While speaking about a bride and groom’s wedding night, a beraita quoted in today’s daf (Ketubot 56a) uses the phrase חיבת לילה הראשון – ‘the affection of the first night’ – which seeks to describe the passion of a bride and groom as they physically discover each other for the first time on their wedding night.
Yet, notwithstanding the proclivity to associate first things with greater excitement, energy and passion, it is telling that Ellul – the final month of the Jewish year – is often associated with passion, with many asserting that the words of Shir HaShirim (6:3) of אֲנִי לְדוֹדִי וְדוֹדִי לִי – ‘I am to my beloved and my beloved is to me’ contain a veiled allusion to the month of Ellul.
This then raises the question of how we relate to passion at the beginning of journeys and as journeys proceed, and whether חיבה (affection) is only something that can be found in the first of moments or also later down the line.
As I explained in my commentary to Rosh Hashanah 8a (see https://rabbijohnnysolomon.com/rosh-hashanah-8/), Devarim 11:12 teaches us that God observes our behaviour מֵרֵשִׁית הַשָּׁנָה וְעַד אַחֲרִית שָׁנָה – ‘from the beginning of the year until the end of year’, which Rav Nachman bar Yitzchak explains to mean that ‘from the beginning of the year, judgement is issued [concerning] what will occur at its end’. What we learn from here is that God does not just judge us on beginnings but also ends; not just on how we start projects but also on how they conclude.
Interestingly, Rabbi Yoel Teitelbaum asks why the verse speaks of ‘the beginning of the year (הַשָּׁנָה)’ and ‘the end of year (שָׁנָה)’? Why doesn’t it conclude by referring to ‘the end of the year (הַשָּׁנָה)’? And he answers that, oftentimes, people begin a year by saying how this will be ‘the’ year that they improve, and ‘the’ year that they progress. But as the days and months pass, they often fall back to their regular habits and behaviour and at the end of the year, they come to realise that it was just שָׁנָה – like other previous years.
What this tells us is that while it is human nature to associate first things with greater excitement, energy and passion, we are charged by God to ensure that such excitement, energy and passion is also found later on in the year because God does not just judge us on beginnings but also ends; not just on how we start projects but also on how they conclude.
In light of all these insights I would like to suggest that one of the reasons why we associate Ellul with the words of אֲנִי לְדוֹדִי וְדוֹדִי לִי (I am to my beloved and my beloved is to me) is to beckon us to bring חיבה (affection) to the end of the Jewish year and not just the beginning, which should thereby remind us that the most important of our relationships shouldn’t just be defined by חיבת לילה הראשון – ‘the affection of the first night’, but by how those relationships continue after לילה הראשון as well.