Hope everyone had a great week. This coming weekend is the start of the Hebrew month Elul, which means the High Holidays are around the corner – and as daunting as it is confronting our mortality at the High Holidays, a close second is encountering all the family politics, shul decisions and meal prep…what was God thinking?!
But Elul is the month before the High Holidays and it’s a wonderful month of transition. The word itself is often seen as an acronym for the verse: “Ani ledodi vedodi li”. That’s the verse many brides say under the chuppah when giving a ring to their groom. I said it years ago under the chuppah, I think, though, to be honest, that hour is a bit of a blur in my memory. I remember circling my husband right after getting under the chuppah. I remember thinking I’m weaving our souls together to create a new spiritual entity and I would be with him for the rest of my life and was I crazy and did we really think this through enough and honestly how solid were the plans we made and maybe we should talk about this some more and I’m not sure that’s the music that should be playing right now. As I was walking around him, deep in my moment, I realized I had no idea how many circles I had actually completed. I passed in front of him, locked eyes with him through the veil and he quietly said: ‘that was 5’.
So, I said that verse under the chuppah as my declaration to him. The verse from Song of Songs, ‘Ani ledodi vedodi li’ is often translated as: ‘I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine’. That’s actually the wrong translation and anyone who knows me knows I am a stickler for translations. The phrase in English implies ownership, I belong to my beloved and my beloved belongs to me. It raises a two-fold problem: not only do I not want to belong to anyone else, but I certainly don’t want to own anybody – too much responsibility. I don’t even consider that I own my children and I actually made them from scratch.
Here’s how the verse actually translates: “I am for my beloved and my beloved is for me.” It’s a verse said by the woman about her lover. It is a declaration of support and loyalty – it is not a declaration of ownership.
In fact, elsewhere she says: “My beloved is for me and I am for him, he shepherds among the lilies,” yes, lilies, not roses (I say this because it’s always translated as roses). In biblical Hebrew that word means ‘lilies’, it’s only later in Hebrew that it means ‘roses’.
Why do I care, you ask? Because lilies are poisonous, so she’s not saying her beloved is so deep and romantic (roses), she’s saying he leads her into beautiful, dangerous places. Though, interestingly, she never goes there to look for him. She knows that’s where he is but she doesn’t feel the need to follow him there.
How does all of this relate to Elul, the month whose name stands for ‘ani ledodi vedodi li’? It is not only the month I explore my relationships, it’s also the month I reflect on my personal relationship with God. In this analogy, God is my Beloved. And yes, as the High Holidays approach I realize that God can lead me into beautiful and dangerous places. When the thought of the mortality of those I love dawns on me, I can sometimes dwell on it and it will grow inside me, it can paralyze me, the fear can be overwhelming and it becomes poison to me.
So I choose not to follow my Beloved there. I create my High Holiday filters so I can enjoy the holidays without being overwhelmed.
The Sages have taught us many times that Torah truths can often be heard in the words of children and I was lucky enough to see this profound truth unfold at the park the other day. A 4-year-old girl was at the park with her twenty-something aunt (I know these people). The aunt was enticing the little girl to go on the big slide. The girl said she doesn’t want to. The aunt told her several times that there’s nothing to be afraid of and that at the top of the slide she could see the whole park and lots of things she can’t see from the ground. The aunt said she would even go with her so it wouldn’t be scary. The girl kept saying ‘no thank you’ to each offer. Finally, the little 4-year-old looked directly at her aunt and said: “I know that I can do it, I just don’t want to.”
So happy Elul everybody. Enjoy time to consider who are the beloveds in our lives, who has our backs and whom do we protect. At the same time, consider the unique nature of everyone’s journey and maybe the beautiful places they enter that we prefer not to explore.