If you’ve ever been in love or even excited about a new friendship, you may be able to use that experience to improve your relationship with the Master of the Universe. It’s the month of Elul which means that it’s time to consider our relationship with God. How can thinking about the Creator of the universe in such a personal way help us get ready for the new year?
There many similarities between the way we associate with people and God. There are a number of stages that come with any relationship, whether romantic or friendship-based.
The first stage is infatuation. You want to know everything about the person. You want to spend every moment with the person. Everything they do or say is brilliant, hilarious, insightful, kind, witty. The object of our affection is only their best qualities, all the time.
Next comes the harsh reality. This supposedly perfect person is, well, just another human. Which is to say, imperfect. Flawed. Occasionally insensitive, selfish and thoughtless. Disappointing? Yes. Inevitable? Also yes.
Then comes the middle ground where we start learning to accept the person as a whole, their good points and their less flattering points together in one package. We can feel both gratitude and frustration, and come to recognize that despite the flaws, the relationship is still worth investing in. It’s a more mature phase of the relationship, but not without its difficulties and growing pains.
Finally comes the comfortable, committed level where you are truly in it for the long haul, working together as a team, fully invested in the relationship.
These stages of personal relationships can absolutely apply to a person’s relationship with God, and with Judaism. During this month of Elul, it’s the perfect time to assess where we stand in the evolution of our relationship.
When I discovered Judaism I was naturally very infatuated. There’s a lot to love- the warmth of the community, the structure of Jewish law, the dignity and respect that came with dressing and acting modestly. I loved everything, and wanted to do everything one thousand million percent. I’ve heard this phase referred to as a Judaism honeymoon.
Then came the period where I realized that even my role models messed up sometimes, that there were people in the frum community who didn’t seem to live by the values that I was following. That sometimes I didn’t feel so motivated, so inspired. That I was even angry sometimes at challenges that I was experiencing, that I felt bitter and disappointed at the community and at God.
But then I remembered that Jewish law wasn’t holding me accountable for the decisions of other people, only for my own choices. And when I cleared away the negative emotions and subpar choices I had been making, underneath it all was the beauty and framework I had fallen in love with in the first place, the guidelines for living a truly meaningful life, for dealing with the inevitable disappointments and challenges that come with life.
I guess you could say that now I’m in it for the long haul, ready to be more plugged in and invested. My rose-colored glasses are off and despite the imperfections and frustrations, I want to make this relationship grow and improve.
Like any relationship, our relationship with God and Judaism needs tending and honesty and reflection. No matter what stage of the relationship evolution you find yourself in, you can spend some time thinking about what is working, what isn’t. It’s always helpful to seek out advice, take classes and read books, listen to podcasts and read essays to strive to reach the best you can be.
It’s Elul and I am excited to greet the King in the field, to recommit my relationship to Him and to His Torah, to this incredible mesorah that I am so lucky to have in my life.