The Rebbe would frequently say that from the 15th of Av onward, it is customary to wish a colleague a kesivah vachasima tovah, that he be inscribed for blessings in the year to come.
Chassidim also realize that together with the wish for these blessings comes the responsibility to take stock of our achievements in the previous year and prepare for renewed and intensified efforts in the year to come.
This year, for everyone who shares a connection to Lubavitch, stocktaking will be a trying endeavor.
For there are aspects of the present year which are very challenging and require earnest self-confrontation.
In this endeavor, the awareness of two factors is of fundamental importance: the goal to which our efforts are directed and the potentials we possess to achieve them. Each of these two factors is highlighted in the essay which follows.
May every member of the Jewish People merit a kesivah vachasimah tovah in the year to come with abundant blessings in both the material and spiritual spheres.
And may it include the ultimate blessing, the coming of Mashiach and the fulfillment of the prophecy, "And those who repose in the dust will arise and sing." [Isaiah 26:19]
17 Menachem-Av, 5754
Likkutei Sichos, Vol. IX, p. 71ff,
Sefer HaSichos 5749, p. 641ff
One of the fundamental principles postulated by Chassidic thought is that all revelations of G-dliness are dependent on man's Divine service.
Even revelations which transcend our mortal conceptual grasp must be drawn down through our own efforts.
The above also applies to the revelations of the Era of the Redemption.
In that era, it will be revealed that our world is G-d's dwelling.
And just as a person reveals his true self at home, so too, at that time, G-d's true self, [k'viyachol] - as it were - the essential aspects of His Being, will be revealed in this material world.
These revelations will not, however, come about merely as an expression of Divine favor. Instead, they will have been ushered in by "our deeds and our Divine service during the era of exile." 
And more particularly, it is the response to the challenges that arise during the era of Ikvesa diMeshicha, the age when Mashiach's approaching footsteps can be heard, which will precipitate Mashiach's coming. 
An intellectually honest person is, however, prompted to the question: Why is it our Divine service that is going to bring Mashiach?
In previous generations, mankind was on a higher spiritual level and seemingly displayed a greater commitment to Divine service.
How can our efforts accomplish a purpose that theirs did not achieve? 
These questions can be resolved by contrasting our Divine service during the era of exile with that carried out by the Jews at the time of the Beis HaMikdash.
In our prayers,  we say "we are unable to go up, and to appear and bow down before You."
When a person came to the Beis HaMikdash and appeared before G-d, he had a direct appreciation of G-dliness. 
And as a spontaneous reaction, he prostrated himself.
This was not merely a superficial act.
On the contrary, experiencing G-dliness directly spurred a complete commitment of homage, motivating him to willingly forgo all personal concerns and subordinate every aspect of his being to G-d.
During the era of exile, by contrast, G-dliness is not apparent, and our commitment is not prompted by external factors.
A person feels his own self, and his Divine service is not evoked naturally from above. Instead, it must come as a result of his own initiative.
When G-dliness shines overtly, the revelation draws a person to Divine service, and causes him to feel satisfaction in this endeavor. When, by contrast, G-dliness is not overtly revealed, a commitment to the Torah and its mitzvos requires more self- sacrifice.
Which commitment is greater? When focusing on the extent of the commitment, how much of a person's character is given over to Divine service, there is no question that the people who lived during the time of the Beis HaMikdash possessed an advantage.
G-dliness permeated every aspect of their being.
Nevertheless, the very fact that this commitment absorbed their minds and their feelings indicates that it left room for a sense of self.
Their Divine service had an "I", albeit an "I" of holiness, but an "I" nonetheless.
In the time of exile, by contrast, a person's Divine service occupies less of his conscious thought.
Thus making - and carrying out - a commitment to Divine service reflects the workings of an inner potential that transcends the person's conscious self.
The person goes beyond all concepts of his personal "I".
His true self, the aspect of his being which is totally identified with G-dliness, motivates his conduct.
This reflects a deeper dimension of soul - and a deeper commitment to G-d - than was revealed during the time of the Beis HaMikdash.
These concepts are related to this week's Torah reading, Parshas Ekev.
Ekev literally means "heel," and refers to ikvesa diMeshicha,  the time when Mashiach's approaching footsteps can be heard.
Moreover, the connection between this era and the analogy of heels runs deeper.
The human body is used as a metaphor  to describe the collective of the Jewish people as it has existed over the ages.
In that context, our present generation can be compared to the heels, for we lack the intellectual and emotional sophistication of our forebears.
The heel is the least sensitive limb in the body.
Indeed, our Sages  refer to it as "the Angel of Death within man."
Nevertheless, we find that the heel possesses an advantage over the other limbs.
It is most sensitive to the person's will.
For example, it is far easier to put one's heel into a hot or a cold body of water than to immerse any other limb.
One might say that this advantage is a direct result of the heel's lack of sensitivity. Because the heel is further removed from the influence of the heart and the mind, it offers less resistance to orders which run contrary to one's thoughts and feelings.
Chassidus  explains, however, that there is a deeper dimension to the heel's responsiveness.
The heel is uniquely structured to express the power of the will.
Our wills are channels for the expression of our souls, and of all the limbs in the body, it is the heel which displays the most active obedience to this potential.
Our minds and our hearts are mediums for the expression of our conscious potentials. And our heels are mediums for the expression of our inner will which transcends our conscious thought.
Similarly, in the analogue, it is the souls which can be compared to "heels," the people living in ikvesa diMishicha, whose commitment expresses the inner power of the soul and manifests the infinite potential of the G-dly spark that exists within each of us.
Other interpretations 
explain that the word ekev refers to "the end of days," the era when the ultimate reward for our observance of the Torah and its mitzvos will blossom.
Indeed, the initial portion of the Torah reading focuses on the reward which we will receive for our Divine service.
This prompts a question: Since the mitzvos are G-dly, what reward can possibly be appropriate?
How can any material benefits possibly serve as fair recompense for acts that are G-dly in nature?
The resolution of this question has its source in our Sages' statement:  "The reward for a mitzvah is the mitzvah."
The fundamental reward for the observance of a mitzvah is the connection to G-d the mitzvah establishes. 
The rewards of health, success, and material wellbeing mentioned by the Torah are merely catalysts making possible our observance.
For when a person commits himself to observe the Torah and its mitzvos, G-d shapes his environment to encourage that observance.
As the Rambam states:  "If you will serve G-d with happiness and observe His way, He will bestow these blessings upon you..., so that you will be free to gain wisdom from the Torah and occupy yourself in it."
These benefits observance brings, however, are not ends in themselves, but merely mediums to enable man to reach his ultimate goal: the service of G-d.
The ultimate benefits mankind will receive will be in the Era of the Redemption, when:
"There will be neither famine nor war, nor envy nor competition, for good things will flow in abundance and all the delights will be freely available as dust." 
And yet, man should not strive for this period in order to partake of these blessings.
"The Sages and the prophets did not yearn for the Era of Mashiach in order to rule over the entire world, nor in order to eat, drink, and celebrate. Rather their aspiration was to be free [to involve themselves] in the Torah and its wisdom, without anyone to oppress or disturb them. 
It is the observance of the Torah and the connection to G-d which this engenders which should lie at the focus of endeavors.
The two interpretations of the word ekev are interrelated.
For it is the intense commitment that characterizes our Divine service during ikvesa diMeshicha which will bring the dawning of the era which will allow us to express that commitment without external challenge.
The heartfelt dedication to the Torah at present will bear fruit, leading to an age in which the inner spark of G-dliness which inspires our observance will permeate every aspect of existence. "For the world will be filled with t he knowledge of G-d as the waters cover the ocean bed." 
- (Back to text) Tanya, ch. 37.
- (Back to text) See Sefer HaMamaarim 5710, p. 237, which interprets the verse (Numbers 12:3) "And Moshe was more humble than all the men on the face of the earth" as meaning that G-d showed Moshe all the future generations of mankind. Moshe saw the dedication of the Jews in the generation directly preceding Mashiach's coming and their unswerving adherence to the Torah and its mitzvos despite their lack of conceptual development. He appreciated that the advantage their Divine service possessed, and this moved him to humility.
- (Back to text) The explanation to follow comes in addition to - and is enhanced by - the concept that the Divine service of the previous generations is still an active force within our world, for good is eternal (see Tanya, ch. 25).
Using this reservoir of good as a resource, we are like "dwarfs on a giant's shoulders" (Foreword to Shibolei haLeket). Our own contributions are amplified by the hard-earned merit of our forebears.
- (Back to text) The Mussaf prayers, Siddur Tehillat HaShem, p. 258.
- (Back to text) See Chagigah 2a, "Just as a person would come to see [G-dliness], so too he would come to present himself [before G-d]."
- (Back to text) Or HaTorah, the beginning of Parshas Ekev.
- (Back to text) See Tanya, ch. 2.
- (Back to text) Avos deRabbi Nosson, the conclusion of ch. 31.
- (Back to text) Torah Or 1b.
- (Back to text) Devarim Rabbah 3:1,3, Ibn Ezra and Ramban to Deuteronomy 7:12.
- (Back to text) Avos 4:2.
- (Back to text) The word mitzvah shares the same root as the Aramaic word tzavsa which means "connection." The fundamental aspect of the mitzvos is the connection to G-d they establish.
- (Back to text) Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Teshuvah 9:1.
- (Back to text) Loc. cit., Hilchos Melachim 12:5.
- (Back to text) Loc. cit.:4, see also Hilchos Teshuvah 9:2.
- (Back to text) Isaiah 11:9, quoted by the Rambam, loc. cit.:5