The warmth is coming to its end. The day’s scent of summer soil has a tinge of the fall into cool. The night’s quiet has the murmur of the in-gathering plants beginning to recede. It is also the time that we begin our own journey to gather in our past year.
Elul is the last month of the spiritual oriented calendar. This calendar deals with the concept of time and our relationship to the flow of our lives and to the higher power. This is also the month during which we prepare ourselves for the next month’s-Tishrei-array of High Holy days. It is also the month in which the earth was ‘born’.
So right away you can see that this is one very busy month. We are celebrating the very present notion of nature, we are preparing ourselves for the spiritual birth of our own humanity (as Tishrei is when people were created) and we are ending and evaluating the last of the spiritual wheel of time. In other words, we are in the past, present and the future at the same time.
Nessirah is the retraction of our old light and the receiving our new light for the year. This occurs in Elul. This refreshing of our beings on every level is the background of the month for us. Think of it as a physical kind of white noise. We are not always aware of it, but indeed, it is there and we are being ‘worked on’ by above.
Elul is said to be the acronym for Ani L’dodi v’Dodi Li-‘I am my Beloved’s and Beloved is mine.’ This is from the Song of Songs 6”3. Whether it is ‘true’ or not, it is certainly an apt ‘tag line’ for this month. This month, the month of teshuvah ( repentance and return), evaluation, introspection; Divinity- the Divine King and Queen-are said to walk in the same garden as we do. God comes to us and we can walk together. Our prayers are heard up close. While we begin the month walking back to back with the Creator, we end the month standing face to face.
It was in Elul that Moses went up to the mountain for the third time to finally ‘write’ the tablets. Like us being in the garden with the Divine, Moses was with his God. He could see his back but not his face. He could sense God, but not look into his face to really know him as it would be too much to take in.
So this is interesting. To see someone’s back , but not face, Moses was being told that a full on connection, to see someone’s front-the face-is to be able to see their eyes-their soul and to have full picture of reaction. To share a smile, etc. to hold out one’s hand and reach toward each other. But to only see someone’s back is to only sense what they are about.
But unlike the Torah which says that Moses cannot come face to face, it is said in the Zohar that at the beginning of Elul, we are “achor el achor”, which means “back to back,” with the Creator, and by the end of Elul, we are “panim el panim”, “face to face.” But it is said that Moses went up to the mountain in Elul. They can’t both be true, can they?
We have the garden with its leaves of protection that offer us just enough shade and flowers with just enough scent to balance us, so perhaps we can come face to face with the Divine King and Queen. We can apprehend that deep reality of the infinite.
Or maybe the process of Nessirah is the Creator’s way of letting us see her/his face. We are being touched by the spirit, by the Creator, in a way that we can come face to face with by coming to it from a meditative, energetic, intuitive and physical way. We are engaging and offering ourselves to the hands of spirit touching hands which is to be face to face.
The month was created by the letter Yud. On first glance it looks like a small letter. It almost just looks like a speck. A little dot with a loud voice though, is what this letter is. Everything has to start with something; an idea, a life, a kiss, a letter. What you do after it becomes manifest. After its small seeming spark of self alights on the paper, gives you a touch on your mind, it is up to you.
While the Yud is the spark of the divine and spiritual; the Reish, the letter that created Mercury which is the planet that rules Virgo-the sign for Elul-, is the letter of intellect and will. When the Reish is joined with Yud it becomes bound to the higher spheres of being. Reish energy has the potential to be mired in the earth plane or exalted to the spiritual plane. When the beginning of thought and will begins in the place of the holy, it embodies the numinous. When paired with the Yud which is that spark, a soul turning can happen.
This is a month that we can time travel by using these two letters together in contemplation, meditation, prayer and energy work. We can utilize these letters to heal the past and help the future, balance the present. The direct connection of the spark of the Yud to the source and the eternal and the mental capacity of the Reish enables us to ‘time travel’ on our earthly and karmic levels. This journey work is one of the shamanic aspects of Jewish practice that we have.
The Hermit holds the light,the Yud, and for this month is alone with personal thoughts. There is much to do. Some call Virgo the virgin and assume that this month is about being pure, but really, a virgin is someone who has never been with anyone before. This is what we do this month. We remain solitary and unto ourselves, because we are doing the inner work. We are doing Teshuvah-we are making the return. The return to our true selves and to our next phase of our lives in a purer and rarefied way.
The complexity and depth of Elul can make your head spin. If you think too much, like a Virgo, try to be like the Hermit of the tarot. We are going to be cleansed next month and we want to prepare for that. We are reassessing our past, taking action in the now and preparing for the new year to come.
PERMUTATION: The Garden Path of Permutations
We are an arrangement of soul and each month the permutation of the ‘Name’ shows us our soul path tools through its own unique arrangement. Each letter has a meaning, a sfirot on the tree of life, an element, a world and a planet or astrology sign and a tarot card. Each month has its meaning, holidays and history as well. So when we combine these all, we have so much to work with and learn from.
Spiritual growth and peace does not just happen. You have to put some effort into it, and that can be daunting. It takes energy and commitment. These ‘tools’ are some of the many Jewish ways toward wholeness.
The permutation for Elul is: (read from right to left-backwards from English).
So this month we begin with water then earth then air then fire. Water creates the possibility for seeds to grow that are planted in the earth and then are nurtured by the air to grow toward the fire of life that inspires their full expression.
We begin with a vague archetypal idea of our personal assessment and understanding of where we are and what the place the year has brought up and take this idea to our very real lives and see how that reflects back to us. What is the mirror and relation between the ideal and the reality. Then we go to the realm of emotions and really examine and do our teshuva. Then our understanding and yearning to let go and grow and be forgiven, to return to our pure self without the negative and false hooks us toward the beginning and the spark that we can use to ignite and light our way as well as close our year.
We go to a higher realm for insight and understanding. Elul’s permutation begins with the Hey of the world of Beriya-the world of soul. It is also called the Upper Garden. It is the sfirot of Binah where understanding begins to form. As stated earlier, the month of Elul refers to a relationship with the beloved who in this month is the relationship between the self and the Divine, the Creator, the Great Mysterious. We begin the archetypal realm of souls-Beriyah. What were our ideals that we had for this past year. How did we succeed and how might we have failed. Were we indeed the kind of person we wanted to be.
Then we go to the second Hey which is the world of Assiyah. This is the lowest world, our physical world, and the sfirot of Malchut. This is the lower garden. We begin in the upper-in the Creator’s garden and then go to our garden, so to speak. We begin the month back to back with the Divine and through our decent into the work of the month we end being face to face-with a new relationship. How do our ideals match what our reality was for the year. This is where we see what we need to fix, to whom do we need to make amends, what does our life really look like.
Vav-Yetzirah, Zeir Anpin,Air-
Then we move back up with the Vav to the world of Yetzirah. This is the world of formation. Vav is the circle of the emotional array of six sfirot called Zeir Anpin: Gevurah, Chesed, Tiferet, Netzach, Hod and Yesod. Here we can really delve into our emotional states and our lives and feelings, failures, success, deeper teshuvah we need to make to others and to ourselves and to spirit. We now understand and do some of the work we need to do then we go to the realm of emotions and emotional reality and really examine and do our teshuva and then our understanding and yearning to let go and grow and be forgiven, to return to our pure self without the negative and false.
Yud- Atzilut, Keter,Fire We work to make a connection to the big ‘why’ and ‘how’
Then we go to the Yud and to the highest world of Atzilut. This is the sfirot of Keter, and some traditions also include Chochmah. This is the place of the ineffable, the breath of spirit and the breadth of the yet unformed physical yearning toward the rest of existence. We can draw strength and sustenance from here. We can mediate and contemplate on this world, but we cannot so much enter it. This hooks us toward the beginning and the spark that we can use to ignite and light our way as well as close our year.
The fixing for the month is Action. The action you take is determined by your momentum and decision making process. What is the source of your momentum? How do you take action. Is it carried out after much deliberation and weighing the pros and cons, is it done alone in solitude like the Hermit card or is it done with the help of others? Whatever machinations of these you may use, the point is to actually make a move.
This is to say that this month is about going inward or ourselves, but teshuvah also demands that we relate to the outward world. When you ask forgiveness of someone it is about what you understand you have done to need to make amends. This comes from yourself, your depth of connection to the relationship and then you bring it to them. This is what god wants us to do this month. Come toward from the deepest part of yourself but to also feel the truth that you are not alone.
Elul offers us new light, a chance to walk in the garden with the Divine Creator, the chance to reflect, the chance to fix our relationships with ourselves and with others and the chance to prepare. We are being offered the time to grow.
So Elul is the month of reckoning and divine presence. It is the month of endings as beginnings. It is a month of reverberation, of quiet accounting of your soul, your personal relationships, your relationship to the higher power, this unseen mover of life is what is beyond ourselves, the unknown, the rest of life, the world, our inspiration and what is beyond our comprehension.
Let the sound of the shofar every morning motivate you to awaken and to tell your inner difficulties and darkness, that you are here to be in your light.