Elul: Recognize the Relationship

Are we being hypocritical at this time of year?

Rabbanit Shira Smiles,

Young women study Torah
Young women study Torah
Flash 90
As summarized by Channie Koplowitz Stein. 

Elul is the month when we work on reestablishing our reciprocal relationship with HaKodosh Boruch Hu as alluded to by the acronym of this month's name, "I am to my Beloved and my Beloved is to me." As part of this process,
Elul generates a greater feeling of spirituality.
we do our best to be our best. Before we act and before we speak, we are more likely to stop and calculate whether our actions or words will serve to further this relationship or alienate us from our Maker. But are we being hypocritical by focusing so much energy on the relationship during this season and often paying little more than lip service to it the rest of the year?

In a related question, what emotion does the anticipation of this relationship engender within us? Is it awe and trepidation at the realization that HaShem, our King and Lord, is about to pass judgment on us, or is it joy in our privilege to have the opportunity once again to proclaim His Sovereignty over us and reaffirm our role as His People?

The month of Elul plays a crucial role in creating an efficacious environment to nurture this relationship. Different times generate different energies, and Elul generates a greater feeling of spirituality, of a desire to come closer to the Ribbono shel olam as the time of the birthday of mankind, and of his judgment, approaches. So much depends on how we present ourselves before His Throne of Glory on Rosh Hashanah. HaShem has given us this time to raise our awareness of His presence, much as a principal (lehavdil) will apprise a teacher under his supervision of an upcoming observation.

With this analogy in mind, we can certainly understand how we would be more aware of His presence at this time. We are not being hypocritical by trying harder to reach our potential at this time; we are just being human. During the year, our human frailties and necessities press upon us, and our long-term vision of our mission is too often obscured. In the month of Elul, HaShem is announcing His presence, heralding His arrival with the blast of the shofar, the horn warning the vehicle which carries our soul that we are in danger, that we are veering off the road; in fact, reminding us of our destination. 

In our busy lives, we tend to forget our true purpose in life, to build a relationship with Hakodosh Boruch Hu. But that purpose never really disappears. It remains hidden deep within us, waiting for the opportunity to awaken and succeed. It may remain a silent cry, but starting with the month of Elul, we have the incentive, both positive and negative, to give it expression, both in words and in deeds.  

Our speech is again freed, as it was from our Egyptian bondage. Pharaoh, an acronym for peh ra, a bad or sick tongue, kept our power of speech enslaved, but our Redeemer heard our voice, that inner voice which would not be silenced, vayishma HaShem es kolainu, and He released our power of speech, gave us back our peh sach. We could even burst out in song at the splitting of the sea.

Therefore, one of the most integral parts of the observance of Pesach is speech. We recite the Haggadah, and all who expound more fully on the story of Pesach is praiseworthy. We drink four cups of wine to symbolize the four verbal terms the Torah uses to describe our redemption, corresponding to the four parts of the mouth used in enunciating speech and creating different sounds. There is a fifth term, the silent voice not in the mouth, but within the throat itself, symbolized by the cup we do not drink, but leave for Elijah. 

It is this inner voice that is aroused by the sound of the shofar during the month of Elul, this yearning for a relationship we have kept at a distance, for if we will be to our Beloved, our Beloved will surely be to us. He knocks at the walls of our corporeal beings. During the year, do we open ourselves to His Presence, or are we too involved with our clothing, and our money, and other mundane matters?

Elul is the time that He is knocking, waiting for us to open up, sending His bugler to announce His Presence. After we hear that shofar-bugle call, we acknowledge His importance in our lives - Hashem ori - "God is my Light and my Salvation." We reaffirm our desire, in shadows the rest of the year, to sit in His House all the days of our lives. 
Elul is the time that He is knocking, waiting for us to open up.

In Elul, we proclaim ourselves to be His (lo - lamed-vov), our true essence, while the rest of the year we are not our true selves (lo - lamed aleph), just reading the letters of the month backwards. But we need the light of His Torah to show us the way, and we must learn the practical ways to ensure that we do the mitzvot and act properly. Our actions create realities that cannot then be changed. If we are to reach our goals, we need not only the proper light to see the road as it winds its way toward our destination, but we also need to steer and maneuver our vehicle safely. During this month, we must learn both Torah and practical application of Torah law through the many "driving manuals" at our disposal, from books on shemirat halashon to books on effective prayer, to many others. 

This is the time of year with acoustical clarity. His voice beckons us, calling out in so many ways. If we but turn toward the sound, responding in kind, He will continue to be our Beloved, as He has never ceased to be, as we are now again His. Our fear of His close scrutiny and observation will lead to the joy of a renewed intimacy.