A husband and wife have been married for many years. They have been growing distant of late. They speak less and less, and there are days when they barely utter a word to one another. Hectic work schedules, carpools, and a barrage of extracurricular activities for the kids keep them overscheduled and harried. Date nights have become virtually nonexistent, and family dinners are accompanied by the sound of smartphones chirping with incoming messages. Date nights have become virtually nonexistentThe wife feels constantly judged by her husband, and he, in turn, becomes even more distant. The husband does his thing—his wife does hers.

One day, the wife comes home to find a handwritten note on the kitchen table. “Meet me in the garden,” it says. She notices her husband has left his phone next to the note.

She sets down her purse and her own phone, and walks over to the back door. When she opens it, she sees her husband standing in the yard. In one arm he holds some flowers he’s picked from the garden. The other arm is extended towards her. The look on his face is one of love mixed with regret.

The wife feels her heart flutter. She must admit, she’s moved. It has been ages since she’s felt loved. Does she cross the threshold and go to him, or does she turn to go inside and shut the door behind her?

The Grand Gesture

Her husband has just made the first move, which he hopes will inspire his wife’s love in return. Similarly, G‑d reaches out to us. This is what is known in chassidic thought as an “awakening from Above” (itaruta dil’eyla). This type of Her husband has just made the first move“gesture” from G‑d is often associated with signs, miracles and wonders—great testimonies to G‑d’s presence that invoke awe.

But as any relationship expert will tell you, while the “grand gesture” is certainly the first step to rectifying a relationship, it cannot end there.

Half a Loaf of Bread

No relationship can flourish one-sided. If one person gives of himself wholly and completely, and the other lives within walls, guarded and remote, the relationship is doomed to fail. As the saying goes, “Some say that one-sided love is better than none, but like half a loaf of bread, it is likely to grow hard and moldy sooner.”

We all have our reasons for building emotional walls. Past wounds and regrets may make us feel the need to protect ourselves from future emotional assaults. But for a relationship to be pure and true and honest, we must work to break down our walls and connect with one another completely.

We must also accept that our actions have a direct effect on our partner. We live not alongside one another, but in a symbiotic relationship. We are dependent on each other.

It is the same with the relationship between man and G‑d. We may view ourselves as separate, whether we blame G‑d for our past pains or refuse to believe that our actions can, and do, affect the Almighty.

G‑d is steadfast in His love of man. It is we who may stray.

And this brings us to the next form of spiritual awakening, one that comes from within.

The Real Work: Built from the Ground Up

The second kind of awakening comes from within a person himself. While it may initially be a response to divine inspiration, the “arousal from below” (itaruta dil’tata) is, in essence, initiated by mankind. It is the desire to change, brought about by a recognition that “something’s gotta give.”G‑d is steadfast in His love of man

This is where the hard work begins. This is where we work on ourselves—our actions, words and thoughts within our relationship.

So, if we view this in the context of our husband and wife above, the husband has made the grand gesture (itaruta dil’eyla) in hopes of inspiring his wife. Even if she is moved to open her heart to him, however, that inspiration will not last. She must use that inspiration as a springboard to further work on the relationship, ensuring that the inspiration endures.

In the Field: A Place Without Boundaries

Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, the founder of Chabad, explains that during the year, G‑d is like a king in His palace. He is secured behind walls and perched upon His throne, and we must seek permission to enter and approach Him. This is normally achieved through our service of the heart, our prayer.

But once a year, the King of kings leaves His palace and comes out into the field to meet His subjects. This time, it is He who makes the first move.

Why does G‑d meet man in a field? A field is an expansive place without boundaries, walls or distractions. It is a place where G‑d can communicate with man freely, and man can communicate back without inhibitions.

This brings us back to our husband standing in the garden. He did not wait for his wife in the living room or the kitchen. He asked her to meet him in the backyard, removed from their house full of distractions.

One Step

So, Will she be able to open up once again to love?what of the wife in the opening story? How does she respond to the grand gesture? Has her heart turned to stone,1 or will she be able to open up once again to love?

We can ask the same questions of our relationship with G‑d. Sadly, during the year we can grow distant from the Master of the Universe, seeing Him as an aloof ruler removed from our daily lives. But once a year, during the Hebrew month of Elul, the Holy One comes out into the field and beckons us near in an “awakening from Above.” It is a divine inspiration, an invitation for the bride to rejoin the groom.

But then it is our turn. Then it is up to us to harness that itaruta, that divine awakening, and channel it into action and commitment before it fades away.2

G‑d makes the first move, but we must then choose to walk towards Him. This is the true meaning of teshuvah, returning to G‑d out of love: “When you shall return to Hashem, your G‑d, with all your heart and all your soul."3