As we draw nigh to the New Year and the High Holy Days, our preparation during the month of Elul is more than just our yearly pilgrimage in the exercise of t’shuvah. It is more than a ritual or a tradition of returning to HaShem and the Torah. It is more than just a very important mitzva performed with the hope of having our names written in the Sefer HaCha’im, the Book of Life.
It is a time to seek for and return to our Beloved, a time of reconciliation and restoration. T’shuvah is not only a time when Jews return and are reconciled to HaShem, but it is also a time for husbands to return to their wives and be reconciled, children to return to their parents and be reconciled, neighbors to return and be reconciled, and most importantly it is time for the entire Jewish community to return to each other and be reconciled.
The Shema, the very fundamental belief of Judaism compels us to acknowledge our faith in only one G-d, but it then continues to embrace the very essence and mind of HaShem when it says, You shall love.
The first letter of each Hebrew word in Ani Ldodi Vdodi Li spells Elul. The definition of Elul is, “to search.” Hence, we may render the combined meaning of Ani Ldodi Vdodi Li and Elul as, “I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine—for this reason I will search for him until I am reconciled to him.” The Hebrew word for reconcile is Kaphar. It means, “to cover, to make atonement.” The same shoresh is found in the words, Yom Kippur (day of atonement) and Kapharet which means, “mercy seat.” We understand that during Temple times, on Yom Kippur, the Kohen Gadol would take the blood from the sacrifice and place it upon the Kapharet. That action made Kaphar (a covering or atonement) for the sins of the people. Such a covering resulted in reconciliation between Y’srael and HaShem. Reconciliation also means, “to bring together, to unite, to restore to purity.” That one act of mediation by the Kohen Gadol brought the Jewish people and HaShem together. Today, we do not have Temple sacrifice to reconcile our sins on Yom Kippur, but we pray and make t’shuvah with faith that HaShem hears our prayers.
The most important sacrifice we can bring to HaShem is the lips of our heart. What does it mean, “the lips of our heart?” Such a phrase means, “that our lips and our heart must draw near to HaShem, not our lips only.” Hoshea 14:2-3 says, “Return, Y’srael, unto HaShem your G-d, for you have stumbled in your iniquity. Take with you words and return to HaShem; say unto Him, May You forgive all iniquity and receive us graciously: and let our lips substitute for bulls.”
The Chafetz Chaim writes in his introduction to a book on lashon hara: “Because the Jewish people sinned, the Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed and they were exiled from the land of Israel. This exile has lasted until today. It is pertinent to ask: which transgressions have been the primary cause of the continuation of our exile? For a number of reasons it appears that the main sin has been lashon hora (evil speaking). Lashon Hora is the source of much hatred, disputes, and even bloodshed. The Talmud states that evil speech is the cause of the exile. Therefore, until we rectify the evil, we will not be deemed worthy of redemption.”
In the Stone Edition Tanach the commentary of Ani Ldodi Vdodi Li reads, “I, alone, am my Beloved’s. You are not His, and you will not assist us in the construction of the Beit HaMikdash.” True—no one can assist us. Only we can rebuild, with the help of HaShem, what we have destroyed. This statement holds true for our relationships as well as the building of the Temple. We alone are responsible for what we destroy by our words.
Knowing that our words become our boundaries, could it be that our words either expand our capacity to love or limit our capacity to love? If the Shulammite could enlarge the boundaries of her love by her words, could we not do the same in our relationships? Could we not bring words that soften and heal hard unforgiving hearts to our spouses, our children, our neighbors, and our community for the purpose of forgiveness and reconciliation?
Too often we come to this season with bitterness in our hearts and strained relationships, especially between husbands and wives, because of our words. A passage cited in A Lesson a Day taken from Sefer Chofetz Chaim, states “The Torah understands that at the core of virtually every broken friendship, shattered career, community problem, or divorce, is a seed of hatred—a seed usually planted by a hurtful word. The laws of the Torah reflect HaShem’s knowledge that much of the pain and anguish of life can be averted by restraining ourselves from sowing hurtful/negative seeds.”
In the cited passage Shir HaShirim 6:3, the Shulammite is expressing her love and desire to be reconciled to her beloved. There is no sense of unforgiveness, offense, malice, lack of respect, bitterness, coldness of heart—even though she had opportunity to become such. Their love had been through trial and tragedy. They both experienced moments of closeness as well as moments of withdrawal and separation. The Shulammite said, “I opened for my Beloved; but, alas, my Beloved had turned his back on my plea and was gone. My soul departed at His decree! I sought his closeness, but could not find it; I beseeched Him, but He would not answer. They found me, the enemy watchman patrolling the city; they struck me, they bloodied me wreaking G-d’s revenge on me. They stripped my mantle of holiness from me, the angelic watchmen of the wall.” (Shir HaShirim 5). And yet, she continued to love, and she continued to see him as her beloved. Her words continued to magnify him in the eyes of others. Her words even appear to enlarge the boundaries of her love for him. Even after all of her rejection and suffering, she continued to search for him, wait for him, look for his coming. And her waiting would pay off, for he would come and they would be reconciled to each other.
And thus it is with us, the Jewish people and our G-d. Every Elul and even throughout the year we seek to be reconciled to Him and others. There are times when we feel His presence drawing near to us and wooing us to Him. Then in a relatively small spans of time He seems hidden to us, gone as the breeze on a hot summer day. Then there are seasons when Tzaddikim (Righteous people)
surface who we think could be the Moshiach (Messiah). Our hope resurfaces and we feel that HaShem has drawn close to us through them, and then when they fade as the glory of a Lily we sense that HaShem has withdrawn himself once again. Yet our hope lies not in feelings, and seasons, or even Tzaddikim, but in the Torah itself.
Hoshea 10:12 says, “sow to yourselves in righteousness, reap in mercy; break up your fallow (hard) ground (heart): for it is time to seek the L-rd, till he come and rain righteousness upon you.”
Yes, it is time to seek HaShem until our hearts our reconciled to Him and we can say with the Shulammite, “Ani Ldodi Vdodi Li—I am my beloved’s and he is mine.”
Copyright © 2000 by Hadassah Johnson and Project Genesis, Inc.