Elul, the Jewish month preceding Rosh Hashana is known to be an acronym for the Hebrew words: Ani l’dodi v’dodi li – “I am for my beloved and my beloved is for me.” This month we have a special opportunity to become closer to God, our "dod," our beloved friend who is anxiously waiting to hear from us.
However, as Rosh Hashana approaches and the 10 Days of Repentance begin, we start referring to God as “Avinu Malkeinu” – our Father and our King. What happened to the “friendly” God we were getting to know? Why the sudden shift in gears from love and closeness to fear of a stern, kingly figure?
From Stranger to Friend to Member of the Family
In Elul, God is the visiting friend who knocks on our door, as hinted to in the Song of Songs that writes (5,2) “the sound of my friend (dodi) knocking”. The question is: Do we hear the knocking? And if we do, do we open the door and let Him in?
During Elul, God is no longer the stranger we leave standing at the closed door. He's our close friend that we welcome into our home, hoping he'll stay a while. And when a guest we invited to stay in our home arrives from afar, we open the door, help him in with all his bags, and move things around in the spare room to make some space, change the sheets and make sure he felt at home.
Likewise, we need to make God feel at home as our houseguest. First of all, we need to clear some stuff out and make room for God. That means making some room in our hearts. It would be rude to ignore our Guest. We need to spend some quality time with Him, come up with topics of conversation that will interest Him, ask Him what He would like and how we can best accommodate Him. This is the work of Elul, when “I am for my beloved friend as my beloved friend is for me.”
Just how much space do we have to set aside for God? The Midrash on Song of Songs (5:2) says: “Open up for me an opening like the eye of a needle and in turn I will enlarge it to be an opening through which wagons can enter.” God just needs an opening as big as an eye of the needle. If you take the initiative and allow God to enter in to your life through a tiny hole, you'll see exponentially greater results.
Making room for God starts by clearing out some distractions that get us off track.
How do we put this into practice during Elul? Making room for God and letting Him in starts by clearing out some distractions and desires that control us and get us off track. For different people, these distractions manifest themselves in different ways. For some, it may be spending too much time surfing the internet, watching T.V. or movies. For some, it might be overeating or an inability to share of their wealth or possessions with others, and for others it may be a tendency to hurt their loved ones with words, lies or disloyalty. This is the time to take a look at your values and priorities, rearrange some furniture where you know you're clearly blowing it, and start putting together a plan of action for realignment.
The Kotzker Rebbe explains that the Almighty will expand your tiny hole only if it is as permanently opened as an eye of a needle. It can't close up after a few days. We can't fool God – or ourselves – by making a temporary change and finding ourselves back where we started a few months later. Preparing for Rosh Hashana means making a lasting change.
So as we move toward Rosh Hashana, we need to make the firm commitment to create a permanent, defined place where God can make Himself comfortable, become a part of the family, and move into our home. We’re not just moving things aside for the week, waiting for Him to leave so we’ll have our space back. Rather it is taking one small step within an area of our lives that we know needs fixing, and relegating control of that small space to God. Now it is a room He can call His own. It may start small, but it's His room, His permanent dwelling space. God now becomes our father, and He’s moving in!
Making God King
On Rosh Hashana our relationship with God changes from beloved friend to King. We come to realize that God is not just our houseguest. He’s not even an elderly father we're allowing to move in. Rather, He is the King! It’s His house, He is the Host and He is benevolently providing us with everything we need to live a comfortable, productive existence. On Rosh Hashana we coronate God as King, keeping in mind that the world and everything in it is His. He has a purpose for each and every one of us. On the first day of the new year, as we set the “destination” on our GPS device for the journey of the coming year, our goals and priorities need to take that in to consideration. This has to be our perspective.
We're not the ones making space for God; He's the One making space for us.
Based on an essay in “Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh” by Rabbi Itamar Schwartz