The names of the Jewish calendar’s months have long been mysterious. In a couple cases (Heshvan and Av), there is some question as to whether the common calendrical name is a full name or a nickname (i.e. vs Marheshvan and Menahem Av, respectively). In other cases (namely Aviv/Nisan), the months’ names are well-known but the period is given a different and specific name in the Torah. In most cases, it is obvious the name isn’t originally Hebrew but we’re not always 100% sure whence it is derived or what it originally meant.
Hazal (the early sages) are particularly fond of this month, and of its name, Elul. They derive the name, they claim, from an acronym: Ani L’dodi V’dodi Li, “I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine.” This beautiful phrase, from Shir haShirim (Song of Songs) is frequently used in romantic contexts, including weddings, and as appropriately associated with romantic love. The connection to
Elul, though, is a beautiful one, too. As a season of T’shuva, Elul is our time to repent, but also to return, as the word more specifically means. Much as we may not think about it, sometimes turning is the hardest part of returning. Turning to others in the world to help those in need and to overthrow evil; turning to those we love to apologize, to reconcile, to ask for what we need; turning to the worst part of ourselves to make them better, turning to the best part of ourselves to
acknowledge our goodness; turning to God in prayer, in study, in the practice of mitzvot. Ani L’dodi V’dodi Li is a beautiful turn of phrase, but the turns involved are real and are difficult. Though it precedes Rosh HaShanah, we don’t generally refer to Elul as the last month of the year. It is not an ending, but a time of transition, a time of turning and, hopefully, of returning.
I wish you all a meaningful month of Elul, an early L’Shanah Tovah Tikatevu and many happy returns,