Commitment and Challenge
Rabbi Cassi Kail
Rarely are the Hebrew and secular calendars as in sync as they are this September. On September first, we celebrate the first day of the Hebrew month of Elul, as well. Every Hebrew month is significant, but Elul is special because of its proximity to Rosh HaShanah. The year 5780 will begin in just 29 short days.
My strongest memory of Elul comes from my year living in Israel while I was in seminary. I recall the mornings when I woke up to the piercing tone of the Shofar reverberating throughout my neighborhood. It was a reminder to all within earshot that the some of the holiest days were quickly approaching and there was work to do. The call invited each of us to not only open our eyes, but also our souls to the self-introspective work required to grow. I always knew Elul was important, but for the first time I felt it in my bones. Elul was a gift granting us the time to prepare for the New Year.
There are many teachings about the month of Elul. The month’s very name (lel`) is an acronym for a well-known phrase from Song of Songs, Ani l’dodi v’dodi li, I am for my beloved and my beloved is for me. These words represent the sacred relationship between the Jewish people and God. It is a reminder that we are in relationship with a force so much bigger than ourselves. As my friend and mentor Rabbi Henry Bamberger says, “At times our relationship with God may be distant, and at times we may hold God close, but the most important thing is that we keep dancing with God.” On Elul we consider what it means to be connected to the divine.
Ani L’Dodi v’dodi li is likewise an expression of commitment between people. These words are often said beneath the chuppah, uniting two partners during their wedding ceremony. It is a statement of commitment. We offer these words knowing that we will not always get along. There will be disagreements and hurt feelings. There will be good times as well as bad ones. Through it all, we promise to remain in loving relationship, giving one another the benefit of the doubt, our understanding and appreciation. Ani L’dodi v’dodi li is a challenge to deepen our relationships with our fellow human beings. It is a call to repair the missteps that separate us, to forgive, and to let go over the anger that takes up too much space in our hearts.
This Elul, may the shofar’s blast inspire us to deepen our relationships with God and one another. I look forward to welcoming in the New Year with each of you on September 29 and 30.