The Hebrew month of Elul is upon us. What is significant about this month?
An old Jewish saying goes “in Elul, even the fish in the water tremble”. The upcoming Days of Judgement inspire fear so palpable, it’s as if the fish can sense it too! On the other hand, the Hebrew letters of the word “Elul” (אלול)are acronyms for the words אני לדודי ודודי לי, the words of Song of Songs that express the profound love between God and the Jewish people. In other words, Elul is a time of exceptional mutual love between God and us.
Can the two ideas really co-exist? Is it a time of fear or is it a time of love?
One possible solution lies in an explanation I once heard: Think of a couple who love each other dearly. If one of them were confronted with a situation in which their action may create a rift in the relationship, the prospect of damaging that relationship would fill them with a great fear. The level of fear is commensurate to the intensity of the relationship.
So too, in our relationship with God, the greater the love, the greater the fear that we may have damaged the relationship with our lapses.
And this kind of fear is actually the greatest connection.
By Rabbi Pinchos Fried