We often picture God this time of year as a judge, sitting at His bench, waiting to catch us, judge us and hold us accountable. Not only is this not a healthy and constructive image, it is not the image our rabbis and our tradition want us to have.

We are deep into the month of Elul, the last month of the year. Elul is an acronym for ani l’dodi v’dodi li – I am for my beloved and my beloved is for me, conveying a deep and profound sense of love that is overarching sentiment this time of year.

"I am for my beloved and my beloved is for me" describes a reciprocal love, of give and take, of two parties both invested in the relationship with each other. God loves us. He thinks about us, cares about us, and craves a relationship with us.

God loves us means He isn’t looking to catch us or punish us. He wants what is best for us. He roots and cheers for us. He wants us to succeed and He wants us to be happy. God knows all of our faults and shortcomings. He is aware of our mistakes and our challenges, and yet He loves us. He is never jealous of us, He is never competing with us and He is never tired of us. He simply loves us. What He wants in return is to be loved by us as well.

But we need to remember: I am for my beloved and my beloved is for me. Elul is all about reciprocity. God relates to us as a reflection of how we relate to Him. We want to count on Him, but can He count on us? We wish He would talk to us, but do we sincerely talk to Him? We want Him to think of us but how often do we think of Him?

A few years ago, I saw someone around minyan during the week when I hadn’t seen him coming often before. I met with him about something else and took the liberty of praising him and telling him how great it has been to see him at shul. I asked him, “If you don’t mind, would you tell me what motivated you to start coming?”

He explained that recently he had suffered a terrible disappointment in his life. Something he was longing for and had been seriously invested in didn’t work out and left him back at square one. He was so mad, so angry, so devastated that he got in his car to go for a drive just to clear his head and cool off.

As he was driving around he started screaming at God: How could you? Why would you do this to me? Where have you been?! It was with those last words that it suddenly struck him – where have you been, that is exactly what God is wondering about him. He was overwhelmed not with anger or disappointment towards God, but with a sense of how disappointed God must be with him for cutting Him out of his life. At that moment he decided he was going to start going to shul more, talking to God more, showing God a little more love.

Ani l’dodi v’dodi li – this is the month of reciprocal love. Start showing God some love and you will see and feel Him loving you back.

God doesn’t need our mitzvot. He gives them to us because He wants us to care about Him, to think about Him, to love Him.

And He loves us so much. He showers us with blessings. If we would only take the time each day to think about it we would recognize how much goodness, how many blessings we receive that far surpass what we deserve.

God loves us. The question is: do we show Him love in return?