There are two ways in which we can have contact with G‑dliness: One is to experience divine illumination when it descends from above; the other way is to reach G‑dliness from where we are. The month of Elul is a time of preparation when we examine ourselves, regret our misdeeds and resolve to improve in order to reach a level so that, on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, G‑dly revelation can descend to us. The month of Elul reflects the part of the verse from Song of Songs, "Ani l'dodi…" (meaning "I am for my love…") because it is during this time that we approach divine illumination, culminating in the second half of the verse, "…v'dodi li" (meaning "…and my love is for me"), when we experience G‑dliness from above during Tishrei. In fact, as is known, the initials of the phrase spell the word "Elul".
Elul is a time of mercy, associated with the right hand, which embraces us….
"…His left hand is under my head and his right hand will embrace me," the verses continue. Elul is a time of mercy, associated with the right hand, which embraces us. The days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, in Tishrei, are like the left hand under the head. The left is connected with fear, or the awe that comes from great respect, since it is during these "Ten Days of Repentance" G‑d is considered in His aspect as King and his kingship is over all worlds.
The fear of G‑d descends from the highest levels so that the souls of Israel can accept the yoke of His kingship. The fear of G‑d which we experience throughout the year is not born from within ourselves spontaneously, but is the direct result of the quality of our acceptance of G‑d's kingship during these ten days. If we accept the yoke completely, the fear of G‑d is implanted in us for the entire year.
Elul, however, is a month characterized by chesed - kindness, the right hand that embraces, and the nearness of G‑d's presence (related to "I am for my love…"). It is at this time that the Thirteen Attributes of Mercy are revealed. If these days are characterized by drawing G‑d closer, why aren't there holidays in Elul too and not just in Tishrei? The reason is that the revelation during Elul is different in nature than the revelation on holidays, such as Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.
The Zohar illustrates this difference in a parable of a king approaching his palace. Before he arrives, he passes through a field where many of his subjects - rich, poor, young and old - are waiting to greet him. Everyone who wishes to speak to the king has an opportunity, and he greets everyone warmly. The subjects follow him until he reaches the palace. Once the king goes inside the palace, only those considered worthy may enter, and even then, only if they have his permission. Elul is the time when the king is in the field greeting his subjects before he enters the palace; it is in Elul that we can experience unique closeness to G‑d's presence.
The world was not ready for the intensity of the light, which is the inner will of
Elul is when we concentrate on guiding our wills toward the will of G‑d, at a time G‑d's mercy is especially illuminated. The attribute divine name "E-l", representing chesed, is the first of the Thirteen Attributes of Mercy. It is the outward revelation of the Infinite Light, which is compared to a consuming fire. "E-l" is like a light emerging from the fire, as there is no division between the light and the fire itself.
The name "Israel" is derived from the two words "sar" (meaning "ministry") and the divine name "E-l". "E-l" is like one who administers and rules a person, controlling his attributes. The G‑dly spark in every soul has as its source the aspect of Infinite Light that is above the level of Supernal Wisdom. Just as "the son is the extension of his father's feet", and therefore he must do the will of his father without understanding, in the same manner as the legs follow the will of the head, so, during this time, we concentrate on nullifying our will, guided by "E-l", to the Supreme will.
The entire month of Elul is a time to reflect on the deeds of the preceding year. Our actions can be like a fertile field where things are able to grow, or, G‑d forbid, they can be like a barren desert. When there are thoughts, words and actions not directed toward the will of G‑d, even if they are permitted by the Torah, they are like a desert that cannot sustain life, and G‑d does not dwell in such a place. Every person must search his actions and his attributes to find the spark of G‑dliness which somehow became obscured during the year, or throughout many years. When G‑d created the light and saw that the "light was good", he saw that it was good to hide it; this was because the world was not ready for the intensity of the light, which is the inner will of G‑d. This light is concealed within the soul of each Jew, like a treasure that can be found only after an assiduous search. The spark, which is in exile, can only be found in the place where it was lost, within ourselves. Then we can experience an individual redemption, by releasing this spark hidden deeply within our souls.
[Adapted by Yehoshua Metzinger from Likutei Torah, parashat Re'eh]