According to Kabbalah (Jewish mysticism), G‑d’s Thirteen Attributes of Mercy shine powerfully during the month of Elul, the last month of the Jewish year. Now these same spiritual qualities are revealed on Yom Kippur. Indeed, it is the revelation of these qualities that causes Yom Kippur’s uniqueness.

To explain the uniqueness of Yom Kippur from a mystical perspective: There is an aspect of G‑dliness that maintains the natural order and adapts itself to it. And then, there are dimensions of G‑dliness that reflects Him as He is for Himself, as it were. On these levels, G‑d does not contract His light according to the limits of nature. Instead, He reveals light that is transcendent and infinite as He is Himself.

On the Shabbasos and festivals, the G‑dly light that transcends the natural order is revealed. Indeed, that revelation is so powerful that our ordinary mundane activity is naturally brought to a halt. To illustrate by analogy: When a person involved in his ordinary activities witnesses something amazing and awe-inspiring, he stops his work and marvels at the sight he sees. Similarly, in the analogy, the spiritual revelations of the Shabbasos and festivals are so great that they motivate us to halt our everyday activities and focus on these spiritual revelations. For that reason, work is forbidden on these holy days, because performing it would be in direct contradiction to these revelations.

To continue the analogy: The Thirteen Attributes of Mercy that are revealed on Yom Kippur represent so powerful a revelation, that not only do they cause us to stop work, but also to cease eating and drinking.

The question thus arises: If the same spiritual energies are revealed during Elul as on Yom Kippur, why are the days of Elul ordinary weekdays, lacking any of the restrictions of Yom Kippur? Rav Shneur Zalman of Liadi, founder of the Chabad thought system, resolves this question with an allegory: Before a king enters a city, its inhabitants go out to greet him and receive him in the field. At that time, anyone who desires may approach him and greet him. He receives them all pleasantly and shows a smiling countenance to all. As he proceeds to his city, they follow him. Afterwards, when he reaches his royal palace, it is possible to enter his throne room only with permission — and this is granted only to the nation’s elite, to a select few.

Similarly, on Yom Kippur, G‑d’s attributes of mercy are revealed as He is “in His throne room” with all the grandeur — but also with all the restrictions — implied. For that reason, Yom Kippur is a day when all worldly activity is forbidden During Elul, these same qualities are revealed “in the field;” we establish a relationship with G‑d within the context of our mundane realities. He comes forth to us within the context of our ordinary activities and allows us to develop a relationship with Him. This enables each one of us to assume our natural role as one of the nation’s elite, for every Jew is as dear to G‑d as an only son born to parents in their old age. And then we follow Him into His palace, which brings us a year of blessing and goodness in all matters material and spiritual.

Looking to the Horizon

The above allegory has deep-seated significance. The King’s presence in the field represents the ultimate purpose of creation, for the purpose of our creation is directed towards bringing transcendent G‑dliness into the ordinary contexts of our material world. G‑d’s Presence must be found not only in the royal palace, i.e., where spirituality is manifest. Instead, His intent in creation is that even the lowest realms of existence must be transformed into a dwelling place for Him.

In this vein, we can understand the allusion stated by our Sages that the first letters of the Hebrew words of the verse from the Song of Songs, אני לדודי ודודי לי — “I am my Beloved’s and my Beloved is mine,” is an acronym for the name אלול — Elul. The Song of Songs is an analogy describing the love relationship between G‑d and the Jewish people.

Our Rabbis explain that the Giving of the Torah represents the betrothal of the Jewish people to G‑d, as it were, and that the consummation of the marriage bond will come in the Era of Mashiach. Then we will witness the complete fulfillment of the verse, “I am my Beloved’s and my Beloved is mine.”