This Shabbat is a very special Shabbat on the Jewish calendar. It is Shabbat Rosh Chodesh Elul. Elul is the last month of the liturgical year and serves as a preparation time before we enter the month of Tishrei and the Days of Awe, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Beginning on Sunday, the 2nd day of Elul, in synagogues around the world the shofar will be blown each morning after shacharit, serving as it were to awaken each of us to the coming time of celebration and judgment. Elul is a time for introspection and contemplation, sort of a self-testing or evaluation to determine if our walk with Hashem and with our fellow man lines up with the exhortation from Moshe that we read in this week’s parasha, (Re’eh, Deuteronomy 11:26 – 16:17)
For you are a holy people to ADONAI your God—from all the peoples on the face of the earth, ADONAI has chosen you to be His treasured people.Deuteronomy 14:2, TLV
The very name of Elul draws our attention to this divinely chosen relationship. The Sages suggest that the word Elul is an acrostic of four words found in the Song of Solomon 6:3. Elul (אלול in Hebrew) אֲנִי לְדוֹדִי וְדוֹדִי לִי, Ani l’dodi v’dodi li. “I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine.” As the chosen treasure of Hashem, Israel has the responsibility to walk according to His commandments, even though this is not always done. During the month of Elul, each of us has the opportunity to determine what needs to be accomplished to reset the counter and to truly walk whole heartedly with our beloved. The following is a tale that describes how we often find ourselves.
There was a king who gave his servant a huge sum of money with which to buy carpets for the palace. The servant traveled to a distant country and examined many carpets in order to choose the most suitable one. He also chose a few for himself. As the days passed and he saw more and more materials, he put more aside for himself. Soon he had a nice selection and started selling them at a profit. Business was good, and he forgot about his mission.
One day a messenger arrived with a letter from the king to remind him of the pattern for the guest room. He trembled and cried as he read the king’s words. What have I done?” he moaned. “I have forsaken my real mission for the king’s sake and instead thought only of my own desires.” He quickly quit his business and spent all his time from then on in the king’s service.Moshe A. Braun, The Jewish Holy Days, Jason Aronson Inc., 1996, p 7.
Every year, the month of Elul serves as a message from our King, reminding us of how we ought to live, being holy as He is holy not only in relation to Him but to our fellow man. As we examine ourselves, there are times that desperation and anguish set in much like the servant in the story above. In desperation he could have ignored the messenger and continued in his current lifestyle, remaining far separated from the king. His other option, and the one he chose was to repent and return to the original mission in obedience to his king. The servant chose to humble himself, acknowledging his improper actions and then strove to make things right.
In the haftarah for Rosh Chodesh we read these words of comfort from the King of the Universe,
But on this one will I look, one humble and of a contrite spirit, who trembles at My word.Isaiah 66:2b
Earlier He stated,
I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite.Isaiah 57:15b
In the story, it is said that the servant traveled to a distant country seemingly far from the king’s presence. But the king knew the location of the servant and was able to send his messenger to his servant. How much more it is with Hashem. He dwells in the high and holy place, but He is in our midst as well. He knows our situations and life choices. He knows the pain and consequences of some of those choices. He also knows of the distances we’ve traveled, doing our own thing while forgetting to do His.
Whether we are part of natural born Israel or of those from the nations grafted into the commonwealth, during the month of Elul, we have the opportunity to examine ourselves as did King David in Psalm 51. David recognized his sin and shortcoming and after repenting pleaded,
Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from Your presence—take not Your Ruach ha-Kodesh from me. Restore to me the joy of Your salvation and sustain me with a willing spirit.Psalm 51:12-14
David did what he knew to do, then he trusted Hashem’s mercy and grace to complete the work. David’s heart’s desire was to be restored to his beloved. Occasionally, as believers in Yeshua, we think that this type of introspection and repentance is not as important because Yeshua’s sacrifice covers us completely. On one hand, this is correct. What the blood of goats and lambs could not do, Yeshua’s sacrifice accomplished—completely. However, consider these words from Rav Shaul (Paul) to the believers in Colossae
But now He has reconciled you in Messiah’s physical body through death, in order to present you holy, spotless and blameless in His eyes—if indeed you continue in the faith, established and firm, not budging from the hope of the Good News that you have heard.Colossians 1:22-23
It would appear that even though Yeshua’s sacrifice was complete and efficacious for all, as believers in Yeshua we still need to continue walking in the commandments, according to the dictates of the Good News. This also means, in my opinion, that we need to continually examine ourselves to ensure that we have not strayed from the faith or the teachings of Messiah. Only then can we say with Israel, אֲנִי לְדוֹדִיוְדוֹדִי לִי,Ani l’dodi v’dodi li,“I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine.”