We are now a week or so into the month of Elul. Some of you have heard me talk about Elul as an acronym for the phrase Ani L’Dodi v’Dodi Li, I am My Beloved, and My Beloved is mine. This famous text comes from Shir Hashirim, the Song of Songs, which is a collection of writings expressing the deep love we feel for God and for each other as human beings embodying the divine spark. Rabbi Josh Warshawsky shared this interpretation of Elul. Spelled backward, they spell out the word Lulei, which means “if only.”
What is your “if only…?” In this week’s parsha, Ki Teitzei we read
לֹא־תִרְאֶה אֶת־שׁוֹר אָחִיךָ אוֹ אֶת־שֵׂיוֹ נִדָּחִים וְהִתְעַלַּמְתָּ מֵהֶם הָשֵׁב תְּשִׁיבֵם לְאָחִיךָ׃
If you see your kin’s ox or sheep gone astray do not ignore it; you must take it back to your kin. (Deut 22:1)
A very similar command exists in Exodus with one significant change: When you see your enemy’s ox or donkey wandering, you must take it back to them.
Rabbeinu B’chayeh explains that these two verses refer to the same animal and people. The act of returning one’s lost animal (something sacred and highly valued in biblical times) was a holy mitzvah that changed the relationship between the two individuals. Where they were once enemies, by Deuteronomy, they are now kin.
Warshawsky explains “With time and thought, our perspective changes. We begin to understand ourselves and our fellow human beings better. This only happens when we can soften our hearts. That is what this month of Elul, of preparation, is for.”
What are your “if only’s?” How can we all change our relationships and perspectives for the better in the coming year? Lulei…if only. Fill in the blank. When we consider ourselves and the possibilities, the outcomes and blessings are endless.