The Meanings of Elul

Written by Rabbi Elliott Karstadt — 30 August 2022

Ani l’dodi v’dodi li

I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine.

The first letters of these words from the Song of Songs – alef-lamed-vav-lamed – make up the letters of the name of Elul, the month that begins tomorrow night and into Sunday. For this reason, the month of Elul is considered to be an auspicious time in which to get married. It is not just a time of erotic love, but a time of connectedness – by saying I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine, we are saying that our lives are interwoven with the lives of others. This will also be the month in which we begin to go back to work, to school, to university, following a summer in which we have perhaps separated ourselves from our everyday communities by going on holiday or going away to summer camp, or perhaps even just hidden away at home in an attempt to avoid the heat.

As we approach the High Holy Days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, Elul is traditionally seen as a time to celebrate the love between God and the people of Israel. Not only do we dedicate ourselves to our loved ones and our community, but in preparation for those holy days we dedicate ourselves to thinking about those things that are bigger than ourselves, those powers in the universe to which we are subject.

This search for connection is not necessarily one-sided either. There is also a tradition that teaches that God is like a king hauled up in a great palace for eleven months of the year, but in the month of Elul comes down to be with his people. It was the great thinker and philosopher Abraham Joshua Heschel who spoke of the idea that our traditional understanding of human beings searching our God needed to be turned on its head – God is the one who is seeking us, calling out to us, as subjects, like old lovers, wanting to be reunited after such a long time apart.

Finally, Elul is a time in which to reconnect with ourselves. It is a time of soul-searching, of asking ourselves whether we have fulfilled our promise to the world. What kind of year have we had? What might we have done differently? How far have we strayed from who we really want to be?

So, as we remember those words, ani l’dodi v’dodi li, let us ask ourselves, who is it that we will be reaching out to as we enter Elul? How are we going to deepen our connection, to each other, to the world, to God, or to ourselves?