Elul: A Shepherd of Roses
“I am to my beloved and my beloved is to me, the shepherd among the roses.” (Song of Songs 6:4) Rabbi Shlomo HaLevi Alkabetz explains that one may simply observe a rose for its beauty. One may smell the rose. One may want to lightly touch each petal. A “shepherd of roses” does all of the above and more: He nurtures the roses. He waters them, weeds around them, protects them, and loves them.
This is similar to the Teshuva process. One may simply observe the rose, meaning focus on appearance. This is the person who is only concerned with his outward appearance, and repairs his actions.
The person who is not satisfied with observing the rose but wants to enjoy its fragrance, is the person who understands that Teshuva must not be limited to fixing actions – externals that can be measured – it must be a process that cleans so deep that we repair our inner essence – our fragrance. The person who so enjoys the rose that he looks, smells and also touches, understands that not only must he repair his actions and essence, he must beautify his interaction with others.
God does more: He is the “Shepherd of Roses” : He uses this month to nurture those of us who reach out to Him and guide us through the Teshuva process.