Home Perspectives Features I am to my Beloved: Is Elul the month for self-improvement?

I am to my Beloved: Is Elul the month for self-improvement?

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“Ani LeDodi VeDodi Li.”

“I am to my Beloved and my Beloved is to me.”

(Song of Songs 6:3)

Although this beautiful phrase has adorned many ketubot and wedding rings, it takes on special significance at this time of year. The first letters of “Ani LeDodi Ve Dodi” also form the Hebrew acronym “Elul,” the special month of repentance that proceeds Rosh Hashanah and begins Tuesday, August 22.

As for “Ani LeDodi,” the two lovers in this case are the Jewish people and God. During Elul they solidify their relationship as the Jewish People address their beloved and repent for any wrongs done. God returns the gesture and forgives His beloved.

That relationship gets a boost in the heavens as Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburgh points out. The “Mazal” or zodiacal sign for Elul is the betulah, or Virgo the virgin. “The betulah symbolizes as well the ‘virgin earth,’ the land of Israel destined to be married to the people of Israel… as the prophet declares: ‘As a young man marries a virgin so will your children marry you [the land of Israel.’] (Isaiah 62:5)

READ: THE VIBRANT JEWISH COMMUNITY OF PANAMA

There are many other metaphors used for that special relationship during this month. Mystics refer to Elul as “the time the king is in the field.” Before Rosh Hashanah, the king, God, leaves his palace to survey all His workers in the fields. And that makes him particularly approachable to our requests for the coming year.

If you want to get practical about getting into shape for the New Year, check out Aish HaTorah’s Growth Worksheet. Rabbi Shraga Simmons looks at three areas of self-improvement (pursuit of wisdom, spiritual connection, kindness) and lists 50 questions to make you think about how you have led your life and how to assess where you are going.

For example:

• Do I give the same concern and attention to my spiritual health as I do to my physical health?

• Is there any mistake that I commit habitually to the point where it no longer bothers me?

• Have I ever betrayed the trust of a friend?

• When I read or watch TV, is the content something that will make me a better person?

Shira Markowitz warns that trying to make too many changes too fast is an invitation to fail. She relates a parable from Rabbi Shlomo Volbe that if a plane flies too high in enemy territory, it will be spotted and shot down. The trick is to fly close to the ground to avoid attracting suspicion. Similarly, when attempting to make life changes, don’t take on too much and attract the attention of the Yetzer Harah (the evil inclination), who is waiting for cracks in your resolve and to end your change for the better.

Markowitz says the 40 days between the beginning of Elul and Yom Kippur are the perfect period for self-improvement using the Personal Teshuva Chart.

To keep you motivated, Craig Taubman has created JewelsOfElul.com where you will find a find daily thoughts touching on repentance, forgiveness, growth and discovery. Or as Taubman calls it, “Guilt-free inspiration for the High Holy Days.”

You can look over 11 years’ worth of thoughts from mostly Jewish contributors including Rabbi Maurice Lamm, Rabbi Harold Kushner, Jeffrey Katzenberg, Peter Yarrow, Naomi Ragen and Mayim Bialik. In her entry, Ketra Oberlander describes how her vision deteriorated in her thirties and by the age of 40, she was blind. So, “I picked up a paintbrush and my life changed. …  there’s no problem so big you can’t give your way out of it.” Then she realized that she wasn’t the only blind artist out there so she founded a studio to represent physically disabled artists. And a calling and a business were born.

“Most faiths have a story of the hapless dude who God chooses,” writes Oberlander. “God says, ‘You’ and the dude looks around. ‘Me?’ he wonders.  ‘I have flaws. I have problems. You’re God and can pick anyone. And you want me?’’ The hapless dude who answers the call takes the first, shaky step. The resource he needs appears. Then he takes the next step and through a confluence of mystery, at each step, the elements to advance his mission are provided.

“That’s now my story, too. I had to take those first (and many subsequent) steps. Through helping others my own difficulties are transcended.”