today is the last day of Av, it’s also the first day of Rosh Chodesh. So hey: happy last day of Av, and happy new month of Elul!
Our sages teach us that this month’s name, Elul / אלול, can be read as an acronym for אני לדודי ודודי לי / “Ani l’dodi v’dodi li,” I am my Beloved’s and my Beloved is mine. (That’s from Song of Songs.) The Beloved, in this case, is God; this is our month for remembering that we can experience God not only as King and Ruler and Judge (the metaphors so prevalent in the traditional high holiday liturgy) but also as our Beloved and our Friend.
One midrash says that God is like a King, and we all know that kings are difficult to reach; there are protocols, there are hoops you have to jump through, and so on. But during Elul, the King leaves the palace not as a king but just as an ordinary person, yearning to interact with His subjects one-on-one, friend-to-friend. Elul is the month when we can walk in the fields with our divine Friend, our divine Beloved, and speak with God in an intimate way.
We’re blessed to live in a place with actual fields — so if you can find some time this month to literally walk in the fields while speaking quietly with God, I recommend it! (If you can survive the goldenrod, that is.)
One tradition for this month is reading Psalm 27 every day. Here is a downloadable pdf file which contains four different versions of that psalm — in Hebrew, in English, in poetry, and in abbreviated song form — to help you use this ancient tool during this holy time.
For those who are looking for daily ways to enrich the month of Elul without leaving your desk, here’s one option — daily email messages written by wonderful teachers and artists all month long at Jewels of Elul. Another option: the regular mindfulness meditations, poems, prayers, and other gems from Rabbi Yael Levy at A Way In / Mishkan Shalom. (You can also follow A Way In on Facebook to get those teachings delivered right to your friends page.) Another practice during Elul is hearing the shofar every day — which you can do online at Beliefnet if you’re so inclined.
Some of us will also be participating in #BlogElul and #ElulGram this month, a collaborative project around the internet which will involve spending this lunar month posting blog posts, tweets, instagram photos, Facebook status updates, etc, on themes relating to preparing ourselves for the Days of Awe. (You can learn more by clicking on that link — and all are welcome to participate, whether for one day or for the whole month.)
May this month be a journey of meaning, sweetness, and teshuvah for all of us.