The following Dvar Torah is largely based on ideas heard from HaRav Yaakov Friedman, SHLIT”A, Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivas Bircas Mordechai, Beitar, Israel. Any mistakes in interpretation or errors are solely the fault of the author.
The Rambam in his explanation of the Mishna in Maseches Rosh Hashana says something which, at first glance, seems incomprehensible.
The Rambam addresses the following question: “Why is it that Hallel is not part of the davening of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur?” The answer, says the Rambam, is that during this period of the year, it is inappropriate to sing praises and songs to Hashem, i.e., Hallel. This is because it is a time of trepidation and fear of Hashem and His judgement; a time when we are involved in “escaping and fleeing to . . . Him”?!
What is going on here? How could it be that at the same time that we are attempting to flee from Hashem and His judgement, we are simultaneously running to Him?
The answer lies in the different aspects of the month of Elul.
The Shelah Hakadosh cites early sources that explain the passuk in Amos which says, “When a lion roars, who shall not fear?” The word “lion” (“aryeh” in Hebrew) actually stands for Elul, Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur, and Hoshana Rabba. These are all times of judgement, and there is an element of fear in them.
On the other hand, we know that there are pesukim in Tehillim which call on the heavens, the land, the sea, and all that they contain to rejoice, because Hashem is coming to judge the world. Why rejoice?
The answer lies in the word “Elul” itself. “Elul” is an acronym for “Ani L’dodi V’dodi Li” — I am for my Beloved, and He is for me.
Hashem did not have to set up a world where there is judgement. He could have remained aloof, without involving Himself with His creatures. But, that’s not what He wants, and it would not serve the purpose for which the world was created.
Judging someone or something means involving yourself with them. The fact that Hashem chooses to involve Himself with us is cause for rejoicing. Not only that, but Hashem (k’viyachol) yearns for us to be involved with Him, and the more that we turn to Him and work on our relationship with him, the less we have to fear His judgement.
Elul is the run-up to the day of judgement that is Rosh Hashana. Hashem, k’viyachol, comes now to involve himself with us more fully, giving us the chance to involve ourselves with Him.
This is the explanation of the Rambam that we started with. It’s true that we are attempting to flee the impending judgement of Rosh Hashana and all it entails. The paradox is that the way to flee from the judgement of Hashem is by running to Hashem.
This is the challenge and the opportunity of the month of Elul.