The first letters of the verse, “I am to my Beloved as my Beloved is to me,” אני לדודי ודודי לי spell the word אלול, signifying the love between Bnei Yisrael and our Father in Heaven that pervades this special month. Yet perhaps a phrase of fear and trepidation would have been more appropriate to prepare us for the terrifying judgment of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. The Rambam writes that we cannot even recite Hallel then, as we do on other Yomim Tovim, since the fear of judgment clouds the joy of Yom Tov. “Can a shofar be blown in the city and the nation not tremble in fear?” , said the Prophet, based on which it is customary to blow shofar throughout the month of Elul.
Nonetheless, the phrase chosen to symbolize Elul is not one of fear but one of love, since love for Hashem is the very essence of teshuvah. During these special days, we turn our minds away from off the foolish distractions that occupy us throughout the year, and direct our aspirations towards the greatest of all pleasures, of which David HaMelech said, “As for me, the closeness of Hashem is my good.” As we seek Hashem’s Presence, He makes Himself available to us. Thus, “I am to my Beloved as my Beloved is to me,” is truly the most appropriate phrase for the month of Elul.
In our search for Hashem and our desire to return to Him in teshuvah, love is surely a far more powerful impetus than fear. The Rambam writes:
וכיצד היא האהבה הראויה הוא שיאהב את ה' אהבה גדולה יתירה עזה מאוד עד שתהא נפשו קשורה באהבת ה' ונמצא שוגה בה תמיד כאלו חולה חולי האהבה שאין דעתו פנויה מאהבת אותה אשה והוא שוגה בה תמיד בין בשבתו בין בקומו בין בשעה שהוא אוכל ושותה, יתר מזה תהיה אהבת ה' בלב אוהביו שוגים בה תמיד כמו שצונו בכל לבבך ובכל נפשך, והוא ששלמה אמר דרך משל כי חולת אהבה אני, וכל שיר השירים משל הוא לענין זה.
What kind of love should we feel towards Hashem? We should love Him with a passion so fierce that it ties our souls to Hashem and leaves our thoughts focused on Him at all times, like a lovesick person who cannot turn his thoughts away from the woman of his desire, while he sleeps and while he is awake, while he eats and while he drinks.
Even greater than this should be the love for Hashem that burns in the hearts of His beloved, leaving them obsessed with Him at all times, as we are commanded, “[You shall love Hashem your G‑d] with all your heart and all your soul.” Accordingly, Shlomo HaMelech wrote as a parable, “For I am sick with love.” The entire sefer of Shir HaShirim follows this parallel.
Although Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur are indeed days of judgment, they are also days of great mercy and Heavenly favor. The Tur cites from the Midrash that on Rosh Chodesh Elul, Moshe ascended Har Sinai to receive the second set of Luchos. He descended on Yom Kippur with the Luchos in hand, signifying Hashem’s forgiveness of the sin of the Golden Calf. Thus the days between Rosh Chodesh Elul and Yom Kippur became days of forgiveness and appeasement for the Jewish people until the end of time. Hashem reaches out to us in these days, tugging at the strings of our hearts, rousing us from the sluggish languor that afflicts our souls throughout the year.
“The voice of my Beloved knocks, saying ‘Open for me.’” This is the soft, delicate voice with which Hashem calls out to mankind. It is the voice that Eliyahu heard beckoning to him after the tumultuous whirlwinds and commotion that preceded his prophecy. “Hashem was not in the whirlwind. And after the whirlwind was a commotion, but Hashem was not in the commotion. And after the commotion was fire, but Hashem was not in the fire. And after the fire a soft, delicate voice.” Hashem speaks to man in a soft voice that can be heard only if man silences the whirlwinds and commotions of his worldly pursuits and turns his ear for just one moment to hear Hashem’s call. Only then can he hear the voice of his Beloved saying, “Open your heart to Me.”
In the parable of Shir HaShirim we find a poignant and perplexing contradiction. “As I lay upon my bed at night I searched for my soul’s beloved. I searched for him but could not find him,” says the maiden to whom Bnei Yisrael are compared. Yet when at long last her beloved knocks upon her door, rather than running to greet him she invents flimsy excuses to drive him away. “I have already taken off my tunic. How could I put it back on? I have already washed my feet. How could I soil them?”
Yet this very same contradiction afflicts us all. Throughout the year we pray three times a day that Hashem may help us return to Him in teshuvah. Countless times each day we pray that He may return to us and rebuild the Beis HaMikdash to dwell amongs us forever in an open display of love. Yet when the opportunity finally arrives, and the month of Elul is at our doorstep with our Beloved finally proclaiming, “I am here! Open your hearts and let Me in!”, we find ourselves too busy to take advantage of this wondrous opportunity to strengthen ourselves in the Torah study, prayer and character improvement that draw Hashem’s holiness into our lives.
We find in Shir HaShirim two verses that mirror one another. “I am to my Beloved as my Beloved is to me,” and elsewhere, “My Beloved is to me as I am to Him.” One verse implies that the maiden first proclaims her love to her suitor, after which the suitor reciprocates; whereas the other verse implies that her suitor first proclaims his love, after which she reciprocates. This can be understood in light of the Midrash:
אמרה כנסת ישראל לפני הקב"ה, רבונו של עולם שלך הוא, השיבנו. אמר להם שלכם הוא שנאמר שובו אלי ואשובה אליכם.
Klal Yisrael says to Hashem, “Master of the Universe, You must take the first step. ‘Draw us close to You, [Hashem, and we will return].’”
We long for Hashem to bring the Golus to an end; to fill our hearts with inspiration for teshuvah; and bring us all back to Eretz Yisrael where He will dwell among us in the Beis HaMikdash forever. We imagine that Hashem will set the procedure in motion which will fulfill all these dreams, but Hashem demands of us that we must make the first step. After we have begun to return to Him and express our love for Him, then He will return to us and show His reciprocation of our love.
Rav Shimshon Rafael Hirsh zt”l expressed this point with a parable based on the verse, “I have lifted you upon the wings of eagles and brought you to Me.” Rashi explains that most birds hold their young in their claws, to protect them from the predatory birds that fly above them. Since the eagle flies higher than all other birds, it fears only the archers that shoot at it from below. It therefore carries its young upon its wings reasoning, “Better that the arrow strike me and not strike my children.” So too, Hashem placed His Clouds of Glory between Bnei Yisrael and the Egyptians, to absorb the arrows and slingshots of the Egyptians lest they harm Bnei Yisrael.
The eagle’s young enjoy the best possible protection. However, they must make the effort to climb onto the eagle’s wings and hold on tightly, since the eagle does not have arms long enough to lift them up or hold them in place. The eagle can only bend its back to make their ascent easier, but they must make the ascent themselves.
The same is true of the physical and spiritual protection that Hashem offers His children. He descends to help us during the month of Elul, but we must make the effort to ascend in teshuvah and thus climb onto His proverbial wings. After the Yomim Noraim pass, it then becomes our duty to hold on tightly, lest we fall from the spiritual heights we have attained.
Now is the time of which the Prophet said, “Seek out Hashem when He is to be found. Call out to Him when He is near”. The voice of our Beloved knocks, beckoning us to open the doors of our hearts to heed His call to teshuvah. The Midrash states:
פתחו לי פתח כפתחו של מחט ואני אפתח לכם פתחים שיהיו עגלות וקרונות עוברים בהם.
Open for Me an opening in your hearts no wider than the eye of a needle, and I shall open for you an opening wide enough for wagons and carts to drive through.
These are the wagons and carts loaded with the blessings that Hashem has in store for us for the year to come – blessings of nachas from our children, bountiful income, good health and long life. To receive them, we need only open our hearts to heed His call to teshuvah.
 See Mishnah Berurah, introduction to 581
 Amos 3:6
 Tehillim 73:28
 Rambam, Hilchos Teshuvah 10:3
 Tur, Orach Chaim 581
 Shir HaShirim 5:2
 Melachim I 19:12
 Shir HaShirim 3:1
 Shir HaShirim 5:2
 Eichah 5:21
 Malachi 3:7
 Eichah Rabbasi 5:21
 Shemos 19:4
 Yeshaya 55:6
 Rosh Hashana 18a
 Shir HaShirim Rabbah 5:3