In the Hebrew month of Elul our main mode of relating to God is as a child to his father. The theme of Elul is returning home. In Elul we rediscover God after a lengthy period in which we deserted Him — or at the very least – ignored Him. In the month of Av that precedes Elul the deterioration of our relationship with God is so deep that God withdraws to his concealed, inner sanctum, reflecting our withdrawal from Him.
The Ba’al Shem Tov explains that in Elul God is likened to a king who goes out into the field, where all his subjects can meet him. Our “rediscovery” of God in Elul draws Him from His inner sanctum out to the field. At this stage, we do not feel the mighty kingdom of God in His palace as we did before we sinned, and as we will even more on Rosh Hashanah. Meeting God in Elul is an “informal” meeting, in which we seek His paternal kinship.
The City of Refuge
The Arizal correlates the letters of Elul to the verse in Exodus 21:13 that speaks of the Cities of Refuge. The initial letters of the four central words in this verse spell Elul. The Torah commands us to establish cities of refuge throughout Israel to which the unintentional killer can escape the revenge of the family of his victim (For a deeper understanding of the Cities of Refuge listen to Harav Ginsburgh’s audio lecture: The Mysterious Road Sign to Messianic Consciousness).
A person who unintentionally murdered another suffers from a severe lack of focus and sensitivity to the image of God in his surroundings. The City of Refuge, inhabited by Levites, is like a warm and loving home. It envelops the unintentional killer with care, helping him to recover and restore his attention to God. Elul is the City of Refuge of the year. It is the time most attuned to spiritual rehabilitation and refocus on God.
The Six Constant Mitzvot
The Sefer Hachinuch enumerates six mitzvot (“commandments”) that we must fulfill constantly. He equates these mitzvot with the six Cities of Refuge. These six constant mitzvot all revolve around our constant focus on God’s Presence in our lives. They can be pictured as the six walls that surround a person in his home, reminding him to always focus on God.
The ceiling of the home is our constant remembrance of God as expressed in the first of the Ten Commandments, “I am God your God.”
The floor is the commandment not to worship any entity other than God. This is the constant reminder not to sink into the unrealistic depths of our imagination, but rather to remain focused on God.
The front wall reminds us that God is One. We must focus our thoughts on the principle that everything in the world is ultimately the One God and channel all our devotion to Him, with all our heart, soul and might.
The right and left walls are the mitzvot to love God and to fear Him. God’s right hand eternally embraces us in love, while His left hand supports our head, lifting it to show us the distance between us, and how exalted God is over us.
Finally, the back door reminds us not to go astray after our hearts or eyes. We must place a guard at the back door of our consciousness to ensure that no foreign thoughts enter our psyches to disconnect us from our consciousness of God.
When we realize that we have forgotten God and have ignored the walls of the home that supports us, we feel deep shame. With this feeling in our hearts we turn to God to beg him to pardon us, selach lanu, and to nullify our existence as much as it dares to be nullified.
Other chapters in this series: