The heat finally broke here in the Seattle area and I am already looking for the fall. The month of Elul will soon lead us to not only cooler weather but our holiday season as well. The word אלול “elul” is Aramaic and means “search.” Betulah (virgo), the constellation associated with this month, moves along her heavenly course in search of her beloved. The words אני לדודי ודודי לי “Ani ledodi v’dodi li” (I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine) express the essence of this month. For this reason, “Elul” is often taken as an acrostic form of these words—א"ל"ו"ל.
As stated above the mazal (astrological sign) of Elul is Betulah, a virgin. When the prophet asked, “Can a nation be born at once?,” it was a reference to the immediate establishment of the eternal monarchy of Yisrael through the future advent of Mashiach. The breaking forth of this sudden kingdom is compared to birth from a virgin womb. The usual toil involved in the conception of a nation just isn’t present; Yisrael is born by Hashem’s will alone. With perfect emunah we await the coming of this messianic kingdom, an event which is rehearsed in early autumn. Betulah wails, we hear the cry of the shofar’s blast. Tishrei’s “Yamim Norim,” (days of awe) are birth pangs whose memory fades with the coming simcha of Sukkot, a chag expressing the realization of our nearing messianic kingdom. In the sukkah we dine with the patriarchs and are sheltered in a cloud—we receive a taste of the world to come.
Our Sukkot liturgy speaks of the re-established kingdom in more of this peculiar language; זרע עמוסי רחמו, נולדו כילד ממעיץ...חלה וילד מי זאת, מי שמע כזאת “The seed borne by Him [Hashem] from the womb, born like a child from its mother…She delivered and gave birth: ‘Who is this? Who has heard of the likes of this?’” The words chosen to describe the establishment of this sudden nation clearly reflect the mystical circumstance surrounding the birth of our King and help to further build the connection between the life of Mashiach and his nation.
The mother of Mashiach, who is herself traditionally referred to as The Virgin (Ha-betulah), traveled from the Galilee to Bethlehem. She followed her love. Yosef was a tzadik; he married his young bride before they journeyed to the suburb of Jerusalem. It may have been late in Elul, in some traditions this is the only time in which custom does not discourage a marriage late in the month. Certainly, by the time the holy couple entered the hill-country surrounding Jerusalem, the moon of Tishrei was nearly term—full.
The move from Elul to Tishrei, like other transitions during the year, is marked by a changing of the celestial guards. The month of Tishrei is associated with the constellation of Moznaim (scales). The new moon of this month, Rosh Hashanah, is called Yom Hadin—judgment day. Hashem holds the world in the scales of decision. On this day it is decided whom will be born and who will die during the coming year; the success or failure of every human being is measured out. When the parents of Mashiach entered the city of David, it had already been decreed that the child being carried by the young woman would live; he would be born and prosper. Yeshua entered this world, born from a virgin, under the branches of a sukkah—under the cover of stars. For this righteous couple, the shelter of the sukkah became a marriage tent. The relationship of Yosef and his bride was consummated not in the conception of a child, but in the birth of our King Mashiach. This virgin birth rehearses the creation of a nation and a salvation that will spring up from the ground, seemingly out of nowhere, at the returning of our King.
This messianic kingdom and the birth pangs signifying its arrival are written of in the twelfth chapter of the Revelation of Yochanan. His words continue in the tradition of our prophets and sages. Alone, far from home, in exile on the island of Patmos, Yochanan looked in to an autumn night’s sky. He watched as the stars came alive and recorded the vision in a book.
Here Yochanan’s vision is placed firmly within its High Holiday context. This heavenly drama is rehearsed by the stars each year at Rosh Hashanna. Certainly, the woman crowned with twelve stars is none other than the constellation Betulah, the virgin. The crown she wears is a star cluster called Coma Bernice. In Yochanan’s vision the virgin giving birth is the nation of Yisrael; she brings forth a child (the Mashiach) who is taken into heaven to be hidden from a dragon (a grouping of stars called Draco) who seeks his destruction. Yisrael finds refuge in the wilderness where she narrowly escapes a flood sent by the dragon. Again, the account is told in such a way as to blur the narrative line between the life of Yeshua and the history of his people.
ואות גדול נראה אז בשמים אשה עטה מעטה שמש ולבנה תחת רגליה ועל-ראשה אשה יציץ נזר שנים עשר כוכבים: והיא הרע ללת התסעק בחבליה כי נהפכו עליה צריה.
“There was a great wonder in the sky; a woman clothed with the sun and the moon under her feet and on her head a crown of twelve stars. Being with child, she cried, travailing in birth, and pained to deliver.”
Without thought, we often wish one another a Mazal Tov—a “good constellation.” Hashem created the stars for times and for seasons; our wish is that joyful events might inaugurate seasons of blessing for Yisrael. We hope that one simcha is a sign of more to come. Ultimately, our desire is to see the days of Mashiach. With each rotation of the moon, with every movement of the constellations, we await a holiday without end. From the first contractions felt by his mother during the awesome days between Rosh Hashanna and Yom Kippur and his miraculous birth at Sukkot, the life of Yeshua creates a pathway and foreshadows the sudden sprouting of a re-established nation, a messianic kingdom that will bring peace and joy to the entire world.