My Beloved is To Me
A friend of mine grew up "out-of-town" in a small Jewish community. Fortunately for him and the community, it is also home to a well-known tzaddik and talmid chacham. When I first met him, and he introduced himself and told me where he was from, I said, "Oh so you must know Rav So-and-so."
"Yes," he responded. "But what's better is that he knows me."
My new friend was proud that he knew this rav, that he davened with him, attended his shiurim, asked him shailos, walked home with him from shul. But what pleased him more was that the rav also knew him—his background, his family, his strengths, his challenges.
I think of my friend as we find ourselves in the middle of Elul. We are taught from a young age that Elul stands for "Ani ledodi vedodi li—I am to my beloved and my beloved is to me." We know how to translate the words, but do we really know what they mean? Do we understand and appreciate the underlying sentiment?
On its surface, it sounds beautiful, a lovely notion. But it has all the passion of a Hallmark anniversary card.
What does it mean "My beloved"—i.e., God—"is to me"?
My son, a die-hard New York Yankees fan (I know, I know. Another parental failure), is friends with another teen whose father's business brings him in contact with many high-end clients. One of those clients was none other than Mariano Rivera, the great closer for the Yankees and arguably the greatest relief pitcher in baseball history.
My son's friend arranged for Mr. Rivera to autograph a baseball for my son. To say that my son was elated would be an understatement. Then the possibility arose that my son might actually get to meet the great pitcher. He was beside himself with nervousness and excitement. What would he say? What would he wear? Would he play it cool, try not to act too excited, or would he likely lose himself and gush all over the former Yankee?
Alas, the meeting never occurred (not yet, anyway). But it got me to thinking about my out-of-town friend.
Imagine my son, lost in a crowd of Yankees fans and in walks Mariano Rivera. People swarm around him, thrusting Sharpies along with various objects and pictures for him to sign, peppering him with silly questions about his most memorable game or what his favorite city or flavor of ice cream might be. Just then he turns and spots my son on the other side of the room. He cocks his head and gives a quick wave, then, calling him by name, heads in my son's direction. "How are you, man? How've you been?"
Mariano then proceeds to pepper my son with questions—how is yeshiva going? how does he like his rebbe this year?—making it clear that Mariano knows my son well and is genuinely interested in and concerned for him. Everyone watching is astonished—and not a little envious. It's not just that my son knows Mariano Rivera. Mariano Rivera knows my son.
How cool would that be? And how much cooler would it be if he had no idea that Mariano Rivera knew that much or cared that much about him?
This is—lehavdil—what we mean by "Ani ledodi vedodi li."
God is not just simply aware of our existence, ready to sit in judgment of us for our deeds and misdeeds of the past year, viewing each of us as just another random Jew among the entire Jewish people to look after, another blip in the grand scheme of things.
No. That's not how it is at all.
God is our beloved. God is our biggest fan. God is genuinely interested in and concerned for each of us, individually. He knows each of us personally—our strengths, our weaknesses, our challenges, our achievements. He is rooting for us. He wants us to succeed.
Elul is the month designated to repair and enhance our relationship with God. "Lo bashamayim hi." God, even in his Awesome Omniscience, is not distant. God is right here in our living rooms. He wants to be close to us. He wants a relationship with us.
Let's take advantage of God's wishes and ensure for ourselves a sweeter new year.