The Hebrew month of Elul is explained with the following metaphor: The king’s usual place is in the capital city, in the royal palace. Anyone wishing to approach the king must go through the appropriate channels in the palace bureaucracy and gain the approval of a succession of royal secretaries and ministers. He must journey to the capital and pass through the many gates, corridors and antechambers that lead to the throne room. His presentation must be meticulously prepared, and he must adhere to an exacting code of dress, speech and mannerism upon entering into the royal presence.
However, there are times when the king comes out to the fields outside the city. At such times, anyone can approach him; the king receives them all with a smiling face and a radiant countenance. The peasant behind his plow has access to the king in a manner unavailable to the highest ranking minister in the royal court when the king is in the palace.
For eleven months of the year, our lives alternate between the mundane/field and the holy/palace, between the material endeavors of life and the sublime moments in which we enter into the royal presence.
In the month of Elul, however, the king comes to the field.
What happens when the king comes to the field? The field is not transformed into a palace, yet neither is the king any less a king when he greets the farmer in his soiled overalls. Back in the throne room, however, in the aura of sanctity that surrounds the king, the sweat and mundane toil of the field seem a million miles away. How do these two worlds meet and what happens when they do?
The king is the heart and soul of the nation, the embodiment of its goals and aspirations. The king, though sequestered behind the palace walls and bureaucracy, though glimpsed, if at all, through a veil of opulence and majesty, is a very real part of the farmer’s field. He is the “why” of his plowing, the reason for his sowing, the object of his harvest. No farmer labors for the sake of labor. He labors to transcend the dust of which he and his field are formed, to make more of what is. He labors for his dreams. He labors for his king.
The king in the field is making contact with the source of his sustenance, with the underpinnings of his sovereignty. And the field is being visited by its raison d’être, by its ultimate function and essence.
When the farmer sees the king in his field, does he keep on plowing? Does he behave as if this were just another day in the fields? Of course not. Elul is not a month of ordinary workdays. It is a time of increased spiritual study, more fervent prayer, more generosity and charity. The very air is charged with holiness. We might still be in the field, but the field has become a holier place.
In the month of Elul, the essence and objective of life becomes that much more accessible. No longer do the material trappings of life conceal and distort its purpose, for the king is paying a visit.