On Shabbos Mevorchim Elul, 5746, the Lubavitcher Rebbe Shlita, in his discourses devoted much attention to the theme of Elul: teshuvah, redemption, Torah, avodah, and acts of loving kindness. The reading of the portion Re'ey on this Shabbos enhances this potential by focusing on the reality and clarity of man's perception of his Divine mission.
Many laws of the Shemittah (fallow) year apply during the month of Elul, and in preparing for Shemittah we should lend assistance to our brethren in Eretz Yisroel who face financial difficulties, because of the restrictions of Shemittah.
The Shemittah year also suspends the collection of personal debts unless one makes a Pruzbul. This should be done at the close of the sixth year, preferably on the morning of Erev Rosh Hashanah.
The theme of the month of Elul, which is blessed on this Shabbos Mevorchim, is teshuvah, repentance.
Being the last month of the outgoing year it is the proper time for serious spiritual soul-reckoning for the past year. The purpose of this retrospective is to correct and perfect any deficient aspect of our Divine service of the past year, through teshuvah.
This stock-taking also constitutes a fitting and proper preparation for the new year, may it be a good and blessed year.
The Five Acrostics of Elul
Our sages have taught us that the word E'L'U'L comprises an acrostic for the initial letters of several key phrases which convey the inner essence and meaning of the month of Elul:
- ...[but G-d] caused it to happen, then I will provide [a place of refuge]. (Shemos 21:13)
This verse refers to the "cities of refuge" in Eretz Yisroel and symbolizes that the month of Elul is a month of refuge through Torah. As the Talmud relates:
The study of Torah affords asylum. (Makkos 10a)
- I am [devoted] to my Beloved and my Beloved is [devoted] to me." (Shir Hashirim 6:3)
This signifies the intrinsic bond and connection between a Jew and the Holy One, Blessed be He, through prayer. Chassidus explains that the word "tefillah" -- prayer -- means bonding and joining:
Tefillah has the meaning of bonding as in the verse "By bonds from G-d have I been joined..." (Bereishis 30:8).
(Torah Or, Terumah 79:4)
Moreover, the term "My Beloved" indicates the aspect of love for G-d, as the Zohar states:
Verily! Love is the only true worship... (Zohar II, p. 55b)
- "[For sending delicacies] to one another and gifts to the poor." (Esther 9:22)
This refers to charity and acts of loving kindness.
Consequently, we see the various acrostics of the word "Elul" symbolize Divine service in the three areas of Torah, avodah (prayer) and acts of lovingkindness, which are the pillars on which the world stands and exists.
What is the precedent and foundation upon which all this rests? The act of Teshuvah, repentance, for which there is yet another acrostic of E'L'U'L:
- [G-d will remove (lit. circumcise) the barriers] from your hearts and from the hearts [of your descendants]....
Taken from another perspective we may find that Teshuvah is also alluded to in the verse, "I am [devoted] to my Beloved and my Beloved [is devoted] to me." For when one approaches the Holy One, Blessed be He, (his Beloved) with repentance, then G-d moves closer to the penitent to accept his complete teshuvah out of love.
We may also suggest that the acrostic for "[G-d will remove (circumcise) the barriers] from your hearts and from the hearts [of your descendants]" refers to the practice of circumcision. Just as Bris Milah (circumcision) is the first mitzvah into which a Jew is initiated and it also effects the infusion of the G-dly soul into the child (see Shulchan Aruch Harav, Orach Chayim, ch. 4), similarly the spiritual circumcision -- removing the barriers of the heart -- is the initial stage of a person's Divine service and the first step of teshuvah. For, when the heart is ensconced and concealed and hard as a stone (Heaven forbid), the person finds no opening to initiate Divine service. So the barriers must first be removed so that he may rise above the passion and hedonism of the corporeal world and then he can begin to approach the Divine service of G-d. The mitzvah of circumcision was given to us before Mattan Torah; as such, it serves as a spiritual preparation for receiving the Torah.
This could be the intention of the Rambam when he teaches that the shofar calls to us to awaken from slumber:
Awake, awake, O sleepers from your sleep;... Those of you who forget the truth in the follies of the times and go astray, the whole year in vanity and emptiness....
(Rambam, Laws of Teshuvah 3:4)
It is then, after awakening that we can be told: "...examine your deeds and return in repentance ..." (Ibid.).
Now, in addition to Torah, prayer and acts of lovingkindness, teshuvah and circumcision, which are all referred to by the initial letters of E'L'U'L -- there is another subject, namely redemption, which is the goal and end purpose of all our action and Divine service in this world. This subject is also hinted at in another acrostic of E'L'U'L:
- "I will sing to the L-rd, and they declared saying,"
At the Song of the Sea the future song of redemption was also hinted at, as the Gemara says:
It does not state "they sang" (past tense) but "they will sing" (future). (Sanhedrin 91b)
This refers to the song which will be sung at the time of Moshiach.
On the topic of redemption it should be noted that redemption is not only the end result of our worldly Divine service, but it is also an integral part of that ongoing enterprise. Belief in the advent of Moshiach and hope for his coming is one of the principles of our Faith. The Rambam expresses it thusly:
He who does not believe in a restoration [of King Moshiach] or does not look forward to the coming of Moshiach, denies not only the teachings of the prophets but also those of the Torah and Moshe our teacher.
(Laws of Kings 11:1)
This means that we must plead and demand and cry out that our righteous Moshiach should come immediately. In fact this prayer is expressed in the Shemoneh Esreh three times a day when we proclaim:
May our eyes behold Your return to Tziyon in mercy.
Speedily cause the scion of Dovid Your servant to flourish,... for we hope for Your salvation every day.
These prayers and supplications actually bring the redemption closer. But the influence of redemption must go even further.
For a person to fulfill Torah and mitzvos in a satisfactory fashion, he must attain a state of mental and spiritual freedom -- free of any problems which might confuse and confound him. This idea was expressed by the sages:
The Torah was not given...save to those who ate the Manna. (Mechilta, Shemos 16:4)
Because their sustenance rained down from heaven they had no problems of earning a living and they could truly devote themselves to the study and appreciation of the Torah.
Likewise, when a Jew knows and contemplates on the fact that the condition of exile is only temporary, and very soon the true and complete redemption will be here, then all the concealment and camouflage of the golus will not interfere with his Divine service with joy. In that state he goes on to carry out his corporeal Divine service in a manner of freedom and redemption. Such conduct corresponds to and exemplifies the future redemption. Here is a case of,
May you see your [future] world in your lifetime.
From the aforementioned we may garner that on Shabbos Mevorchim Elul it is a propitious time to encourage, inspire and awaken people to the special areas of Divine service of the month of Elul.
It is the teshuvah month, and we must increase and improve all aspects of the three pillars of Torah, prayer and acts of loving kindness -- starting with teshuvah and emphasizing redemption. These words should be widely publicized, and hopefully they will bring an increase in all the activities of spreading Torah and Yiddishkeit, as well as spreading the wellsprings of Chassidus to the most distant places.
The blessing and potential for all this is initiated on Shabbos Mevorchim of the month. This fact is further enhanced because Shabbos Mevorchim Elul is also the week when we read the portion of Re'ey:
See! I am setting before you today. (Devorim 11:26)
This statement teaches us that a Jew must see how the Holy One, Blessed be He, in His essence and glory, "stands over him," and gives him these injunctions, "and He scrutinizes him" to see "if he is serving Him as is fitting" (See Tanya, ch. 41).
More to the point:
"See!" approach your Divine service with clear vision.
"I" -- (Anochi) the power and strength comes from Anochi -- the Essence -- which is not revealed in any name or letter.
"Setting" (giving), this power is given with good spirit, for: "One who gives, gives generously" (Rambam, Laws of Sales 25:4).
"Before you" -- (lit. "to your essence") the transmission is absorbed in the essence of the recipient.
"Today" -- literally every day. As Chassidus explains, that whenever the term "today" is used it means eternally; this day, too (see Likkutei Torah, beginning of Re'ey).
One more added emphasis. During Elul we must remember the parable of the "king who is in the field," when everyone can and may greet the king and the king receives everyone warmly and with a kindly countenance. We learn from this parable that during Elul every Jew goes out to the field to receive the light of the countenance of the Holy One, Blessed be He.
As a result of our positive action in these areas we will speed up the time of the complete redemption, through our righteous Moshiach. Then, "All your males shall thus be seen in the presence of G-d your L-rd" (Devorim 16:16); "Every Shabbos and every Rosh Chodesh," (Yalkut Shimoni, Yeshayahu, par. 503); as the prophet promises us:
And it shall come to pass that every new moon, and every Shabbos, shall all flesh come to bow down to the ground before Me,... (Yeshayahu 66:23)
May it be so this Shabbos! For Moshiach can come in the midst of this Shabbos, especially at the time of "greatest delight" (afternoon), which is connected with the third redemption and the Third Bais Hamikdosh -- "The inheritance of Ya'akov your father." This also includes this coming Rosh Chodesh Elul, truly this year!
There is another subject which needs encouragement this year which approaches the seventh, Shemittah, year. We must encourage, motivate and stimulate the proper preparations for the observance of the laws of Shemittah in Eretz Yisroel. Many of the pertinent laws apply during the period starting with Rosh Chodesh Elul.
The observance of Shemittah incurs financial sacrifices on many levels, for this reason it is good and proper that everyone should contribute, as soon as possible, to the "Keren HaShemittah" (fund to support the observance of Shemittah). In this way the donor will be counted among the "guardians of Shemittah," who are referred to as:
His messengers, armed with strength that fulfill His word, to obey the voice of His word. (Tehillim 103:20)
Another important practice connected to the Shemittah year applies in contemporary times for all Jews in Eretz Yisroel as well as in the diaspora. This is the "Pruzbul" contract which transfers all debts receivable to a rabbinic court.
The Alter Rebbe writes in the Shulchan Aruch:
Every G-d-fearing individual should be strict to make a Pruzbul in which there is no loss and which is easy to do. He should gather three qualified men and form a Bais Din and he should make the following declaration: "I hereby transfer to you all debts receivable which I have, so that I may be permitted to collect them whenever I wish." ...the proper time for the enactment of the Pruzbul is at the close of the sixth year before Rosh Hashanah of the seventh (Shemittah) year.
(Shulchan Aruch Harav, Choshen Mishpot, Loans, 1:35-36)
It is likewise a mitzvah to publicize this rule in all places. Since the appropriate time for the Pruzbul is Erev Rosh Hashanah, it will be good and proper to make the Pruzbul immediately after Hataras Nedarim (absolution of oaths) on the morning of Erev Rosh Hashanah; at that time the three competent people will be available.
The mitzvah of Shemittah is connected with redemption. In the fifth chapter of Avos it states:
Exile comes to the world...for not leaving the earth at rest during the Sabbatical year. (Avos 5:9)
This is expressly described in Scripture:
Then as long as the land is desolate...the land will enjoy its Sabbaths.... Thus as long as it is desolate, [the land] will enjoy the Sabbatical rest that you would not give when you lived there. (Vayikra 26:34-35)
It follows, that by observing the laws of Shemittah we will nullify the cause of the exile and automatically the golus itself will be eliminated.
The Midrash explains that G-d seeks and searches the land to see if its conduct is acceptable, if the Shemittah is observed its actions are acceptable before the Holy One, Blessed be He.
May it be G-d's will that by accepting the resolution to keep the Shemittah we will immediately merit the reward for the mitzvah:
L-rd, You did restore Your favor to Your land once before, You did turn back and seek out the dispersed of Ya'akov. (Tehillim 85:2)
And then we will once again observe the laws of Shemittah in Eretz Yisroel by Biblical ordinance. Since some of the rules of Shemittah apply 30 days before Rosh Hashanah, Moshiach should come before Rosh Chodesh Elul this year, so that we will be able to carry out the Shemittah laws in perfection. So, too, we will be able to fulfill all the mitzvos of the Torah in perfection, with the true and complete redemption through our righteous Moshiach, may he come and redeem us, and lead us with our heads held high, to our Holy Land, and then G-d "will restore your judges as at first" (Yeshayahu 1:26), speedily and truly in our days.