As the public is consumed with the headlines about Hillary Clinton’s emails, Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders’ surge in the polls, the battle over President Obama’s agreement with Iran — we are entering the Hebrew month of Elul, which offers not just respite from the fray but the ability to transcend the immediate here and now, and infuse that perspective into current events, allowing the big picture to inform the small picture.
Clearly the rise of “outsiders” in the bid for the US presidency indicates the public’s frustration and even anger with the establishment. People are desperate for change, for honesty, for leadership, for hope and for something new. What better time for the renewal that the new year brings. What can Elul, which prepares us for the new year, teach us about these matters?
It is invisible, but always with us. It brings growth, but also death. It can be our greatest enemy, but also our best friend. It’s always moving, yet unwavering. It can bring hope but also hopelessness. Its nature is change, and it changes nature. It seasons us, teaches us experience, but also erodes us. It can work for us or against us. It is never neutral, and it never stops.
What is it?
The human race has conquered space. We have cleared out wildernesses and turned them into cities. Travel and telecommunications have allowed us to transcend great distances.
But what about time: Have we conquered time? Most people would answer that we can’t conquer time; we can manage it, but never conquer it, because the clock continues to tick whether we like it or not. We cannot stop the clock nor can we turn it back.
Jewish thought however always made it a goal to conquer time. It wasn’t enough to manage time, but actually conquer it. We sanctify time – Shabbat and holidays.
Time is energy, the Zohar explains. Each moment is potent, filled with enormous power. Each moment is an opportunity, never neutral. By tapping the energy of time, we conquer it. When we utilize and actualize the energy of the moment, time becomes our ally, launching us into another dimension. If we do not use the moment, the moment “dies,” and like deadweight it contributes to the erosion of our beings, as the clock of our lives ticks down.
We have the power to eternalize each moment in our lives. By filling it with meaning and spirit, time doesn’t merely pass; rather it becomes a catalyst for achieving immortality.
Look at your day. How many of its moments are just fleeting specks lost in the shuffle of life? But then comes that one moment – just one second – that can turn into magic, into an experience that lives on forever.
Imagine if you were able to turn all your moments into eternity. That is someone who has mastered the art of time, someone like Abraham, who “came into his days,” he tapped all the energy of his days, turning them all into eternal pilots.
This is the power and the mystery of the Jewish calendar: Each day, week and month is defined by its unique energy. By appreciating the personality of each time segment, time becomes our greatest asset; a silent but powerful partner in life’s journey.
We are now about to enter a most powerful time of the year: The Hebrew month of Elul. The energy of this month is love and reconciliation.
In this month Moses climbed the mountain for the third and final time, to gain forgiveness from G-d for the people who had sinned by building the Golden Calf.
The days of Elul are therefore called ‘days of grace’ or days of ‘compassion,’ because in this period G-d was open to listening to Moses – and Moses was successful in his appeal for forgiveness and renewal. Ever since, the month of Elul serves as the month of Divine mercy and forgiveness.
Elul is the story of Moses’ journey. It is the story of building a true and enduring relationship, even after it has been challenged. Moses’ Elul experience provides us with a special energy of love and compassion during this month, when the “King is in the field” and radiates the Thirteen Attributes of Compassion.
This applies to human relationships as well, which are but a manifestation of the relationship between man and G-d. One of the acronyms of Elul is: Ani l’dodi v’dodi li, meaning “I am to my beloved, and my beloved is to me.” (“Song of Songs” 6:3). It is a month when we can find true reciprocal love.
Nothing great is born in a vacuum. The compassion and love of Elul is produced from the pain of the previous month of Av, when the Temple was destroyed. The mazal (sign) of the month of Menachem Av is the Aryeh (Leo), an acronym for Elul, Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur, Hoshana Rabba – four milestones in this time period, all built from the pain and destruction of Av.
I was once asked by a program director who was planning a lecture I was to deliver, “what do you find are the top issues people want to hear about?” I replied, that on top of the list, hands-down, is the topic of love, relationships, intimacy, sexuality. This definitely is the number one topic people are interested in. And number two is the issue of pain and suffering. [I know some of you may suggest to include up there “financial planning,” “how to become a millionaire,” but that’s for another discussion].
Without missing a beat, the program director, said to me: “Those aren’t two topics; they are one and the same…”
How true. Love and pain are two sides of one coin: The coin of your emotional life. When our emotions are awake and active they are sensitive to all feelings: Both love and pain. When you love and are loved you are vulnerable to being hurt as well. When you are locked and detached, you may not get hurt, but also will not get love.
Not to suggest that all love must bring pain. But being vulnerable means that you can potentially experience sadness.
The sadness of the month of Av was a testimony to sensitivity – feeling the pain of life and recognizing that work is needed to repair a fractured relationship.
What is our biggest mistake: The mistake itself or the inability – the fear – to acknowledge it?
Without awareness of the loss, reconciliation will not be possible and healthy love will never be achieved. One who knows how to weep over a loss, knows how to love. When you cry when you need to cry, you will laugh when you need to laugh. Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy (Psalms 126:5).
The love of Elul is thus borne out of the pain of Av. As such, the love will endure forever, having been ruptured, tested and rebuilt. The power of the High Holidays is a product of the work done on the previous two months of Av and Elul.
We stand now in these special days. We must tap into the energy of the time and release its enormous power – power that can change our lives in a real way; power that can introduce a new dimension of love into your life.
For this reason I composed the book 60 DAYS: A Spiritual Guide to the High Holidays, as a step-by-step guide though this fascinating personal and psychological journey. [Go here to subscribe to our 60 Days daily e-mail].
We all have challenges in our lives. Current events are exposing the deep void and hunger for change and hope. Yet we also have tools, assets, strengths that help us face these challenges. One of the greatest of these assets is always there beside us, beneath us, within us and within all that we do. That asset is TIME. Every moment is an opportunity – packed with powerful energy.
The 60 Days begin this Shabbat, August 15th. Use the time well. Your return will far surpass your investment.
For an elaborate discussion on this topic, please go here to view Rabbi Jacobson’s latest class broadcast from Jerusalem: Love is in the Air – Elul in Jerusalem.