ELUL - a journey from ourselves to ourselves
Elul is traditionally a month of introspection and preparation for the coming Yamim Noraim – Days of Awe.
Like many months of the Hebrew calendar its name is Babylonian in origin and probably has its roots in the Akkadian word for a harvest, though it has resonances also of the verb “to protrude” אלל ('alal), and of the noun “a futile thing” אלול ('elul)
In Aramaic, the verb אלל ('alal), means “to encircle” or “to search out”, which corresponds to the Hebrew verb עלל ('alal), to glean.
We might drash on this that Elul is month that demands our attention, a month we might use to search our lives and the way we are living, both in order to gather together and celebrate our best characteristics and allow them to nourish the way we live our lives, and at the same time to sift out the empty and futile aspects of ourselves and our lives.
Famously there are many rabbinic explanations for the name of this month, two of which are:
That it is an acronymic reference to the first letters of the phrase in the Song of Songs אני לדודי ודודי לי “I am by Beloved’s and my Beloved is mine” – the “Beloved” in this reading being God rather than a more temporal partner. And
That it is a reference to a verse in the Book of Esther אִישׁ לְרֵעֵהוּ, וּמַתָּנוֹת לָאֶבְיֹנִים “Each person to their neighbour, and gifts to the poor”
Wildly different books and contexts – but what brings them together?
The four words in each reading not only have the letters of “Elul” represented, but each word asks a similar question for us while we glean and search ourselves, separating the futile from the worthwhile as we turn ourselves towards God once more.
The first word Ani/Ish represents our human selves. Who am I? What is my “selfhood”? What is my humanity about?
The second word – LeDodi/l’Rei’eihu bespeaks relationship with others or the “Other”.
The third word “V’dodi”/Matanot asks “What does God want from me?” “What can/do I contribute to the world?”
The fourth word Li/le’evyonim nudges us into asking “How do I get to my best self?” How do I bring about change?
The verse from Esther is set in the context of change – turning mourning to joy. It reminds us that such a journey can be made, change can happen – even in the most unlikely circumstances
The journey of Elul begins with the self and ends with the self, but the self at the end of the process is not the same as the one who began it.
ERA, the Rabbinic Association of European Progressive Synagogues has put together these readings – one for each day of Elul
We hope that you enjoy them, and that they accompany you on your journey through the month until Rosh Hashanah
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Rabbi Sylvia Rothschild, Chair of ERA LBC 1987 London/Milan