Elul, the month preceding Rosh Hashanah, is a period of personal reconciliation and spiritual preparation for the High Holy Days, the process of repentance, and the inauguration of a productive new year. The name of this Hebrew month — spelled alef-lamed-vav-lamed — is said to be an acronym, representing the initial letters in the verse Ani L’dodi, V’dodi Li: “I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine” (Song of Songs 6:3). Reflecting the allegorical interpretation of the Biblical book, this tradition frames Elul as a time to renew the loving relationship between God and the Jewish People… between each of us and our faith.

The alef-lamed-vav-lamed pattern is similarly found in Esther 9:2 — Eesh L’re’eihu U-matanot L’evyonim — prescribing central observances of Purim: “portions of food exchanged by friends, and gifts to the needy.” Elul is a time to cultivate friendships, and for acts of social justice.

Finally, the same acrostic appears in Deuteronomy 30:6 — Et Levavcha V’et Levav (zarecha): “your hearts and the hearts of your children.” This folk etymology for “Elul” beckons us to refine our most cherished relationships, to draw ever closer to parents, children, spouses, loved ones.

Rosh Hashanah approaches. We have many responsibilities to address, many relationships to honor.

The month of Elul spells out those challenges for us.

(Rabbi Joseph H. Prouser is the rabbi of Temple Emanuel of North Jersey and the National Chaplain of the National Jewish Committee on Scouting.)

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