Ani l’dodi v’dodi li – I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine.
These famous words from Song of Songs describe the culmination of a shared search by two lovers for one another’s affection and attention. And the poet’s announcement is clear: they have found one another and are now reciprocally connected.
Medieval philosophers read Song of Songs as an allegory for the spiritual quest. Michael Fishbane brilliantly summarizes the idea that “the self now asserts the Beloved’s reality in its soul. It feels the growing inwardness and actuality of this truth and proclaims this in terms of spiritual mutuality: I am my Beloved’s and my Beloved is mine…The double formulation (being loved and giving love) confirms an entwined spiritual relationship and a sense of the Beloved’s presence – as emotional reality and personal truth.”
Kabbalists associated the Song’s famous line with the month of Elul, the last of the year, and the lead-up to Rosh Hashanah and the beginning of a new year. R Haim Yosef David Azulai (known as Hid”a) – an 18th century mystic and scholar – may have been the first to articulate the connection. “Ani l’dodi v’dodi li is an acronym (rashei teivot) for ELUL. In the month of Elul, the Holy One desires the people of Israel and becomes ‘Beloved’ (dod) to them in order to draw them near in repentance; God is close to those who call to God in this month.”
Hid”a notes that the last letter of each of the words in the Song’s famous line is the letter ‘yud’, which both figures in God’s name and carries the numerical value of 10. The message of the four ‘yuds’? God desires connection and is available to us “not only in Elul which marks the end of the year but also during the ‘Ten Days of Repentance’ which mark the beginning of the New Year.” Forty days of maximal connectivity.
ELUL begins on Sunday. Consider Elul’s beginning as an invitation to us to focus on relationship and connection – with ourselves, with others, with particular special others, with our families, with our people, with God. Song of Song’s best known line can serve as a powerful guide for that journey of reflection and discovery. Start with ‘ani.’ Who am I? And how do I desire to connect with myself and with others? What, really, does l’dodi mean? Lamed can mean with, for, belonging to; which is it for me? Who/what is my beloved? And what of the vav (and) at the center of the phrase? What does mutual and reciprocal relationship look like?
ELUL is high season for that spiritual and personal quest. It begins now.
Shabbat Shalom. Hodesh Tov.
And may we each be inscribed and sealed for a new year of entwined spiritual relationship and maximal connectivity.