The month of Elul, which precedes the New Year, is a month rich with meaning and tradition. First and foremost, it is the month of Selichot, penitential prayers, and a time for a spiritual check-up, when we are encouraged to itemize our misdeeds and misgivings from the past year. A second meaning is that Elul is the month of love. Already in the rabbinic period, the sages noted that if you use the letters that spell out Elul: Alef, Lamed, Vav, Lamed, they can represent the phrase from Song of Songs, “Ani L’dodi v’dodi li,” “I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine.” (Song of Songs 6:3). Elul also begins just after Tisha B’av, the sad holiday of the Ninth of Av, when the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem and other Jewish tragedies are mourned. Weddings are prohibited, according to traditional Jewish law, in the weeks leading up to Tisha B’av. Therefore, Elul has, for centuries, been the month of choice for Jewish couples.
Perhaps you can imagine that the confluence of our daughter Abby’s soon-to-be wedding on the first day of the month of Elul and the approaching Days of Awe has given me not only an unusually bad case of pre-holiday jitters, but wonderful food for thought on the connection between Elul as the lovers month and Elul as the preparatory month for the High Holy Days. And connections do abound.
Even a cursory glance at the Songs of Songs in the Bible makes it abundantly clear that this is an extended love poem. So how did a love poem get included in the Bible, the holiest book of Jewish literature? The rabbis who determined the canon (official collection) of books in the Bible determined that the Song of Songs was an extended metaphor for the relationship between the People of Israel and God. No matter how these poems might look to us, the rabbis said these chapters really express the devotion between Jewish people and God.
At this season of Elul, the entire Jewish people are working toward a better relationship with God, singing, if you will, our Song of Songs to God. We are all vowing to return to God, presenting our best selves so that we can find oneness with God before Yom Kippur comes to an end. We even dress up in our best clothes when the holidays finally come, sometimes even white like the bridal gown, for this all- important coming together. So, what better season than Elul for a young couple, just starting out, to make their commitments to one another?
They have the collective energy of the entire Jewish people behind them, seeking to be sincere in their promises and devoted in their goals. Perhaps when a wedding falls in Elul, the bride and groom can sense, as they stand under the chuppah ( the marriage canopy), not only the good wishes, but the good intentions, of all those who come to celebrate with them.
Please do join our family on Sunday, September 4 at 4:45pm to wish Abby and Zak Mazal Tov at a backyard reception. They will have just exchanged rings under the chuppah in a private ceremony in the Beth Hillel sanctuary and whether you can be present or not, we know that the best hopes, goals and promises of every Jew that are first uttered in the month of Elul will be with them as they start their married life together.
Thank you all for your many good wishes for Abby and Zak. And now a wish for all of you:
May your Elul be rewarding and the New Year 5777 be joyous and fulfilling.
L’shanah Tovah Tikateyvu
Rabbi Dena A. Feingold