Elul is the time we look back at our year and try to see if we are the person we hoped we’d become, way back when we heard that trembling shofar blow last Rosh Hashanah.I know I haven’t quite lived up to my own expectations, but I take heart that Hashem loves me just the same for my efforts.
Elul is a time to turn to Hashem knowing that He will accept just about any regret for our mistakes and every resolve to repair them. How do we know this? Take a look at the word Elul אלול—its letters are the roshei tevos, the first letter of each word, in the verse from Shir HaShirim, “I am for my beloved, and My beloved is for me.” Song of Songs is a message of the King’s eternal love for His people. No matter how often we have put our own perceived needs ahead of what He expects from us, He continues to yearn for us and welcome us home again and again. This idea is evident in another verse from Shir HaShirim. “Even the empty ones among you are filled with mitzvos like a pomegranate.”
The verse seems to contradict itself: if we are empty, how are we also filled with mitzvos? When something is empty, by definition it certainly can’t be full!
The answer to this paradox can be found by looking at the pomegranate itself. It is a highly compartmentalized fruit. Each of its hundreds of seeds is wrapped in an individual sack surrounded by tough membranes. Compare the pomegranate to the apple: the apple is sweet throughout, with seeds that cling tightly to the core.
The pomegranate has no core at all. In the same way, it is possible for a person to do many mitzvos, and yet, if those mitzvos remain isolated acts, they will have little effect on the individual’s character. The pomegranate holds within it many merits, but no continuum of goodness. There is no center. When we see a mitzvah as a singular event, unconnected to the last and to the next, we miss the point. Imagine a staircase without risers. It is just a series of planks never rising above ground level. When each landing and riser connects to the one before it and the one after it, then you really get somewhere!
Look again at the pomegranate. The Malbim* says that just as the pomegranate is filled with seeds, “the essential soul is filled with the lights of spiritual understanding.” Each mitzvah is designed to sprout new light, new understanding within you, deepening your relationship with the Almighty. The seed of a pomegranate contains a potent drop of juice, the essence of the fruit. A delicious glass of juice is comprised of thousands of these tiny droplets. So, too, a holy Jewish life is comprised of thousands of mitzvos poured forth from a single vessel, our soul.
Everything we do is important to G-d; every act is essential in the mission He chose for us. But sometimes a life of laundry, dishes, work and errands can feel fragmented, directionless. Our inner self craves purpose and direction. But each mundane act that we do in building our home is a mitzvah. And the mitzvos form our relationship with Hashem, one mitzvah building upon the other, binding us to Hashem more and more.
And now, from this vantage point, we can see that every moment is part of the continuum of goodness that contributes to the total significance of our lives. So with the mundane chore or tiny kindness you do today, imagine a drop of ruby-tinted juice falling into the glass, contributing to the total significance of your life—in the service of the King. —Inspired by Mrs. Shira Smiles, with permission
*19th-century luminary Rabbi Meir Leibush, the Malbim, who is known for his precise explanations, perception and command of language to reveal the wisdom of the Torah and megillos.