September 1998          
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Opinion & Society


Elul, the Jewish month before Rosh Hashanah

By Arie Davis

In the lore of the Mystics, the month which precedes the Jewish New Year, the Jewish month of Elul, is referred to as the time the king is in the field. In other writings it is referred to by it's acrostic (meaning that the letters of the words relate to a previous statement whose first letters spell out Elul). The acrostic being "I am to my beloved and my beloved is to me," a quote from the Song of Love, or Shir HaShirim, by King Solomon. This clearly alludes to Elul as being a time of love. These two statements seem contradictory: one, that the king is in the field, and two, that Elul represents "I am to my beloved and my beloved is to me."

First, let us understand what it means that the king is in the field. Normally, a king is a person to whom general access is denied. To gain an audience with a bonafide monarch, one must possess influence in the royal courts. Only high ranking ministers have access to the king in order to carry out their important work of maintaining the affairs of the kingdom. To the average person, however, seeing the king is a rarity; speaking with the king is not a possibility. The king is secluded in his castle, busy with those pressing manners which only he is fit to address.

When the mystics spoke of the king as being in the field, the meaning is not that the king is on the road, on a journey. The concept of being in the field means that the king is in the field where the farmer toils. The king has left his palace and is now touring the kingdom, examining the status of the produce that is in the fields. At this time, the king may be approached by the farmer. Why? Because when the king descends into the field to see the status of the produce in the field, he is showing his concern, not only for the produce of the kingdom, but also for the inhabitants of the kingdom.

Now is the time for the simple farmer to speak to the king. At this time he is accessible by all who are in the fields. Not only can the farmer come forth to greet the king, but the king himself will be delighted to hear the needs of the farmer.

So too it is with us, during the month of Elul, the King leaves his heavenly throne and descends to inspect this world. All of his subjects now have the ability to come to speak with him. This shows to the King their love and respect for him and in return he accepts all who come to him.

The second statement, that Elul is the time for love, "I am to my beloved and my beloved is to me," fits in very nicely with this concept. For to us, the King, is our beloved and we desire only that our beloved will be ours. Now especially, before the Jewish New Year, Rosh HaShanah, when all mankind stand in judgement, we are given this opportunity to present ourselves to the King of the Universe in a non judgmental manner.

This meeting of the King prior to the time of judgement is considered to be "sweetening of the judgement." All that is required is a honest and true heart.


from the September 1998 Edition of the Jewish Magazine

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