The importance of Chai Elul was publicized by the Previous Rebbe, who pointed out that this is a day of joy, to the extent that one says, "good Yom Tov." Since "action is the main thing," we must find in Chai Elul a practical lesson in how to better serve G-d.
A lesson which applies to every single Jew can be discovered only by someone who himself has a revealed connection with every single Jew. This is a nassi, as Rashi puts it, "the nassi is everyone." This does not merely imply that the nassi somehow includes them and directs them, but rather that he unites all of them into one body, making them into a united existence.
The Previous Rebbe used two expressions in reference to Chai Elul: 1)" Chai Elul is the day that has brought and brings vitality into Elul," and 2) "Chai Elul gives vitality in the service of ani l'dodi v'dodi li ('I am to my Beloved, and my Beloved is to me')."
Among the differences between these two expressions is that in the first, Chai Elul affects "Elul," i.e. the particular sorts of service which are stressed in Elul (as hinted to in the four letters which form the word "Elul," as mentioned many times). In the second statement, Chai Elul is described as affecting the service of ani l'dodi v'dodi li.
Ani l'dodi v'dodi li is not just a specific category of service, but rather represents the essence of man's service of his Creator. Therefore, these two expressions are in order, beginning with the easier form of service and concluding with the deeper type.
As mentioned previously, the lesson must apply to every single Jew. The advantage of the second type of service over the first can be easily explained, even to someone whose knowledge might be limited.
Even the simplest Jew knows that he was created for some purpose, for even a human being doesn't create something for no reason! The most obvious reason G-d could have for creating him is in order to serve Him; in others words, ani l'dodi, "I am to my Beloved." He might not understand why it is that G-d needs his existence, but this doesn't change the fact that he does exist and that his existence therefore has purpose.
After hearing that G-d is called "Beloved," the second part of the phrase, v'dodi li, can also be easily understood. One might not understand why it is that he merits a G-dly revelation (v'dodi li) for his service. Nevertheless, since G-d has a special love for the Jewish people ("Beloved"), merit is no longer in the picture. The person sees in his own life and in his own family that love is unrelated to such considerations. One loves even if it may be undeserved. Sensing G-d's love inspires the Jew himself to serve G-d out of love, thereby strengthening the bond between them.
Another difference between the two statements is that in the first, Chai Elul "has brought" vitality into Elul; 1) having brought it, in the past, and 2) merely brought it from somewhere else. In the second phrase, it "gives"; 1) present tense, and 2) from itself.
Herein lies a lesson for the simple Jew and for the scholarly one. The simple Jew might wonder, "How am I, in my lowly state, capable of receiving vitality from Chai Elul?" To this we answer that Chai Elul has already brought about this vitality in the past, and will certainly continue to do so in the future.
To the scholarly person, we must point out that in the first statement, the vitality comes from elsewhere, rather than from Chai Elul itself. In Torah study, this corresponds to learning Torah from another as opposed to learning independently.
The scholar must take lessons from both statements. Although he might be capable of learning independently, there are nevertheless areas of the Torah which he has not yet reached, and must therefore have the assistance of others in order to attain them.
The practical lesson from the above is to add in vitality and enthusiasm in both the particular forms of service of Elul and in the general idea of ani l'dodi v'dodi li. Certainly, this must include additional efforts in the Mitzvah campaigns.
Needless to say, these efforts must be done by the person personally, not merely through an agent. The person might complain that he will be ineffective, being unable to speak English, and unable to contain his temper towards someone who is so far from the Torah. Therefore, he claims, it is better to stay home and appoint an agent!
This still does not exempt him, however. He must personally participate, because; 1) it is for his own good, since it helps complete the purpose of his creation, and, 2) since Torah and mitzvos must be spread over the entire world, every single person's participation is essential.
An additional lesson from Chai Elul: since the month of Tishrei is close, we must be sure that the needy have everything they need for the holidays. Although the recipient might feel dejected at having to receive such assistance, he should be reminded that, "commensurate with the pain is the reward." Therefore, G-d is giving him pain now in order to give him much greater reward later.
Since everything happens by Divine Providence, the fact that this year Chai Elul coincides with Shabbos contains a special lesson for us.
Shabbos is the day of rest, but this does not simply mean resting up from one's labor and sitting around idly. Rather, the holiness of the day enables one to perform a higher type of G-dly service. Nevertheless, this service is not felt to be an effort, but actually a source of pleasure.
We can imagine, for example, a person who is employed to remove the stones from a field to prepare it for planting. Although the person wants the work -- in order to earn money and provide for his family -- he does not feel enjoyment in it. This is because he has no vested interest in the work, only in the money.
When he is clearing the stones from his own field, however, the burden is not felt to the same degree. Since he cares about his field, all he thinks about is the result, not his exertion.
An even simpler example can be brought from a person who is told that all the precious stones and pearls he can carry will be his. Not only will the person not mind the weight, but the greater the load, the happier he will be!
Similarly, in a Jew's service on Shabbos, he does not "rest" from Torah and prayer, but rather adds on much more. Nevertheless, he feels it to be rest, since it is a source of extreme pleasure.
This lesson must be applied to a Chai Elul which falls on Shabbos -- one must carry out the service of Chai Elul in a higher manner, and in a way that will be experienced as pleasure.
An additional lesson may be brought from the weekly parshah, Ki Savo. The first verse states, "When you come to the land that G-d your L-rd is giving you...." This stress upon entering the land points out to a Jew that his creation and his existence in the world ("the land") is not only for himself, but in order to improve the world.
Furthermore, the very first word, v'haya, is explained by the Sifri as implying immediacy. Actually, there are two differing opinions: that of the Sifri, that the first fruits (the subject under discussion in the parshah) were to be brought immediately upon entering Eretz Yisroel; and that of the Gemara, which says that the mitzvah was to be done only after the land was conquered and apportioned.
Although the halachah can be only in accordance with one of these opinions, both can be fulfilled in the spiritual sense by deriving a lesson in how to serve G-d.
The Gemara's opinion corresponds to a deliberate, measured, orderly way of service. On the other hand, the Sifri's opinion "leaps" over the regular order, immediately skipping to a higher plane. A person must embody both of these types of service -- leaping beyond one's boundaries, as well as doing Torah and mitzvos in an orderly fashion.
The daily portion of Psalms is the same every Chai Elul. It concludes with Ps. 89, which ends with mention of those enemies of G-d who will be present in the times right before the arrival of Moshiach.
The lesson is clear -- when one sees people who oppose the spread of Chassidus, one should not be affected by them whatsoever. Their existence is understandable: since we are in the times immediately before the arrival of Moshiach, of course there are those who oppose G-dliness. Their presence must inspire one to do even more to spread Chassidus throughout the world.
The Previous Rebbe described Chai Elul as, "The birthday of our two great luminaries," i.e. the Baal Shem Tov and the Alter Rebbe. However, this expression was changed (in the weekly Likkutei Sichos) to, "The birthday of the two great luminaries." Surprisingly, not a single person found this change worthy of mention, although great time is spent on lengthy discussions of the most minute details. Since one is required to accurately quote the exact expression used by his teacher, why was it changed here?
The Previous Rebbe's expression, "our luminaries," was directed at a specific group of people, to the exclusion of others. The words, "the luminaries," indicates that they have a connection with everyone.
The reason for this difference is simple. When the Previous Rebbe made this statement, Chai Elul was virtually unknown. He therefore spoke to a specific group of people, who were being notified of the importance of this day. However, after many years have passed by, and Chai Elul has become well known, it is proper to use an expression which indicates that it is important for everyone.
We find something similar in Chumash (Bereishis 24:7), where Avraham speaks of, "The G-d of the heavens who took me from my father's house." Rashi explains that Avraham did not refer to Him as, "G-d of the heavens and the earth," because at that time His Presence had not yet been publicized in the world. However, in another verse Avraham refers to Him as, "G-d of the heavens and the earth." Similarly here, after the Rebbeim have been successful in spreading knowledge of the importance of Chai Elul, the expression must be changed from, "our luminaries" to "the luminaries."
It is customary to discuss Rashi's commentary on the weekly parshah, and, on Chai Elul, it is appropriate to find a connection with the Baal Shem Tov and The Alter Rebbe.
In Chumash, we find verses which allude to them both: one verse (Devarim 27:9) states, "Pay attention and listen Yisroel; this day you have become a nation to G-d your L-rd." Yisroel is, of course, the name of the Baal Shem Tov.
Another verse (29:3) reads, "Until this day, G-d did not give you a heart to know, eyes to see and ears to hear." The phrase "eyes to see" (einaim liros), alludes to the Alter Rebbe: his first name, Schneur, means, "two lights." Liros, to see, contains the Hebrew letters for the word "light," and the plural expression, einayim, makes it similar to "two lights."
These two verses are connected. First of all, both contain the same expression, "this day" (hayom hazeh). In addition, Rashi explains the phrase in the latter verse, "until this day" (hayom hazeh) as referring to the same phrase in the earlier verse.
However, there is an obvious difference between Rashi's two explanations of that earlier verse. In the first verse, Rashi says that the Jewish people "have become a nation" by entering into a covenant with G-d. In his commentary on the latter verse, however, Rashi quotes the same phrase and says it refers to Torah study.
Here we find once again "secrets of the Torah" within Rashi's commentary. Entering into a covenant is a general commitment devoting oneself to G-d. Torah study, however, involves a specific type of service, involving one's understanding and intellect.
We see clearly, then, how these two verses correspond to the Baal Shem Tov and the Alter Rebbe, as mentioned previously. The first verse, which speaks of the general covenant, alludes to the Baal Shem Tov, who first revealed Chassidus, and stresses the idea of simple, pure faith.
The Alter Rebbe went further with Chassidus Chabad and stressed utilizing one's intellect as well. This corresponds to the second verse, which refers to Torah study. So too, "eyes to see" corresponds to Chochmah (which is compared to sight); "ears to hear" matches Binah (which is like hearing); and "a heart to know" corresponds to Daas (knowledge) -- Chabad.
This week, we read both chapters 3 and 4 of Pirkei Avos. As above, we can find a clear connection with the "two luminaries": the Baal Shem Tov in chapter 3, and the Alter Rebbe in chapter 4.
Mishnah 14 in chapter 3 states, "Beloved is man, for he was created in the image [of G-d]]...Beloved are the people Yisroel, for they are called children of G-d." Here we see Yisroel, the name of the Baal Shem Tov. This Mishnah has a deeper connection with him.
First we must understand the difference between being "in the image" and being "children." Being "in the image" of G-d means that a person is not merely an existence in and of himself. He was created in G-d's image, to become a G-dly individual through serving Him. In this way, a person is like a servant of G-d, just as a servant is devoted to serving his master.
The Jewish people, however, are also called "children" of G-d. The Zohar explains that a child, unlike a servant, has his father's permission to go anywhere in the house -- even to the hidden storehouses where the treasures are kept.
This was the accomplishment of the Baal Shem Tov over all the tzaddikim who preceded him. He had access to the "hidden storehouses" of Chassidus, and revealed them to the entire Jewish people.
So too, in Chapter 4, we find allusion to the Alter Rebbe: in Mishnah 10, we find a statement of Rabbi Meir. The root of the name "Meir" is, as the Gemara explains, or, light. This is also the root of the Alter Rebbe's name, Schneur. Furthermore, we find a second Mishnah, the 20th, also in the name of Rabbi Meir. This second reference to or makes "two lights," as in the name Schneur -- shnei or ("two lights").
In Mishnah 10, Rabbi Meir says, "Minimize your business activities and occupy yourself with the Torah." This statement is curious, because elsewhere (the end of Kiddushin), the same Rabbi Meir says, "I am setting aside every type of occupation in the world, and will teach my son nothing but Torah." Why then, in Pirkei Avos, which speaks of going beyond the limit of the law (mili d'chassidusa), does he say to merely "minimize" instead of doing away with it altogether?
The explanation is that here in Pirkei Avos, Rabbi Meir is not speaking to businessmen, but rather to those who spend all their time in Torah study. There are two types of Torah study: one is to learn halachah, in order to know how to act. A second category is yagdil Torah v'ya'adir, learning Torah although it has no halachic implications.
The first category is referred to as "business activities," for just as in business, one is involved with worldly matters, so too halachah deals with objects in the physical world.
A scholar might be tempted to spend all his time on halachah. Although knowing how to act is of primary importance, he must be told that after he has learned all the necessary halachos, he should "minimize" that type of learning and study Torah, i.e. the second category.
In Mishnah 20, Rabbi Meir says, "Do not look at the vessel, but rather at what it contains; there is a new vessel filled with aged wine, and an old vessel in which there is not even new [wine]."
The practical lesson from this Mishnah: when speaking of the Previous Rebbe's mission of spreading Judaism and Chassidus, a person might think that these words are not being addressed to him. After all, he is a "new vessel" -- he has just heard about this mission and barely knows any Chassidus. How can he spread Chassidus, etc. when he barely knows anything himself?
To this question, the Mishnah says, "there is a new vessel filled with aged wine." The desire and commitment to fulfill the Rebbe's mission fills him with "old wine" -- the special strength which comes from being connected to one's source.
Conversely, there could be another person who has both learned and taught Chassidus for many years. "I am an old vessel," he says. "Running around in the street spreading Judaism doesn't befit me! That's 'new wine' which doesn't fit an 'old vessel' like me!"
To him the Mishnah says there is "an old vessel in which there is not even new [wine]." "New wine" refers to a renewed vigor and enthusiasm in bringing Moshiach through spreading Judaism and Chassidus throughout the world. Therefore, even if he contains "old wine," he must nevertheless fill up with "new wine."
As for the claim that he did enough in the past -- just as he needs to eat and drink every day, although he already did so in the past, so too he must constantly increase in his service of G-d.
He might claim that new wine in an old vessel is contradictory. To this we have several answers. Firstly, there are many contradictions in the world, such as the very existence of the Jewish people, "a lamb amongst 70 wolves."
Secondly, what relevance is there to all these questions and calculations when we are speaking of hastening the arrival of Moshiach! Your action could be the one that finally brings Moshiach, as the Rambam says that even one action has the power to tip the balance of the world and bring redemption. If this action brings Moshiach even one moment sooner, this is a moment in which the entire Jewish people, including the tzaddikim, for all generations, together with "the Divine Presence" and all the supernal angels would otherwise be in exile! Certainly, Chassidus must be spread with the greatest haste and vigor.