My Hebrew birthday is Rosh Chodesh Elul.

During the month of Elul, every Jew should feel and know that G‑d is their best friend. The acronym for Elul is Ani l’dodi, v’dodi li, “I am my beloved’s, and my beloved is mine.”1 It is the mode of being where I get to be G‑d’s bride, G‑d’s love. And G‑d is my love.

Before I knew about my Hebrew birthday or or much of the meaning of Jewish concepts, I grew up on an organic farm in Canada. Every fall, we would plant garlic. I’m not sure where it came from, but there was a mysterious piece of Jewish art smack in the middle of the garlic bed in the organic garden that my father grew each summer.

Its Jewish script and the pink stone it was engraved on drew me to it. I wondered about those cryptic words and what it meant.

After becoming observant and returning from studying Torah in Israel, I took another look at the garlic bed. There it was, my birthday present from G‑d. Now I could read and understood what the Hebrew script meant: “I am my beloved, and my beloved is mine.”

I used to think that when I became observant, G‑d started to be in my life.

When I look back, I see how my actions were so far. And yet, G‑d was so close. He was right there, calling me His Beloved from the garlic bed. How could I not want to run close to Him?

He was with me, waiting for me. Long before I knew that being G‑d’s beloved is my birthright or that G‑d was here and available for me, He was here, in my backyard.

I feel humbled by His love and ready to prioritize it.

The Month of Elul: Introspection or Love?

The Jewish month of Elul enters, and with it, the air of introspection. This is the time when each individual takes a spiritual stocktaking. Just as business owners must take the time to turn over every aspect of their accounts, we are taking a spiritual accounting. We are preparing to do teshuvah on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. We are pulling out our hidden sins from the back alley recesses of our psyches and bringing them into the scorching light of consciousness. We are fessing up.

And yet, the tone for the month is not one of intensity and judgment. Rather, love is in the air.

I am my beloved’s, and my beloved is mine.

I bring out from the hidden places of my heart the unbounded love that has taken a dusty spot on an old shelf. And now it is center stage. I have full permission to be on fire for G‑d. Because I know G‑d is on fire for me. It is a time of expressed love.

It is a time of connection. Where G‑d makes Himself completely accessible. G‑d is not to be found in his inner chambers on his throne, but in the fields, equally accessible to all.

But how can this be a time of looking honestly at our sins, a time of inner transformation, and also a time of being G‑d’s beloved?

My Beloved’s Comments Hurt More Than a Stranger’s

Sin and connection are not things that can be untangled from each other in Jewish thought. The fact that I can sin—that I can hurt the relationship—demonstrates the closeness.

The closer I am to my beloved, the more sharp words hurt. The sting of a rude remark from my beloved is far stronger than that from a stranger. The deeper the connection, the more fierce my absence is felt.

Similarly, the idea that I can actually sin and G‑d allows it to affect Him shows how G‑d sees us, just like the way a husband and wife impact one another. G‑d does not see me as just his servant or one in a billion people on this planet. G‑d sees me as His beloved. I take on this identity. G‑d is my Beloved.

The closeness is only made possible by the possibility of distance. The fact that I can hurt the relationship shows me it is a real relationship. It shows me that I can also actively draw it closer through my efforts. “I am to my beloved” through my positive thoughts, speech and action in the 613 acts of connection, mitzvot.

Afraid of Distancing G‑d

And so, my fear of G‑d means I am afraid of distancing G‑d. I am afraid of hurting this intimacy we share.

In Elul, we receive this unbounded love on my doorstep, in my field, my office, my car, my relationships.

The sweetness of the closeness reminds me that I want to maintain this closeness. I want to nurture this light. I want to water this love we share. I want to discard anything that hurts that closeness, they no longer serve a desired place in my thoughts, speech and action.

There are many motivations for introspection and growth, but the deepest is love.

It is the love that we share with G‑d, the love that cannot be washed away. This love guides this spiritual accounting and that humbles us to our core, making sure that nothing (especially myself!) will stand in the way between me and my Beloved.