"And Isaac went out to pray in the field towards evening, and he raised his eyes and saw, and behold! Camels were coming. And Rebecca raised her eyes and saw Isaac..." (Gen. 24:63-64)
ELUL: THE KING IS IN THE FIELD
The month of Elul, last month of the Hebrew calendar year, is an auspicious time for repentance, prayer and introspection. These are special days of Divine mercy, and the very essence of these days bespeak the basic human need for closeness with the Holy One, blessed be He... and His immediate and unequivocal response.
Elul has a history of being a time prepared for forgiveness:
Following the episode of the Golden Calf and G-d's subsequent forgiveness of the people, Moses ascended Mount Sinai again on the first day of the month of Elul and remained there for 40 days. He descended on the 10th day of Tishrei - Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement - with the second set of tablets and the promise of atonement and forgiveness. Every year, this 40-day period is repeated and brings with it the opportunity - and the challenge - to prepare ourselves for the awesome experience of the fast-approaching High Holy Days, when every descendant of Adam - each and every human being, and every nation, will be judged.
The word Elul in Hebrew is an acronym, an abbreviation of the Hebrew words "Ani l'dodi v'dodi li, "I am my beloved's and my beloved is mine" (Song of Songs 6:3). These words from the Song of Songs are actually the theme of this very special month: realizing how beloved we are to G-d, and how precious our relationship with Him is. Elul reminds us that G-d constantly beckons us to return to Him. During this month, we seek to improve our relationship with G-d and with each other.
A person can repent any time of year, but the days of Elul are days of special Divine mercy, so it is a time that is especially conducive to repentance and making amends: 'Seek the L-rd when He is found, call Him when He is near' (Isaiah 55:6). Elul is the time 'when He is near.' Our great sages call Elul the time when 'the King is in the field.' The analogy is to a great and powerful king who pays a surprise visit to his subjects while they are at work in their fields. For the average man, the king is so inaccessible; away in his palace, distant and removed. He never dreams he will actually see the king, let alone speak with him. Then suddenly, one day, while this man is bent over his menial labor in the field, he feels a gentle tap on his shoulder... he turns around and to his shock, it is the great king himself who is standing over him; he has come to visit, explaining that he wanted to be close to his loyal subjects, to investigate their situation and give them the opportunity to ask for their needs. This is the true meaning of Elul... this is the time to call out to Him!
A unique Biblical insight also ties this concept directly to the place of the Holy Temple, based on this verse: "And Isaac went out to pray in the field towards evening, and he raised his eyes and saw, and behold! Camels were coming. And Rebecca raised her eyes and saw Isaac..." (Gen. 24:63-64). According to tradition, the patriarch Isaac established the daily afternoon prayer service, and the 'field' where Isaac went to pray was none other than Mount Moriah, the place chosen by G-d from the beginning of time for the Holy Temple.
Elul is a good time for repentance of every sort... on an individual level, a national level, and a global level. And the science - or rather, the art - of teshuva, 'repentance,' isn't just about just moving away from 'sin,' from negative actions. True repentance is constant, daily spiritual growth. Within the heartbeat of all creation, a feeling of thankfulness and humility is beating in unison, in constant awe and wonder of the greatness of the Creator. The repentance of Elul is manifest by the desire to deepen the recognition of our relationship with G-d; to grow closer to Him every day.