1. Although a basic similarity is common to every Shabbos Mevorchim, as we can see from the fact that the same prayers are recited, nevertheless each month has a different nature and special quality. In fact, the Hebrew word for month is “Chodesh” which means new. Each month is not merely a repetition of the previous cycle. Rather it brings out a new dimension and different qualities.
These differences, in turn, alter the nature of the Shabbos Mevorchim.
Elul is the month of preparation for the coming year. It (and also the Shabbos on which it is blessed) includes within it all the days and months of the year to come. The coming year is in a more elevated state than the previous year, as the Alter Rebbe writes in Tanya, that on Rosh Hashanah “a new more sublime divine light descends, so sublime a light that has never shone yet since the beginning of the world.”
Since the month of Elul serves as a preparation for Rosh Hashanah, the anniversary of the creation of the world, it follows that the month of Elul is connected with the three services that maintain the world. The Mishnah states that the world stands on three things: Torah, Avodah (service, which refers to prayer), and Gemilus Chassadim (deeds of kindness). All three services are closely related to the month of Elul. In fact, the world Elul serves as an acronym for three Biblical verses which describe each of these three services. The verse “Ani L’dodi V’dodi Li” (I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine) refers to the service of prayer. The verse “Ish L’rayahu U’matonos L’evyonim” (sending portions each man to his friend and presents to the poor) refers to Gemilus Chassadim, and the verse “Ina L’yado V’samti L’cha” (G-d ‘caused it to come to hand, and I will appoint for you’ a place to which he shall flee) describes the selection of the cities of refuge. The verse is related to the study of Torah as our Sages commented “The words of Torah provide refuge.”
In the beginning “The world was created in a complete state.” However, after the creation a sin was committed that affected the entire nature of the world. Therefore, Elul is also connected with the service of Teshuvah. Once again the word Elul serves as an acronym for a Biblical verse: “Es L’vovcha Wes L’vav” (G-d will circumcise ‘your heart and the heart’ of your children). This verse refers to the service of Teshuvah.
Elul is also connected with the ultimate fulfillment of G-d’s purpose in creation. In the future, the world will reach an even greater state of perfection that at the beginning of creation. This state will be realized in the Messianic redemption. This connection is also alluded to in the name Elul which serves as an acronym for the words “Ashira L’Hashem Vayomru Lamor” (I will sing to G-d and they spoke saying). These words are taken from the opening verse of the song sung by Moshe and the Jewish people after the splitting of the Red Sea, and which also refers to the final redemption through Mashiach.
So shall it be in our days. may we, through our service in Torah, Avodah, and Gemilus Chassadim together with Teshuvah the fundamental service in our generation of ‘Ikvese DeMashiach’ bring the world to its “complete state” with the Messianic redemption speedily in our days.
2. It is understandable that since Elul is the month of preparation for the year to come (and it includes within it the year to come) the service of the Jewish people during Elul is on a very high level. In Likkutei Torah, the Alter Rebbe explains that G-d’s thirteen attributes of mercy are revealed throughout the month of Elul. This spiritual revelation determines the love and fear of G-d that the Jewish people will experience during the year to come. “Fear and love of G-d cannot be established and implanted in the heart of man through his own efforts alone, but together with the divine light which descends from above.” The Tzemach Tzedek writes that the only way a Jew can possess complete love and fear is when he is influenced from above. Similarly in the month of Elul, the revelation of G-d’s thirteen attributes of mercy arouse the love and fear of G-d that each Jew will feel in the year to come.
In another Maamar in Likkutei Torah, the Alter Rebbe explains that G-d’s thirteen qualities of mercy are revealed during the entire year as well. However, during the entire year, they affect only “the life of the body” while in Elul they affect “the life of the soul.”
The above statements raise a question. Elul is connected with a very elevated level of service. However, the days of Elul are normal weekdays. How can we accomplish such a service in the midst of our mundane: preoccupations?
The Alter Rebbe explains this concept with the parable of “a king in the field.” He describes how before a king will enter his city, all the people of the city will go out to greet him in the field, and he receives them all warmly with a smiling countenance.
Generally, in the palace, only a select few and the nation’s elite can approach the king. However, while he is in the field anyone who wants to can approach the king, who will greet him with joy and grant his requests. During Elul G-d, the “King of Kings” is “in the field.” Anyone can approach Him, all that is necessary is for us to desire to do so. The same King, who is normally in his palace, goes out into the field and reveals himself to his people. Although we are also “in the field,” (we are not as refined as someone who is in the city, and have certainly not made the preparations necessary before meeting the king in his palace,) nevertheless during the month of Elul we can approach Him. This is why it is possible to perform the elevated service of Elul on ordinary weekdays. When the king is “in the field” everyone can approach him.
In the same Maamar, the Alter Rebbe continues with an additional concept. Even someone who is found in a desert (i.e. a state of barrenness without productivity) receives a promise from Torah “And you will search from there for the L-rd your G-d and you will find Him.” Even if he is one of “the lost in the land of Ashur,” hope remains.
This is the general difference between the service of Nissan and the service of Tishrei. Nissan is the service of Tzaddikim (the righteous) and Tishrei the service of Teshuvah. The service of Teshuvah is higher as evident from the Zohar’s statement “Mashiach will cause Tzaddikim to do Teshuvah.”
Complete Teshuvah is connected with Torah study. Therefore, there must be an increase in Torah study during the month of Elul. Because the King is “in the field” we can do Teshuvah, and through Torah study reach a level of completeness in this service. In one moment every Jew can make a transition from one extreme to the other and find himself together with the King in the field.
3. The word Elul is composed of two Hebrew words, “Lo” with an alef meaning “no” and “Lo” with a vav meaning “to him” or “his.” The Medrash comments on the verse in Psalms 100 “He made us and we are his.” The Medrash states “‘Lo with an alef” we did not create ourselves and ‘Lo with a vav,’ to him we complete our souls.”
These two clauses represent two opposite levels in the Jews’ service. The first clause refers to a preliminary stage — to a person who must learn that “we didn’t create ourselves.” The second refers to a high level “to Him we complete our souls.” Then the Jewish people will be 6omplete, and then Torah will be complete and then the world will reach its state of fulfillment with the coming of Mashiach speedily in our days.
4. The Messianic redemption is connected with the Torah portion that we read in the Minchah service, Parshas Shoftim. One of the major prophecies regarding Messianic times is “I will return your judges to their original positions.” This prophecy will be fulfilled through performing a parallel service now in the time of Galus. That service is spelled out in the first verse of Parshas Shoftim “Place judges and police at all your gates” i.e. control all your body’s activity with Torah judgments.
5. In the previous farbrengens it was mentioned that from the 15th of Av onward, it is necessary to increase one’s study of Torah. This particularly applies to the study of the laws of the construction of the Bais HaMikdash.
In the Yad HaChazakah, his book on practical Halachah, the Rambam writes “It is a positive commandment to build a house for G-d, prepared to have sacrifices offered in it.”
This statement immediately raises a question: The Rambam wrote the Yad HaChazakah in Hebrew (as opposed to his other works which were written in Arabic). He was extremely precise in his choice of phraseology. So much so that from one word, commentaries have derived complicated Torah concepts. In the above-mentioned statement the word “prepared” seems totally superfluous. What was the Rambam’s intention?
This question can be answered by focusing on the purpose of the Bais HaMikdash itself. The Rambam writes that the primary intention in building the Bais HaMikdash was to prepare a place to bring sacrifices. Until all the preparations for the sacrifices have been finished, the Bais HaMikdash is incomplete.
This concept is related to the controversy between the Rambam and the Ramban whether making the vessels of the sanctuary is considered a separate Mitzvah or not. Since the Rambam holds that the Mitzvah of building the Bais HaMikdash includes the complete preparation of the Bais HaMikdash for sacrifices, it follows that he considers the fashioning of its vessels, which contribute to this preparation, a part of the Mitzvah.
This concept can be taken a step further. Since the offering of the sacrifices required the participation of Kohanim, Nesi’im, and Israelites, it might be argued that insuring the presence of a sufficient number of each class in Jerusalem can be considered part of the Mitzvah of building the Bais HaMikdash. For should there be a shortage of Kohanim (as occurred in the years directly after the return from the Babylonian exile) the sacrifices cannot be offered. However, it can be argued that since the Rambam says the Mitzvah is “to build a house for G-d..” It’s possible that the Mitzvah is confined to preparing only the house and its vessels and does not include the human dimensions.
6. At a previous farbrengen (the 15th of Av), the wood offering was discussed at length. The Rashbam writes that on the 15th of Av “they would rejoice because they had completed such a great Mitzvah” — the cutting of the wood to be used on the Altar for the sacrifices of the coming year.
At this point a question arises: The cutting of the wood was only a preparation for the Mitzvah of donating the wood for the Bais HaMikdash. The Mishnah relates that certain families brought wood offerings on the 20th of Av and on the 20th of Elul, after the 15th of Av. How can we say that they “completed such a great Mitzvah” on the 15th of Av?
This question can be answered using the basic premise stated previously that the purpose of the Bais HaMikdash was to provide a place “prepared to have sacrifices offered in it.” It follows that provisions were made for all the needs of the Bais HaMikdash including wood. The Jewish people did not wait and rely on the family of Paehas Moav ben Yehuda to bring their wood offering on the 20th of Av, or the family of Adin ben Yehuda on the 20th of Elul. Someone was appointed to make sure there was always a supply of wood.
Just as in the case of the “chamber of lambs” it is ludicrous to thing that its superintendent would wait for someone to bring a lamb for both of the daily sacrifices. All logic compels us to say that he would have prepared the lambs previously. Similarly in the case of the wood, rather than rely on others, the superintendent of the “wood chamber” would see to it that there was always an adequate store of wood. The wood offerings were instituted by the prophets because at the time directly after the return of the Babylonian exile, there was no wood for the Altar and certain families “donated from their own.” Therefore, even when the chamber was full of wood, they continued to bring their offering. However, these offerings were never depended upon to supply the minimum requirements of wood necessary for the Bais HaMikdash.
An added factor supports this argument. The Mishnah teaches that all trees were fit to be used in the Altar except olive trees and grape vines. Likewise, in another place, it explains how a group of priests would inspect all the wood brought into the Bais HaMikdash to make sure that none of it was infested by worms (and therefore unfit for use on the Altar). Since it is possible that someone bringing an offering of wood might not have known about these laws, it follows that it was impossible to rely on donations and that a large supply of wood must always have been kept at the Bais HaMikdash.
At this point, a further question arises. In its description of the Bais HaMikdash’s officers, the Mishnah declares “there were three treasurers and seven superintendents.” Among them was the officer in charge of the wine offering. “Anyone who wanted to bring a wine offering would go to Yochanan, who was the officer over the seals, and give him money and receive from him a seal. Then, he would go to Achiah who was the officer over the wine offerings, give him the seal and receive wine offerings.”
The commentaries explain that this procedure was a convenience, instituted so that the people would not have to go through the difficulty of procuring wine that met all the standards of ritual purity necessary for a sacrifice. The question arises: Since there were also specific standards for the wood used on the altar, why was a similar procedure not instituted in that case? However, that question can be answered with a simple, straightforward look at the practicalities of the situation. The laws of ritual purity are complex. Not everyone can be relied upon to observe them all. However, the factors that qualify wood to be brought on the altar, that it not be from an olive tree or grape vine and that it have no worms, are obvious to the naked eye.
7. Likewise in that previous farbrengen the topic of the M’koshaish Aitzim (the one who “gathered wood,” Numbers 15:32) was discussed. There are two opinions regarding the nature of his actions. The first labels him as a sinner without any qualifications. The second maintains that his intention was for the sake of heaven. He wanted to clarify the Halachah regarding the punishment for breaking the Shabbos. In fact, he had Mesirus Nefesh for the sake of Torah. So much so that he sacrificed his life for the purpose of making the Halachah clear.
These two opinions can be correlated with the Zohar’s statement that the word Aitzim (wood, or trees) refers to the tree of life and the tree of knowledge. The basis for that correlation are the two different translations given for the word M’koshaish. The Targum Yonassan translates it as “cut off.” However, Rashi as evident from his explanation in Parshas Shmos (Exodus 5:7) explains M’koshaish as meaning “to gather.” According to the opinion that the M’koshaish Aitzim sinned, that sin consisted of separating between the tree of knowledge and the tree of life. According to the second opinion, the M’koshaish’s activity was a positive one. He connected the tree of knowledge to the tree of life. However, this activity was not appropriate for Shabbos.
8. In Pirkei Avos Chapter 5 Mishnah 10, the Mishnah reads: There are four [character] types among men: He who says, “What is mine is yours, and what is yours is mine,” is an ignoramus; [he who says,] “What is mine is mine, and what is yours is yours” – this is a median characteristic; and some say this is the characteristic of [the people of] Sodom; [he who says,] “What is mine is yours, and what is yours is yours,” is a ‘chassid’ (pious, benevolent person); [he who says,] “What is yours is mine, and what is mine is mine,” is a wicked person.
The Talmud says that Pirkei Avos teaches behavior which is beyond the measure of the law. How does this Mishnah reflect such behavior? Also, in the clause “What is mine is yours, and what is yours is yours,” the Mishnah uses the term ‘chassid’ as opposed to ‘Tzaddik’ or other similar terms. The word ‘chassid’ implies someone who is willing to sacrifice his own welfare for someone else. For example the Talmud explains that a ‘Tzaddik’ buries his nail clippings and a ‘chassid’ burns them. Nail clippings can cause a miscarriage if stepped on by a pregnant woman. On the other hand, by burning them you destroy some of your own life force. The ‘chassid’ is willing to make that sacrifice to make sure that no possibility exists that he could have caused someone harm. The question arises: How is the term ‘chassid’ appropriate to the Mishnah?
The basis for the answer to both questions is the fundamental premise that the Mishnah uses concise and precise phraseology with no extra words. The Mishnah is speaking about “one who says.” It does not focus on what he does, rather on what he says. It is possible for someone to actually give, to help someone else but to do so begrudgingly. Practically he gives, but while be does so he taunts him saying “What is mine is mine, and what is yours is mine.” The Mishnah teaches us that Torah law does not demand anything more from him. On a practical level, he fulfilled what was required of him. However, on the level speech, his behavior was improper. From the perspective of “beyond the measure of law,” he should correct this aspect as well.
Similarly, in the case of “What is mine is yours, and what is yours is yours” the Mishnah is teaching a unique lesson connected with speech. The clause describes someone who does not have enough to give. However, instead of silently retreating he goes out of his way to make the other person feel good explaining “what is mine is yours.” That statement will influence him to desire to keep his word and to give later on when he does have.
9. Previously the connection of Elul to Torah study was mentioned. That point and the need for an increase in Tzedakah is emphasized by the verse “Zion will be redeemed with judgment and its captives with Tzedakah. Since the present period is one of comfort and consolation for the loss of the Bais HaMikdash, it follows that these services are important at the present time. We must continue our involvement in the Torah and Tzedakah campaigns. We cannot stop our efforts thinking that since the Nine Days are over, there is no longer a need for effort. Nor can we rely on our efforts to spread this campaign among others but must all begin increasing our own study of Torah and contributions to Charity.
This call for action is reinforced by the law mentioned by the Alter Rebbe in Shulchan Aruch that from the 15th of Av on we must increase our Torah study. The days of Elul are also connected to Torah study. The days from Rosh Chodesh Elul to Yom Kippur were the forty days that Moshe spent (in study) on Mt. Sinai preparing to receive the second Tablets. Since he acted as representative of the entire Jewish people, it follows that we should also increase our Torah study in these days.
Likewise, Elul is also connected with Tzedakah. Since Rosh Hashanah, Erev and Motzaei Yom Kippur, Sukkos, Shemini Atzeres, and Simchas Torah are connected with lavish Yom Tov feasts, it is proper that now, efforts should begin to insure that everyone be provided with the essentials he needs to celebrate the holidays in the proper manner. This effort should be organized and well planned and carried out without making the name of the recipient known.
10. Now we are at the close of the sixth year. The approaching Shemitah (Sabbatical) year has many particular laws. Certain opinions say some of those laws take effect from the 15th of Av onward, others from Rosh Chodesh Elul. The Shemitah year is an entire year that can be compared to Shabbos. Just as the Shabbos is the source of blessing for the coming days, the Shemitah year is also the source of blessing for the years to come.
- (Back to text) In addition to its new dimension, each month also elevates the common aspects it shares with the preceding month. This concept is supported by the fundamental Torah principle “Always proceed higher in holy matters.”
- (Back to text) The concept of sin is related to Rosh Chodesh. In the beginning of creation the moon was as great a luminary as the sun. Afterwards, G-d reduced its size. That reduction brought about its monthly cycle and therefore Rosh Chodesh. The spiritual parallel of this, the “reduction” of divine light, made sin possible.
- (Back to text) It is possible to say that the service of prayer is alluded to in the verse “es L’vovcha V’es L’vav” and Teshuvah in “Ani L’dodi V’dodi Li.”
- (Back to text) The Hebrew word ‘Toldos’ (generations) can be spelled with a ‘vav’ or without a ‘vav’. Our Sages termed the spelling that includes the ‘vav’ “full.” Only twice in the Torah does Toldos appear in its “full” form. once in the verse “these are the generations of the world” that describes the state of the world before Adom’s sin and once in the verse “these are the generations of Peretz” that describes the family chain leading to the birth of King David, Mashiach’s ancestor.
- (Back to text) Moshe Rabbeinu who led the redemption from Egypt is also connected with the Messianic deliverance, as the Talmud states “the first redeemer will be the last redeemer.” This same point is also brought out by the verse, “as in the days of our Exodus from Egypt, I will show you wonders,” which describes the future redemption.
- (Back to text) Likewise, in Messianic times, Teshuvah will be the central service as evident from the Zohar’s statement “Mashiach will cause Tzaddikim to do Teshuvah.
- (Back to text) It appears from the Maamar in Likkutei Torah that not only does Elul prepare a Jew to make an “arousal from below” on Rosh Hashanah (which in turn, brings about an “arousal from above” that determines the nature of a Jew’s love and fear) but that the “arousal from above” which determines the Jew’s love and fear is already present in Elul.
- (Back to text) The effect of the thirteen qualities of mercy on the “life of the soul” does not exclude their influence on the “life of the body.” Rather, it represents an added dimension unique to Elul.
- (Back to text) Likewise, in the field the manner of approach is different. That difference is evident in the style of dress. When in the field, we would dress more casually than in the city.
- (Back to text) Occasionally, the Torah uses the metaphor of desert in a positive connotation. However, in this case the Alter Rebbe does not.
- (Back to text) The world was created “for the sake of the Torah which is called ‘the beginning”‘ and “for the sake of Israel who are called ‘the beginning.’” The Medrash comments “Both the Torah and the Jewish people preceded the world, I would not know which of them came first. However, we see in Torah the expressions ‘talk to the children of Israel,’ ‘speak to the children of Israel’ demonstrating that Israel came first.” It is interesting to note that the superior quality possessed by Israel over Torah is revealed (and can only be revealed) by the Torah.
- (Back to text) This high level shares an intrinsic connection to the number one hundred. Pirkei Avos describes one hundred as an age where one is “as if he is dead, passed away, and ceased from the world.” i.e. even while he is living a life on the physical plane, he has totally negated his natural desires to the point where life in the world has taken on a new meaning for him (note Sichos from Yud-Bais Tammuz).
- (Back to text) This factor accounts for one of the major differences between the Yad HaChazakah and the Rambam’s commentary on the Mishnah. The commentary on the Mishnah was originally written in Arabic. Therefore, the Hebrew text, though true to the Rambam’s basic intent, is not exact in phraseology. Therefore one cannot derive additional concepts from the choice of words used.
- (Back to text) The Rogatchover Gaon explains that according to the Rambam the Mitzvah is fulfilled by having a Bais HaMikdash, its actual construction is merely a preparation for a Mitzvah.. The opposite was true concerning the sanctuary in the desert, the Mitzvah was the actual building.
- (Back to text) It was explained that the cutting of the wood was not itself a Mitzvah but merely a preparation for the Mitzvah of Tzedakah; the donation of wood to provide for those individuals who did not bring the wood for their own sacrifices.
- (Back to text) The Talmud gives two reasons for this prohibition: 1) to preserve Israel’s agricultural-resources. Had these trees been acceptable Israel’s supply of wine and oil might have been threatened. 2) Because both of these types of wood are filled with knots and do not burn well, producing excessive smoke.
- (Back to text) The same concept applies to the sacrificial animals. Though they also have qualifying factors, they must be free of blemishes, etc., these factors are easily discernable.
- (Back to text) The Haftorah read on the Shabbosim following Tisha B’Av communicate this theme of comfort. The first Haftorah “Comfort you, comfort you my people” describes G-d’s charge to the prophets to comfort the Jewish people. The second Haftorah “and Zion says G-d has forsaken me” describes the reaction of the Jewish people. Since the comforting came through an intermediary they feel forsaken. In the third Haftorah “0 you afflicted, tossed with tempest” G-d acknowledges the people’s complaint. In the fourth Haftorah, He answers “I, I am your comforter.” (It is interesting to note that the Hebrew word “Anochi” (“I”) is repeated twice. At Mt. Sinai, the Ten Commandments also began with the word Anochi. Noting this relation our Sages commented that through Teshuvah we can reach a level even higher than one who follows Torah completely.)