Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, the founder of the Chabad movement, describes the intensification of the bond between G‑d and the Jewish people in the month of Elul with the following parable:

Before a king enters his city, its inhabitants go out to greet him in the field. At that time, anyone who so desires is granted permission [and can] approach him and greet him. He receives them all pleasantly and shows a smiling countenance to all.

On Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur the King is in His palace, where G‑d reveals Himself in all His majesty. Only select individuals can approach Him, and our approach must be with all the protocol and awe due the King of kings. During Elul, however, the King is in the field; G‑d is accessible to all of us. He relates to us generously, opening Himself to us within the framework of “the field,” our worldly framework of reference.

The Month of Elul

From the beginning of the month of Elul, we add Psalm 27 to our daily prayers. This prayer tells us much about the Divine service associated with this special month.

In this psalm is the verse: “On Your behalf, my heart says: ‘Seek My countenance.’” פני, translated as “My countenance,” can also mean “My inner dimension.” Elul is a month when our hearts seek out G‑d’s inner dimension.

Certainly, it is a month in which we intensify our devotion to the outward expressions of Jewish practice: prayer, Torah study, and charity. But these activities are reflections of a deeper, inner thrust. Our hearts are telling us that there is something more in life, that we have an opportunity to establish a bond with G‑d’s inner dimensions.

There are those who focus on the mechanics of the month — what sins they must repent for and what degree of regret they must manifest. Others penetrate to the spiritual core and focus on developing intimacy with G‑d.

This latter concept is hinted in the very name Elul (אלול) which is interpreted by our Sages as an acronym for the phrase, אני לדודי ודודי לי (“I am my Beloved’s and my Beloved is mine”). Elul is the month wherein the love relationship between G‑d and the Jewish people is heightened. And it is we who must take the initiative in causing this intensification of feeling.

Looking to the Horizon

Elul is also an acronym for the phrase, אז ישיר משה...את השירה הזאת אשירה לה' ויאמרו לאמר — “[Then Moshe and the Children of Israel sang this song] to G‑d and they spoke, saying, ‘I shall sing....’” (Here, however, the order of the words must be rearranged.) Our Sages explain that this verse uses the future tense, in allusion to the ultimate revelation to be realized during the era of the Redemption with the Resurrection of the Dead, at which time G‑d’s essence will be revealed throughout the world.

The connection to G‑d that reflects redemption is one in which a person connects with his essential source — the level at which “Israel and the Holy One, blessed be He, are one.” He does not go through a process of intellectual stocktaking which results in the decision to do good; he does not think about the matter at all. His individual will and identity have undergone a complete metamorphosis, and have become utterly unified with G‑d.

Mankind as a whole will experience this level of connection in the era of the Redemption, about which it is prophesied: “I will remove the spirit of impurity from the world.” At that time, the G‑dliness which permeates the world will be revealed, as it is stated: “The world will be filled with the knowledge of G‑d like the waters that cover the ocean bed.” In this setting of manifest G‑dliness, man’s will shall be identified entirely with that of his Creator.

May we all be blessed with a year of apparent and revealed goodness, including the ultimate blessing, the coming of Mashiach.

לשנה טובה תכתב ותחתם בגשמיות וברוחניות גם יחד