Every Shabbos Mevorchim includes two themes:
1 -- The general theme of Shabbos Mevorchim, which is the Divine blessing bestowed by the Holy One, Blessed be He, on all the days of the coming month.
2 -- The specific topic of the particular month. Although there is a common formula of blessing for all the months, yet, the monthly blessing is bestowed relative to the individual content of each month.
If we look at Shabbos itself we also see a common factor in all Shabbosim, and at the same time a distinct aspect in each week, as expressed by the different weekly Torah portions.
In the blessing that emanates from every Shabbos to the six weekdays there are also two aspects: general and specific, and, similarly, in the blessing bestowed on the coming month from Shabbos Mevorchim there are also both aspects, the common, general blessing for all months, and the unique blessing geared specially to the approaching month.
This Shabbos spreads its blessing on the month of Elul, consequently starting from today we initiate the Divine service of Elul.
Therefore, it behooves us to stop and study the theme of Elul, which is different from the other months. For in Elul we have no difficulty in finding expression of its content, its essential topics and secondary themes. These subjects have all been well documented and described for us by the sages of the exoteric and esoteric teachings.
Elul is the last month of the year. It is a month devoted to repentance and taking account of the action of the closing year. The purpose is to rectify and complement the deficiencies in the Divine service of the outgoing year.
In the works of the Arizal we find that the verse: "And weep...for one month" (Devorim 21:13), refers to the month of Elul, the period of teshuvah. Having been victorious in the battle against the yetzer hora (evil inclination), and having recaptured the body which houses the soul (the beautiful woman), you must then follow all the details recorded in Scripture: "Bring her home to your house...and weep," after which, "she may become your wife." This marriage of the Jewish soul to G-dliness completely rectifies the past and serves as a fitting preparation for the coming year.
All this begins from Shabbos Mevorchim Elul, when the blessing for the month is generated.
The subject is further accentuated when we bring to mind the inspiring narrative of the Previous Rebbe about the town of Lubavitch where, starting from Shabbos Mevorchim Elul, you could feel a tangible change in the atmosphere and the somber themes of Elul were constantly in the air. The Previous Rebbe described these memories for us when he was far away from Lubavitch in time and space, yet he requested that his words be widely disseminated. We may garner from this that his intention was to set this story as a guidepost for generations.
Torah fundamentally means instruction, as it applies to the Divine service of a Jew. In dealing with the topic of Moshiach and the future redemption, it would seem that since the redemption is a reward for our good conduct, and comes in the future time, the details of Moshiach and the times of Moshiach should not be part of Torah!?
The answer, however, is that Moshiach is a reward which applies not only in the future but also now. Why? Because our knowledge, hope and aspiration for the ultimate salvation, will aid and abet us in fulfilling our Divine service in the corporeality of the present day world, with freedom and ease. So the general topic of Moshiach is part of our real world, now.
However, the ultimate redemption, in all its complexity, is not discussed in Torah -- for it does not apply in this pre-Messianic epoch. Knowing the details of that era will add nothing to our temporal observance of Torah and mitzvos, now. The prophets, too, were not privy to those details, as the Gemara says:
The eye has not seen, O G-d, beside You....
Now, although we may and can attain this sense of freedom in our contemporary Divine service -- yet, we must pray and hope, demand and beseech, from the depths of our heart, for the true and complete redemption. The best we can hope for in contemporary times is no match for the ultimate perfection of Divine service at the time of the true redemption. There are mitzvos which we cannot do in the diaspora time, such as sacrifices, Shemittah and Yovel, and even those mitzvos which we do perform now will be done in a fuller dimension after Moshiach comes.
Thus, we can attain a sense of freedom from all confusions now, and at the same time pray and hope for the true and complete redemption, through our righteous Moshiach, in the future. For then, our dimension of Divine service will be infinitely higher.
We may draw an illustration of this dichotomy from the laws of disqualification of Kohanim in the Bais Hamikdosh:
Any Kohen with a blemish, whether a permanent one or a temporary one, was not to enter the Sanctuary....
(Rambam, Laws of Entrance into the Sanctuary 6:1)
Clearly, there were permanent blemishes which always disqualified a Kohen, and temporary blemishes which would not disqualify in certain cases.
Our Divine service on earth is to create a Sanctuary for the Holy One, Blessed be He. In that sense we are all Kohanim. The golus which will last only a "short moment" is a passing blemish. Therefore even during the diaspora there are aspects of Divine service which do not consider this temporary golus as a blemish and allow complete freedom of action. There are, however, other aspects of our observance for which even the temporary blemish is real, and therefore we pray for the complete redemption, so that we may attain freedom on all levels and dimensions.
Our efforts must reach out to all those who are unaware and ignorant -- those who are "captured" among the gentile nations. To them we must present the outline of Divine service of Elul -- in the areas of Torah, prayer and charity, as well as teshuvah and redemption.
Here one might question: How can we demand such comprehensive self-sacrifice from others? Where do we take the audacity to make such demands?
The answer is that this is not a new request -- rather it is a revelation of matters discussed and finalized in the works of the greatest sages, and any diligent student will easily find and quote their words.
Since G-d only asks according to our ability, it follows that we have the power and potential to involve ourselves in these areas of Divine service with joy and gladness. It is a great responsibility and it can be performed with great joy.
The Rambam explains:
Rejoicing in the fulfillment of a commandment...is a supreme act of Divine worship...
This also incorporates supreme joy -- as the Rambam continues:
King Dovid leaping and dancing before the L-rd.
(Laws of Palm Branches 8:15)
If the Rambam cites this practice in his halachic ruling, clearly it pertains to everyone. Furthermore, the joy is beyond the realm of the ordinary, it is unrestricted joy; beyond reason and explanation.
Dovid's wife Michal, the daughter of Shaul, disapproved, despite her lofty state of perfection. (She put on tefillin and had perfect devotion of mind and heart.) She could not understand Dovid's dancing and gyrating before the ark to the point that she chided him:
How honored was today the King of Israel, who exposed himself today...as would expose himself one of the idlers.
(II Shmuel 6:20)
Her reasoned approach could not fathom the lofty source of such strange conduct.
In fact, her question bothers us too, how could Dovid behave in such a way that would demean him and present him in a non-kingly state. This problem is especially troubling in the case of Dovid, who represented the perfection of the supernal attribute of kingship.
Nevertheless, the Rambam rules that such behavior, when it is genuine joy of a mitzvah, is becoming for Dovid the king and for everyone of us. Consequently, when we approach the mitzvos of the month of Elul we must also inject great joy into our observance.
When does this all begin? on Shabbos Mevorchim Elul. By accepting the good resolutions, to carry out all of the aforementioned topics we will merit the result:
Good intentions, the Holy One, Blessed be He, combines with deed. (see Kiddushin 40a)
Which means that G-d directs the Divine Providence to cause certain things to happen so that we will have the opportunity to do the good deeds.
Having made this resolution we will immediately merit the reward -- which will be the complete redemption, when the song of freedom will be sung, and the framework of Divine service and worship will be complete, including the offering of sacrifices and the pilgrimage to the Third Bais Hamikdosh. So may it be, speedily and truly, in our days.
The Rambam writes that the sounding of the shofar symbolizes the reveille call to awaken people from their reverie of life and return them to the path of Torah and mitzvos, through teshuvah.
Even a tzaddik, whose soul rises to the spiritual spheres during sleep, cannot carry out mitzvos until he awakens. Hence, the preliminary steps in a person's Divine service is simply to wake up and then do what is incumbent on him to do.
With this in mind we can satisfy those who claim that a Jew who is on the "outside" and not at all familiar with holiness, Yiddishkeit etc., cannot even be approached. "It won't help," they say "...there is no common ground."
However, this protester should remember that in his own life there are times when he has no connection to practical Yiddishkeit, simply because he is asleep, and nevertheless, a moment later, when he awakes he gets involved in all areas of Divine service. Not only did he sleep last night, but he knows that he will sleep tomorrow night as well, and once again his consciousness will be suspended, and he will not be able to function in Torah and mitzvos at that time.
Despite this condition of past and future suspension, his observance of Torah and mitzvos is not affected, and he can approach lofty Divine service when he is once again awake.
Now, think about the Jew who is "outside," and ostensibly has no association with Torah and mitzvos, all you have to do is wake him up, just as you, too, had to be awakened. Once you and he are awake you are both able to approach holiness and G-dliness.
Your first job is to sound the reveille call and then, when he is awake, you can lead him to all aspects of Torah and Yiddishkeit, even to the fountains of the Baal Shem Tov, the Maggid, the Alter Rebbe and all the following leaders till our own generation.
This certainly also includes the pertinent matters of the month of Elul.
Hopefully everyone will do his share in this work, for the potential is there: at the same time this will also speed the coming of Moshiach for each mitzvah could be the one which will tip the scale in our favor, and bring true salvation to the world; the true and complete redemption, through our righteous Moshiach, speedily and truly, in our days.
The portion of Re'ey gives us its theme in the first word "Re'ey" -- See! What do we learn from this imperative? The verse goes on to say: "See! I am setting before you today..." (Devorim 11:26). One may be actively involved in the work of reaching out to other Jews and teaching them the basics of Torah and mitzvos, yet, at the same time his approach may be simply as one who only "read" or "heard" about the vital importance of this activity.
Such motivation cannot compare to the enthusiasm of one who labors because he sees "I am setting before you today." He sees the one who sends him out on the mission; the Nassi of this generation, who places the mission in front of him, today.
In Talmud Yerushalmi there is a discussion of the verse:
Surely each man should conduct himself in [His] likeness.
The Gemara goes on to explain that:
You should see (or picture) the author of the dictum as if he were standing before you." (Shabbos 1:2)
The commentaries explain that the essence of study is when you can see the face of your teacher, as it is written: "Your eyes shall see your teacher" (Yeshayahu 30:20).
Thus the "likeness" referred to in the verse in Tehillim is the likeness of the teacher.
Consequently, when one sees the image of the Nassi of our generation in front of him, then all difficulties and obstacles are completely nullified and the mission of the teacher will be fulfilled with joy and glad hearts.
Those who were lucky to have seen the Previous Rebbe in his lifetime can certainly conjure and project in their minds a vision and vivid "likeness" of his holy face. Even those who did not actually merit to see him in life can create the same inspiring mental picture by studying a clear and detailed photograph.
The power of the mind is truly great, and a person can recall many mental images of the past. If one has the determination and will, he can certainly conjure up in his mind a subject as important as the face of his Rebbe, and it can be so vivid and alive as if he were standing before him and actually facing him.
When the work of spreading the wellsprings is based not on hearing alone, but, rather, on seeing the countenance of the sender, then the effectiveness is infinitely greater.
Should you ask the obvious question -- that vision only works when there is light, and since we are in the diaspora, we are in an epoch of prolonged darkness, and we do not see G-d's wonders, -- will we see the face of the one who placed our mission before us?!
In the sicha spoken for the children this past week the phenomenon of the setting of the great luminaries in the sky on the fourth day of creation was discussed. The purpose of the great lights, which, albeit do orbit through the sky, is to illuminate the earth -- and even in the darkness of the night there is the light of smaller light, to shed some light in the darkness. So, too, even in the darkness of the golus if you strain you will see.
In connection with the subject of "seeing," in this week's portion, on the verse:
You may not eat within your gates, (Devorim 12:17)
Rashi tells us:
R. Yehoshua the son of Korcha said: you can, but you are not allowed to. A similar case we have in, "as to the Yevusites, the inhabitants of Yerushalayim, the children of Yehudah could not drive them out" (Yehoshua 15:63); they could have done so but they were not allowed to....
(Rashi, loc. cit.)
[Several aspects of this Rashi were discussed by the Rebbe. This translation covers only one facet.]
The city of the Yevusi was of course later purchased by Dovid Hamelech to be the place of the Bais Hamikdosh. In connection with the Bais Hamikdosh the subject of seeing is very important -- the pilgrims came to Yerushalayim three times a year to see and to be seen!
R. Yehoshua b. Korcha, who is quoted by Rashi, may also be associated with this theme of seeing. For in two matters connected to Rabbi Yehoshua b. Korcha we will find the theme of seeing.
One matter pertains to his longevity:
Rabbi asked R. Yehoshua b. Korcha: In virtue of what have you reached such a good old age? He said to him: Do you begrudge me my life? Said Rabbi to him: This is [a point of] Torah, and it is important for me to learn. He replied: Never in my life have I gazed at the countenance of a wicked man.... It is forbidden for a man to gaze at the form of the countenance of a wicked man as it says.... (Megillah 28a)
Rabbi Yehoshua b. Korcha exemplified the trait of proper care in seeing and gazing. It was this attention and care that merited him long life; a rich and full life, and a long life as well (double the life of a normal person).
During his lifetime Rabbi Yehoshua b. Korcha had many encounters and debates with Sadducees and gentiles, which would have thrust him into a situation where he had to come face to face with wicked people.
For this reason Rabbi Yehoshua b. Korcha tells us that he did not "gaze" at the countenance of the wicked. Oh yes, he must have seen their faces, but he spent no time in gazing and studying their faces, which might have led to some feeling of satisfaction. He met them, but never allowed himself to gaze at them. The reason for this was that he had nothing in common with a wicked man -- not even in the most refined or abstract manner.
Generally, when someone gazes at something it indicates some connection or relationship between the looker and the object he is gazing at. Gazing at an evil person would indicate some common aspect in yourself.
The Baal Shem Tov explained that when you see something unbecoming in another person that it indicates some fault in yourself -- for it is as if you are gazing at a mirror. But Rabbi Yehoshua b. Korcha had nothing in common with evil people, so even if he had to confront them and challenge them -- he never came to gaze at their countenance.
We may also add that the inflection in his statement betrays a bit of self-disbelief and humility. His statement may be paraphrased: "Can it be," said Rabbi Yehoshua b. Korcha, "that despite all my encounters with evil people I never gazed at their countenance?" Truly spoken in a sense of humility, but, in fact, the complete truth; he never gazed at the wicked!
On another subject:
Rabbi Yehoshua b. Korcha said: Anyone who shuts his eye against charity is like one who worships idols, for here it is written, "Beware that there be not a bare thought in your heart, etc.," and there it is written "certain base fellows have gone out," as there [the crime is that of] idolatry, so here also [the crime is like that of] idolatry. (Kesubos 68a)
Here again, Rabbi Yehoshua b. Korcha emphasizes the cardinal importance of good "seeing," by reminding us that one who "shuts his eye" and does not see regarding the need for tzedakah, which is equal to all the commandments, is as if he worshiped idols. Usually in the case of tzedakah we deal with the actual giving or not giving, so much so, that our sages taught that if one lost money and a poor person found it the "donor" gets the credit! So the bottom line is giving and receiving.
Yet, when Rabbi Yehoshua b. Korcha conveys to us his evaluation of the attributes of kindness and charitability, he speaks not of the action, or absence of giving, rather he speaks the need for "seeing"!?
The explanation is that seeing and gazing at the pitiful condition of the needy is the basis of tzedakah, and shutting one's eyes to the needs of the poor is tantamount to closing his heart and his fist. For, even if he does give, since the foundation is missing, and he does not see and feel the need, we cannot know how he will act in the future.
In contrast, when the "seeing" is there and he gazes and takes a sincere interest to see the plight of the poor, then it will influence his emotions and even if at the moment he does not donate for some reason, nevertheless, hope is strong that eventually he will be charitable, since he looks and sees the need.
In the Laws of the Day of Atonement the Rambam vividly describes for us the special service in the Bais Hamikdosh on the day of Yom Kippur which was performed by the Kohen Gadol.
As a preparation for his service on Yom Kippur the Rambam tells us:
Seven days before the Day of Atonement the Kohen Gadol was sequestered from his house to his chamber in the Temple.... (Laws of Day of Atonement 1:3)
At the conclusion of the intense schedule of the Kohen Gadol on Yom Kippur the Rambam tells us:
After that, he cleansed his hands and feet, took off the gold vestments, put on his own garments and departed for his home, with all the people accompanying him to his home.... (Ibid. 4:2)
Studying this for its moral and didactic implications, it strikes us as strange that the halachah should put such emphasis on the slow, drawn out and meticulous preparations leading up to the service of Yom Kippur and then at the close of this service, abruptly tell us that "he departed for his home"! He had so carefully prepared himself, and had risen step by step to the loftiest level of entering the Holy of Holies, there to perform the holiest of services, on the holiest day of the year, and suddenly he goes back home? This seems to be an unwarranted quantum leap backwards! Would it not have been wiser to return home in stages, with an intermediary stop back at his chamber in the Temple, to rest and say Havdalah -- and only then to return home?
However, here we garner an amazingly powerful teaching in the realm of self-improvement and spiritual development. That state of perfect holiness which epitomized the service of the Kohen Gadol in the Holy of Holies on Yom Kippur should be drawn and extended and infused, without any intermediary, or step-down stage, into his home. So much so, that except for just changing his clothes and leaving the precincts of the Temple to go to his house, there should be no other change or diminution, for he carries the perfect holiness -- the Holy of Holies -- right back to his house, and makes it the dwelling place for the blessed Shechinah.
May we merit by virtue of our studying the matters of the service in the Bais Hamikdosh to merit very soon to see the actual service in the Bais Hamikdosh.
Simply put. May the Bais Hamikdosh be built speedily in our days. And there we will bring the sacrifices and we will see and be seen. May the true and complete redemption come through our righteous Moshiach.