We are approaching the month of Elul and as is well known the name Elul is an acronym for a verse in the Song of Songs .The Hebrew letters of Elul are also the first letters of the verse, Ani Ledodi VeDodi Lee – “I Am My Beloved’s and my Beloved is Mine.” (Song of Songs 6:3)
This powerful verse comes from the ultimate love poem written by King Solomon as beautiful allegory of a love story between the infinite and the finite. The great sage Rabbi Akiva declared, “Heaven forbid that any man in Israel ever disputed that the Song of Songs is holy. For the whole world is not worth the day on which the Song of Songs was given to Israel, for all the Writings are holy and the Song of Songs is holy of holies.” (Mishnah Yadayim 3:5) It is clearly an allegory, as the young maiden and her beloved keep changing roles. At times, he is a shepherd, at times a king; and the young maiden a poor waif and then a queen.
That sense of betrothal is a critical tool of healing. We are culminating the month of Av and are ending a period of mourning for the destruction of the Temple’s and of the exile of G-d’s palpable Presence in our existence. There is a sense of ending and the beginning of exhilaration of “new beginnings”. Elul begins the process of redemption and repentance called Teshuva. We take note that the word “teshuva “also means answer. If Elul is an answer then what was the question?
The month of “Av” represents the question. What happened and how did we end up with destruction and exile. “Elul” on the other hand represents the answer which is, relationship love and obedience.
Yet if that is true, I was struck by an important question. If the “I am my Beloved’s “relationship is so critical, where do we find G-d telling us that He loves us. More poignantly where do we find that declaration in the text of the Torah wherein G-d spoke to his people directly and without intermediaries?
We do find G-d calling us His children;
“You are the children of Hashem your G-d (Deuteronomy 14:1) ..so act accordingly. We read that thought reiterated later by the prophets;
“They shall be mine, says Hashem of hosts, in the day when I make up my treasured possession, and I will spare them as a man spares his son who serves him( Malachi 3:17 )
We also find how the prophets actually describe G-d’s love for us.
“But you, O Lord, are a G-d merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.(Psalm 86:15 – )
For the mountains may depart and the hills be removed, but my steadfast love shall not depart from you, and my covenant of peace shall not be removed,” says Hashem, who has compassion on you. (Isaiah 54:10 )
Hashem your G-d is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing .(Zephaniah 3:17 – )
Yet we would have thought that this obvious conclusion from the relationship G-d has with His people would have been declared clearly in the dramatic revelation called the Torah.
In the Torah we read of it at first as being seemingly conditional;
And it will be, because you will heed these ordinances and keep them and perform, that Hashem, your G-d, will keep for you the covenant and the kindness that He swore to your forefathers. And He will love you and bless you and multiply you; … ( Deuteronomy 7:12-13)
Yet in two places we do see G-d describing His love for His people;
Not because you are more numerous than any people did Hashem delight in you and choose you, for you are the least of all the peoples. But because of Hashem’s love for you …( Deuteronomy 7:7-8)
Only your forefathers Hashem desired, to love them, and He chose their seed after them you, out of all peoples, as it is this day.(ibid 10:15)
On the other hand we see G-d repeatedly requesting and commanding the people to love Him .
“And you shall love Hashem, your G-d, with all your heart and with all your soul, and with all your means.(Deuteronomy 6:5)
“And now, O Israel, what does Hashem, your G-d ask of you? Only to fear Hashem, your G-d, to walk in all His ways and to love Him, and to worship Hashem, your G-d, with all your heart and with all your soul.”(Ibid 10:12-13)
Why do see this glaring imbalance, wherein we see G-d requesting our love repeatedly rather than Him describing His love for us?
I believe that it is because people that are feeling broken and wounded have a difficult time accepting that they are truly loved. That is true in family systems and relationships. It is also true in our relationship with the divine.
On the other hand when G-d ”asks “ for our love , what He is doing is empowering us with the sense that our love is important and that our essence is critical in the Divine plan. To be told by G-d that he loves us would be important but G-d seemed to determine that His empowerment of us is critical for His plan of Destiny. It is important to know that we are loved by Hashem but it is dramatically more crucial to know that our love and our obedience is critical to His plan.
It is only with that sense of being that we are able to enter into the relationship of Elul.
“Ani Ledodi VeDodi Lee”
Le-Refuat Yehudit bat Golda Yocheved