Ancient tradition tells us that the Jewish month of Elul, coming just before Rosh Hashana, is a time of introspection. This tradition connects the introspection of Elul to the special love and mercy through which God relates to us during this month. The name of the month Elul spells an acronym forming the words, ‘I am for Beloved, and He is for me’ (Shir Hashirim 6:3). While His kindness is abundant at any time of the year, during the 30 days of Elul we feel it more urgently and are stirred to turn towards Him.
The Chasidic master, the Baal HaTanya, expands on the uniqueness of Elul with a unique metaphor. He speaks of a great king, customarily seated in his castle, surrounded by ministers and servants, who once a year ventures out to see his subjects in their fields. Instead of trekking to the castle, the common folk may approach the king as he sees them go about their everyday lives.
This haunting metaphor is laden with mystical illusions. For me however it emphasizes spiritual simplicity and innocence. A field is in contrast to a building. A field is a place of mud and of growth. It is far from the safety and cleanliness of a home. A field is where life is dirty and unkempt. A home is a place of security, a field a place of vulnerability to the elements.
During the year I build a structure around myself to protect my self from the harsh realities of my existence. This mesh of ideas, agendas, and opinions gives me the illusion of identity, control, and false superiority. In Elul I’m invited to shed my shell, to meet my Creator, as is, in a field of vulnerability. We meet sans the armor of arrogance, status, snarkiness, indifference, intelligence, or wealth. He in His infinite and unknowable love; me with my fears, wounds, warts, and my simple, aching desires. The two of us together come to reconnect, to rebuild, to plan an even better coming year.
Far from embarrassing, this meeting in the field is liberating. Schlepping around the armor of everyday life is pretty taxing. I’ve gotta look good and be on my toes lest anyone see that I’m less than the image that I wish to project. The silliness is that we are all playing the same exhausting game. Even worse are the burdens of guilt, shame, and fears which tire me out. Elul gives me a break from all that: I can be myself without the B.S. of self.
The vulnerability of Elul gives us real power. We all love stories of heroes who transcended circumstance to make the save at the last moment. The soldier who carries his injured buddy for miles through an unspeakable battle. Or anyone who overcomes the impossible to change the course of human history even if that change is nothing more remarkable than a spark of kindness in the dark of the everyday.
And we are all those same heroes.
When we shed our armor we can go beyond our selves. We can access our God given super powers. Without the protective armor of self, without the opinions and shame of the past we can extend ourselves to those who need our honesty and love. By revealing our true unsullied innocence we give others permission to come out of their shells.
But best of all when we let go of our fears we are free to meet with God in a field laden with the promise of renewal, love, and a year full of goodness for all.
Shana Tova to all!