by Rabbi Jamie Kotler
As the month of Elul approaches, immediately preceding the High Holy Days, I am filled with trepidation. The rabbis understand it to be a joyous time. They traditionally interpret the Hebrew letters of Elul (אלול) as an acronym for Ani L’dodi V’dodi Li – “I am my Beloved’s and my Beloved is mine,” a verse from the Song of Songs, the great love story between the Holy One and Israel. Like the lovers in that most beautiful of love stories, God comes into the fields just ahead of the High Holy Days, searching for me, seeking my heart, if only I open to that Presence.
To meet The Holy One in that place of love and honesty means shedding the layers of protective covering I have managed, once again, to grow around my heart. How will I find my way this year? In the words of Deuteronomy: “What does Hashem, your God ask of you? Only to hold Hashem your God, in awe, to walk in all His ways, and to love him, and to serve Hashem your God with all your heart and being… Cut away, therefore, the thickening about your hearts… ” (Deut. 10:12-16).
Elul becomes a time of transformation – a spiritual preparation for the High Holy Days. It is a time to a shed the thickened layers, to cleanse the schmutz (dirt) that has covered my heart, in preparation for entering the Heart of Hearts. The process is akin to that undertaken by the High Priest at Yom Kippur. Each year, as the High Priest prepared to enter the Holy of Holies, the innermost chamber of the Temple where the Holy Presence dwelt, he, too, immersed in a mikveh. Today, our hearts serve as the Temple: “Let them make Me a sanctuary that I may dwell within them.” (Ex. 25:8). I immerse, as I prepare to meet the Holy One in the inner sanctum of my heart.
Each year, when I descend into the mikveh at Mayyim Hayyim, and open the spigot that delivers the collected rain water, I access the primordial waters, the first “gathering of waters,” from which all life came forth. I immerse. I float. I let the waters of the Holy One support and surround me, giving me buoyancy. I feel the emergence of hope, a glimmer of recognition of the path inward that I will follow, as I journey to meet the One who awaits my heart with Abounding Love.
We invite you to make use of the mikveh as a physical and spiritual preparation for the High Holy Days. Schedule your visit here.
Rabbi Jamie Kotler teaches Torah to adults in the Boston area. Her goal is to open a door into to Torah for spiritual seekers, enabling them to reflect on our connection to The One, to one another, to the chain of generations on whose shoulders we stand, and to the world we inhabit. Rabbi Kotler also serves as a chaplain.