A Season of Love

Posted on August 31, 2022

By Hazzan Jenna Greenberg

In the Kitzur Shulchan Arukh, the classic 19th century code of Jewish law, Rabbi Shlomo Ganzfried shares the following teaching derived from three biblical verses. These selections allude to three special responsibilities incumbent upon us, as we spiritually prepare for the High Holy Days during the the Hebrew month of Elul:

Dorshei R’shumot (Interpreters of Torah) teach first: It is written “And Hashem your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your children.” (Deuteronomy 30:6) The initials of the words in Hebrew, et levavecha ve’et levav, form the acronym Elul. Likewise, the initials of Ani l’dodi v’dodi li, “I am my Beloved’s and my Beloved is mine,” (Song of Songs 6:3) form the acronym Elul. Also, the initials of a verse from Megillat Esther, Ish lerei’eihu umatanot la’evyonim, “One to another delicacies and gifts to the poor,” (9:22) form the acronym Elul.

These acronyms are an allusion to three things: Repentance, Prayer and Charity which should be practiced with particular eagerness during this month. “Hashem will circumcise etc.” alludes to repentance. “I am my Beloved’s etc.” alludes to prayer, for prayer is the song of love. “One to another and gifts to the poor,” alludes to charity.’

I find these interpretive acronyms for Elul (Alef-Lamed-Vav-Lamed) and Rabbi Ganzfried’s connection to T’shuvah, Tefila, and Tzedakah to be particularly meaningful.

The acronym with which many of us are most familiar from this passage, is the Songs of Songs reference.

Shir haShirim is understood to be a poetic biblical love story between God and the Jewish people. To tie in these three grand themes (T’shuvah, Tefilah, and Tzedakah) that we recite in our holy day liturgy, each of these values connect to the three kinds of loving relationships that each of us can strive for every single day of our lives:

  1. Bein adam l’atzmo,the relationship we each have with ourselves, the ability to love oneself, directly connects with the theme of T’shuvah. Elul marks the beginning of the introspective period of checking in on ourselves, seeing how we are doing, what we’ve done well, and what we can do to turn around to be the best version of ourselves in the coming year.
  2. Bein adam l’makom, the relationship we each have with HaMakom, one of the many names for God, directly connects with the theme of Tefilah. Elul marks a period where our prayers increase each day (adding the recitation of Psalm 27), as do our rituals (sounding the shofar each morning). With both these words and the primal sound of the shofar, we are awakened to pronounce our love towards HaMakom, directing our energy to working on our relationship with God in the year to come.
  3. Bein adam l’chaveiro, the relationships between each of us to one another, directly connects with the theme of Tzedakah. By building on love, on chesed (acts of loving kindness) between each other, we have the ability to strengthen our community and help to bring tzedek(justice) into our world.

May the month of Elul give each of us the opportunity to love ourselves, reciprocate the deep and eternal love that God gives us. And so too, let us all work on loving one another, finding the best in each other, as we continue to find strength in the incredible community that is Highland Park, that is Beth El, that is each and every one of us.