The Hebrew month of Elul has officially started, but there is an element of this important time period that many Jews are missing…
It has been noted often that the name of this month can be understood as a Hebrew acronym for a verse found in the biblical Song of Songs:
Ani l’dodi v’dodi li.
אֲנִי לְדוֹדִי וְדוֹדִי לִי
The verse is translated as, “I am my Beloved’s and my Beloved is mine.” This statement represents the closeness between the Nation of Israel and G-d, particularly during this period directly before the upcoming holidays.
Elul is the month that Jews attempt to become more intimate with G-d by reciting heartfelt prayers, working on improving their virtues and repairing character flaws, and listening to the sound of the shofar (which is intended to spiritually awaken us).
These are all praiseworthy actions that I will be engaging in, G-d willing. But there is something else…
Think about it: what would your “Beloved” want for you perhaps more than anything? TO BE HAPPY!
To be clear, a lot of Rabbis have stated that happiness should be a byproduct for Jews, as opposed to an end goal. For instance, in his book Celebrating Life: Finding Happiness in Unexpected Places, former Chief Rabbi of Britain and the Commonwealth, Jonathan Sacks, writes:
Happiness is elusive. You do not find it by pursuing it. Pursuing other things, it finds you — always provided that you are pursuing the right things. (Page 12).
I must admit that Rabbi Sacks has probably forgotten more about Judaism than I have ever learned, but I must respectfully disagree with him on this one point…or at least partially disagree.
I understand what he means and I agree that obsessing about happiness can lead to navel-gazing and narcissistic dissatisfaction. But if this is the period to prepare for the High Holidays, which include SIMCHAT Torah and Sukkot (when we are commanded to be happy), then we need to think about whether we are currently happy.
And because multiple personality types exist and the various mitzvot resonate distinctly, depending on individual talents and experiences, happiness will look a little bit different for each Jew.
So how can we prepare for happiness during the critical month of Elul? Check back here shortly for the answer in a follow-up blog post…