Ani LeDodi veDodi Li - I am for my beloved and my beloved is for me.
Ish Lere'ehu VeMatanot Le'Evyonim - A man should be for his fellow and give alms to the destitute. -- phrases for which the word ELUL is an anagram
The above two phrases illustrate the two poles of our observances during Elul. In truth, they really characterise Rosh HaShana. However, even though the new year starts with Rosh HaShana, we spend the month before, the last month of the old year, preparing for the year to come. The new year bleeds for a full month into the old.
In this, we see a fundamental teaching of our tradition. The new year is not just a celebration, not just another notch on the belt marking the passage of our people and our planet through time.
It is a time to reflect and improve, to grow, to assess, perhaps to change course. It is a time that we examine closely our actions over the past year in light of our respect and reverence for Jewish and Torah values and attempt a new, better way. Rosh HaShana is an expression of our firm belief in our mastery over our destiny.
Elul is an expression of our control over time.
At the moment, it often feels like we have nothing but time. We spend our days in the same rooms, speaking the same words, doing the same things. We feel constrained, stifled, and bored. In such circumstances, it is easy for us to blame our circumstances on others. Perhaps that blame is justified. However, it does nothing good for us.
Concentrating on why we are in lockdown does nothing to get us out, and even less to help us grow as people, or to be happier.
It is at times like this that the teachings of the Torah about Elul are even more valuable.
Ish LeRe'ehu VeMatanot Le'Evyonim, a man should be for his fellow. It's hard to be for our fellows. It's hard to orient ourselves around the needs of others, especially at a time like this. However, the secret of Elul is that if we make the effort we will find ourselves rewarded many times in greater satisfaction, a sense of social connection, and peace.