Has there ever been a week like it in British Politics!
The main talking points of the week of course, were the removal of the whip from 21 Tory rebels, the attempt to stop no deal and of course the call for snap elections!
We are now faced with the ridiculous situation that Johnson who has said for months he doesn’t want an election – now does and Corbyn who has said for years he does – now doesn’t!
And what has this week been like for the Jewish nation?
It has been a very special week; it has been the first week of Ellul. Last Sunday in shul we blew the shofar for the first time to announce the start of the Teshuva process.
We are now in a forty-day period to examine our deeds and to move towards closing the ever widening gap between us and our Creator.
It is also the time around the world when Yeshivot and Sems begin their academic year – Ellul Zman it is called.
Ellul Zman is a remarkable time of year, I have been lucky enough to have experienced nine in Yeshiva. I was not in Yeshiva for nine years, but such is the power of Ellul Zman, I made sure during my time at University I began each year with a month in Yeshiva.
What is Ellul Zman? It is simply the regular learning that takes place in the yeshiva – but with the heightened awareness of the upcoming Yamim Noraim, which adds to the sense of zeal and focus.
It has a different feel to the rest of the year, there is a thirst for connection, there is a lot more introspection, sensitivity. You may ask, why not the rest of the year? It is hard to explain, Ellul has this ability – and it is one we should try and harness.
A story is told that in pre-war Europe, in one of the great Yeshivot – I think it was Slabodka, thousands had gathered for the Rosh Yeshivas mussar shmuze, the once a week opportunity to hear from the Torah giant. It was Ellul Zman and it was the first week of Yeshiva, the first drasha of the year, the first time for a few months that the students had heard from the venerable sage. He stood up on the lectern and his entire shmuze contained just three words – but these three words electrified his student body.
‘Ellul, Ellul, Ellul’ he passionately cried.
That was all he said, that was all he needed to say, all those present understood the message, understood the intensity and understood the opportunity that this month presents.
That clear Shofar blast carries the same urgent message of that Rosh Yeshiva.
The essence of the month of Ellul is contained in the verse ‘Ani L dodi, v dodi li’ – I am my Beloveds and my Beloved is mine. It is mentioned in the Medrash that there is an ongoing discussion between God and the Jewish people into how to actual effect the process of return, how as said previously, to close that gap. Hashem wishes us to make the first move says the medrash – from a verse in Malachi – actually part of the haftorah for Shabbat Hagadol ‘shuvu eili v’ashuva Aleichem’ – Return to me and I will return to you.
We desire that Hashem should initiate – this one from Megillat Eicha, and well known as well, Hashivenu Hashem eleicha, v nashuva – bring us back to You and we shall return.
And herein lies the problem with the pasuk used to represent Ellul.
You see during the 10 days of repentance it is God who initiates, Dirshu Hashem behimatzo – seek Hashem while he may be found.
Ellul as we discussed is also imbued with heavenly favour, historically it was the time when Moshe went up to ask Hashem for forgiveness for the golden calf – those forty days began on Rosh Chodesh Ellul and ended on Yom Kippur.
The question is as follows, if Ellul is a time when God makes movement towards us then surely the verse used to sum up Ellul is inaccurate. Ani l dodi, v dodi li implies that we take the first step – ani l dodi and then Hashem responds with dodi li.
A better verse from Shir Ha shirim – without the acronym would be Dodi li v ani lo – My beloved is mine, and I am His.
The answer given by Rabbi Zev Leff not only answers this question brilliantly but goes a long way to giving us a message about what Ellul should mean to us.
Ellul is a time of awakening – aware of our responsibilities, our potential. We awake from the lethargy of the year and we focus. It is also a time of mending the bonds ben adam l chaveiro, between each other. In essence, Ellul is a time of gaining renewed perspective of oneself, ones’ people and ones God.
It is true, says Rav Leff, that God approaches us during Ellul, he takes the initiative but if we do not recognize this, or be tuned into this, it will pass totally unnoticed. In modern jargon, the Wi-Fi has not been turned on, the signal is there but we just cannot pick it up.
Therefore, the essence of Ellul is ani le dodi, v dodi li – Why? Because before anything, I need to rediscover my ani – my essence as an individual, and as part of the Jewish people. Then I must identify my dodi – my relationship with Hashem, who my Beloved actually is. And then we will discover – dodi li – Hashem is there.
For so so many people they are still trying to find the ani, still trying to work out who they are meant to be. So much of the political confusion is down to this core idea.
Thankfully we have Ellul, a time of introspection, of contemplation, defining perspectives and roles, being better friends, better neighbours, better spouses and better Jews.