The month of Elul marks the beginning of the High Holiday season, an opportunity to restore our relationship with G-d. While improving ourselves spiritually in our relationship with the Divine, may appear to be the task at hand, it also marks an opportunity to improve our interpersonal relationships, in particular our marriage. In fact, the Hebrew words for the month of Elul are an acronym for Ani L’Dodi V’Dodi Li, “I am to my Beloved and my Beloved is to me” (Song of Songs 6:3). As our relationship with G-d is compared to the relationship with our beloved, it is only fitting to spend some time this Elul to enhance our most important human relationship. Here are three lessons from Elul that you can apply to prepare your marriage for the New Year.
- Presence– Elul is a time where we focus on t’shuva. While often translated as repentance, it really means to return or restore. Even if one has not committed any wrongdoing, teshuva is still relevant, as the Talmud says (Shabbat 153a), that “all of one’s days should be accompanied by t’shuva.” T’shuva means to return to G-d, to restore our relationship so that we can be before G-d, as we say in our daily prayers, “Return us in complete t’shuva before you.” Being in relationship with an “other” whether it is G-d or our fellow man, means fully showing up and being present. This is a particular challenge in the digital age where we spend so much time glued to our handheld devices that we don’t actually interact with people, look them in the eye, and connect in a meaningful way. Giving presence in a relationship, means tuning out all of our other distractions and experiencing the other. It’s not even about doing anything per se. Just as G-d wants us to have a relationship with Him, our spouse, child, or friend, just wants to have our full self. While this may be a daunting task, even if you can’t be present all the time, carve out a special time every day to just experience your beloved. Often times, giving presence is the answer to many of the relationship grievances we may have with each other. Ultimately, our deepest desire is to connect. Once we have that, many of the little complaints no longer matter.
2) Compassion– Rosh Chodesh Elul marks Moses’s 3rd ascent on Mt Sinai. It began a 40 day process that culminated on Yom Kippur with the forgiving of the sin of the Gold Calf and the giving of the second Tablets. During this time G-d revealed his 13 attributes of Mercy, His special formula for Divine forgiveness. Every year as we revisit this period of the Jewish calendar, the same energy is in the air. The secret to ultimate forgiveness in any relationship is compassion. Compassion requires one to go beyond the natural order of looking at the situation and see something much deeper and broader. Your spouse may push your buttons, they may annoy you, and they may even do or say things that are hurtful. (We are obviously talking about the run of the mill conflicts couple experience, not abuse). If you are bewildered by their behavior, begin to have compassion. Reimage them as an innocent little child. Think about what you know about their challenges in life and be able to see him/her in a different light. I once gave a lecture and I mentioned this concept. Later that night I received a call from a wife who told me that when she came home and saw her husband asleep, she was able to see him in a whole new light. Instead of coming from a place of judgment, she came from compassion. It marked a whole new reality for her in her relationship. Instead of feeling threatened and getting defensive, she was able to feel for him, and to love him again. As we wish to merit G-d’s compassion this year, let’s first practice ourselves by having compassion for others.
3) Be confident– In psalm 27, the psalm that many Jews have the custom of saying from Elul until the end of the Holiday season, King David expresses his ultimate confidence in G-d that he will be victorious, “Though a host should encamp against me, my heart shall not fear; though war should rise up against me, even then will I be confident.” As we enter the time of year where our fate will be determined for the coming year, we are confident of victory, instead of cowering in fear. It is this confidence that sets the tone and allows us to ultimately be victorious as nothing will get in our way of our goal of being close to G-d. Similarly, even if one’s relationship is in a tenuous state, decide and be confident that it will improve. When you change your perspective and focus on a goal, you garner the energy needed to accomplish. Instead of living in fear and anxiety about the future, or being sad about what could have been, focus on creating what you want with a fierce confidence that nothing will stop you. Sound the shofar blast, get ready for battle, and take back your relationship!
Every season in the Jewish calendar is an opportunity for personal growth and elevation. Seize the unique time of Elul, where G-d’s special favor is in the air, to help you achieve your aspirations both in your relationship with the Divine and with your spouse.
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The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.