This Shabbos we bless the forthcoming month of Elul. In Likkutei Torah the Alter Rebbe describes the special theme of Elul:
During the month of Elul the path of Divine service of Ani L'Dodi ("I am devoted to my Beloved...") begins, which represents the aspect of an "awakening from below."
This continues until Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur when a revelation of G-dliness radiates down to the world [which is the expression of] "my Beloved is devoted to me."
It is however necessary to initiate the awakening from below -- Ani L'Dodi -- by receiving a grant of power from above:
Elul is the time when the 13 attributes of mercy are revealed.
And this provides the needed impetus from above for the Divine service of Ani L'Dodi.
The Alter Rebbe continues:
We must understand why the days of Elul are weekdays and not holidays similar to normal Shabbosim and holidays when there is a revelation and radiation of G-dliness. This is especially strange when the 13 attributes are revealed since they represent a very lofty effulgence. This [paradox] will be understood by way of a parable of a king [who is travelling and] before he enters the royal city is greeted by the city folk who go out to the surrounding fields to welcome their king.
Everyone who wishes may go out to the field to greet the king and he receives everyone with a pleasant countenance and shows a friendly, smiling face to everyone.... So, too, in a like manner during the month of Elul we go out to greet the Holy One, Blessed be He, in the "field." (Likkutei Torah, Devorim 32a)
This means that the G-dly light which radiates to the world on every Shabbos and Yom Tov cannot really penetrate the physical domain -- instead the world is uplifted. Only then, after it is refined can it receive the G-dly vitality. In human Divine service this would refer to the rule that on Shabbos one must have no contact with weekday activities (creative labor).
However, during Elul the revelation of the 13 attributes is drawn down to the "field" -- the king comes to the field -- consequently, the field folk may and can greet the king while they are still in their state of being field folk involved in field activities, wearing the garments of the field, etc. The king also shows them a pleasant countenance and a happy face.
This parable bears some further and deeper explanation.
The use of a human king as a parable for the Supernal helps us to illustrate lofty concepts in the framework of temporal experience. Although the true reality may be found in the celestial realm, it is from there that the temporal reality devolves, is created, formed and takes on its corporeality.
However, in order to help the "field folk" visualize the spiritual, we must introduce the concepts through the medium of a parable about a human king, so that it might be perceived and comprehended.
This principle must be applied to all levels of people, for which reason we find that even the parables, lessons and examples used in Torah will include non-Jews, or even animals, and non-kosher animals.
In our case of the king in the field -- the parable must reach even the lowest level of the field -- and even there the king will be revealed.
In speaking of people who are in the field, we also include many levels and conditions. Some people might plow and plant a field consecrated to holiness, while others are occupied in more mundane work.
One might even be on a level, which is truly nethermost, similar to "Esav...the man of the field" (G-d forbid).
Yet, as all of these are included in the term "field folk" in the parable, despite their lowly position they still have the ability to greet the king -- and the king will receive them and show them a friendly countenance. So, as the discourse explains -- they are given the power to return to the king -- and concentrate their essential will to be close to G-d and to cleave to Him with heart and soul, in a manner of "I am devoted to my Beloved and my Beloved is devoted to me."
This concept in the discussion of Likkutei Torah hints at the fact that the days of Elul are not Yom Tov days, but are similar to Purim, when work is permitted -- because the G-dly revelations is clothed in a hidden manner. If so, why do we say the penitential prayers during Elul?
The answer is that the parable of the king included even those who are at the nadir of mundanity -- even they may greet the king. It is however appropriate that Tachnun (Penitential Prayers) should be recited, for at this level we deal with matters that need atonement.
Let us further examine this theme of Elul, Ani L'Dodi -- "I am devoted to my Beloved...." The term dodi (friend) actually (by itself) denotes an aspect of love. In Shulchan Aruch the Bach explains:
His heart is close to his "Beloved" with feelings of repentance, and then his Beloved comes close to accept his teshuvah out of love.
Thus, the main element in the king's visit to the fields during Elul is the theme of love. Then the Holy One, Blessed be He, is called Dodi -- "my Beloved." So, all year round G-d is close to a person and searches his heart -- but during Elul it is done with love.
"Dodi" emphasizes this point. "King" (even the King in the field) carries the connotation of aloofness, the separateness of a king from his subjects -- both the city dwellers as well as the country folk. Therefore Elul carries the acrostic for "Ani L'Dodi" to indicate the closeness and love. The novel thought that comes to the fore here is that the movement of closeness and love of G-d is directed to every Jew no matter what his/her standing or condition, even if he is a "field man" of the lowest kind.
Furthermore, it is specifically in relation to such a person that the essential love of G-d reveals itself and expresses itself.
The "city folk" are Jews who observe Torah and mitzvos in a respectable manner and so G-d's love for them is understandable -- it is relative to the level of their revealed powers.
Those lowly "field" people who share a common characteristic with "Esav...the man of the field," do not show any reasonable attributes which would engender a feeling of love from Above. It is only G-d's essential love for the Jewish people -- beyond logic and understanding which touches G-d's intrinsic power of choice -- that generates His love for the field folk.
True choice is, after all, applicable only when the choices are equally balanced, so that intellect and emotions will show no preference -- at that point true choice must step in to make the choice.
In Scripture we find: "Was not Esav Ya'akov's brother?..." This refers to those Jews who outwardly appear to be like Esav. Nevertheless, "yet, I loved Ya'akov." Not because of some intellectual determinant -- but only because G-d so chose: "You have chosen us from among all nations and tongues." (Siddur)
Thus, G-d's essential love for the Jewish people first reveals itself in relation to the lowly field folk, and then too, will the city folk be included in that essential love.
Thus, the descent into the field is for the purpose of reaching the state of Ani L'Dodi. In a broad sense, Jewish souls in the spiritual worlds stand on a level of city dwellers. When they are sent to the temporal existence on earth they enter the realm of the field folk and may fall to the lowest level in the field. But this descent is for the purpose of rising again to the ultimate heights, the revelation, the essential and suprarational love of G-d to the Jewish people by virtue of G-d's choice.
Consequently, in man's Divine service his love for G-d is intensified and magnified, as expressed in the verse: "I am devoted to my Beloved" -- analogous to the love of the Baal Teshuvah -- "whose soul thirsts with greater passion than the souls of the righteous" -- the all consuming love and yearning soul. (see Tanya ch. 7)
All of this applies in the month of Elul, for it was on Rosh Chodesh Elul that Moshe was called back to the mountain by G-d to receive the second set of Tablets. This clearly indicated that the fall associated with the broken first Tablets would be rectified in a "double measure." For this reason we blow shofar during Elul to call the people to teshuvah.
Let us consider for a moment the relatively unique style which the Alter Rebbe chose in the case of the detailed parable of a king in the field, for generally speaking the use of parable is not common in Likkutei Torah.
In the area of teaching when a sage seeks to explain a difficult concept to a student he will proceed to lower his intellect into a parable and thereby bring the complex idea into simple terms, so that even the simple person may comprehend his lofty ideas. It is only the truly accomplished scholar who understands the inner depth of his intellectual concept that is able to clothe the pure thought he has conceived into a foreign and simpler form. Thus, in developing the parable the sage will also reach a deeper understanding of his own ideas.
The Alter Rebbe saw that through the parable of the king in the field we would be able to understand a new concept, that when the citifolk go out to the fields -- to the lowest levels of the field -- a new and lofty revelation will take place, G-d's love for the Jewish people, engendered solely by His choice, will be revealed.
This year Rosh Chodesh Elul occurs on Tuesday and Wednesday. This concurrence sets greater emphasis on the theme of descent for the purpose of ascent.
On the third day of creation the blessing of "Ki Tov" -- "that it was good," was doubled -- one for the completion of the creation begun on the second day and the second for the creation completed on the third day.
This phenomenon takes account of a descent, represented by the dissent created on the second day, that needed the correction of the third day in order to receive the blessing of "Ki Tov." The ascent came when the blessing was doubled.
The fourth day likewise has this dichotomy, for first the "two great lights" were created and then there was a descent, the moon was forced to reduce itself. But this diminution has as its goal the ultimate ascent, when the attribute of Malchus -- royalty -- (represented by the moon) will rise -- "a woman shall court (encompass) a man" (Yermiyahu 31:21), which reflects the quality of the Baal Teshuvah over the Tzaddik.
The lesson we must cull:
When a Jew makes a serious and just introspection during Elul, which is the appropriate time for soul searching and repentance, he could face the unpleasant fact that he does not measure up to what is expected of him. When he realizes how much of a "field-person" he is -- he might feel dejected and dispirited.
When he further realizes that the enduring diaspora, as well as the golus of the Shechinah, are caused by his shortcomings and that everything is on "hold" until he rectifies himself, he will certainly experience a strong feeling of despair; can there be a worse feeling than this?!
Here we are informed that during Elul there is a revelation of the essential love of G-d to every Jew -- no questions asked -- no matter what the level of the Jew. In fact, G-d goes out to see him in his condition as a field hand, in the field! And there G-d reveals His love and affection as "Dodi" -- "my Beloved." Coming to the field shows that "the Shechinah dwells with the Jewish people in their suffering of the golus." (Rashi, Nitzavim 30:3)
Thus G-d holds up His self-redemption, as it were, and the salvation of 600,000 Jews -- minus one -- all because of him! In order to awaken him to return to G-d in repentance and to be united with G-d: Ani L'Dodi -- "I am devoted to my Beloved and my Beloved is devoted to me."
If so, why the despair?! There is no room for gloom. On the contrary, utilize this revelation of G-d's love for the Jewish people to approach G-d in a manner of "Ani L'Dodi."
Another lesson in working with others. Just as G-d leaves the royal city and journeys out to the field to the field folk and greets them all with a friendly countenance and is friendly to all, so, too, must Jews act in a similar fashion among themselves. Those Jews who are the spiritual city dwellers must leave their places in the royal city and venture into the field in order to encourage the field people to approach G-d. All this must be done in a joyous manner.
G-d rewards measure for measure. When you relate to other Jews in the manner described, G-d will reveal His friendly countenance to you, and: "In the light of a King's countenance is life" (Mishlei 16:15) -- the blessing for a good and sweet year for you and your family will be increased -- materially and spiritually.
The power and blessing for all this originates on Shabbos Mevorchim Elul, when Rosh Chodesh is blessed, as well as the days of the month, with all manner of blessing, especially the King in the field.
When a minyan (quorum of ten) of Jews gather and invoke the blessing of the new month they bring about the blessing.
May we see the true redemption and the building of the Beis HaMikdash immediately, on this very same day of Shabbos Mevorchim Elul, then automatically we will usher in the new year of Hakhel in a state of redemption.
This week we read the portion of Re'ey. "Re'ey" -- "see!" emphasizes the quality of seeing which generally verifies the matter more positively than hearing.
Chassidus explains that the comprehension of Torah in the future will take on the form of seeing. It is also related of the AriZal that he comprehended through seeing in one hour what it would take eighty years to explain by speaking alone.
Thus, on Shabbos Re'ey we must have some of that power and potential to see. Being that today is Shabbos Mevorchim Rosh Chodesh Elul we must clearly apply that vision to the Divine service of Ani L'Dodi -- "I am devoted to my Beloved and my Beloved is devoted to me." Not only should he hear about the King but he should see how the King approaches every Jew and greets him/her warmly and shows them a smiling countenance.
In encouraging other fieldmen to approach G-d, their Ani L'Dodi should also be of clear vision.
The mission which the Previous Rebbe mapped out for us is to work to spread Torah and Yiddishkeit and the wellsprings of Chassidus to the outside. When this mission is clearly seen and kept in focus then the job is done with more enthusiasm and perfection.
When we sincerely carry out our mission of spreading the wellsprings to the outside we also speed the coming of our righteous Moshiach. As the Baal Shem Tov related to us, that when he asked Moshiach when he would come he was told: "When the wellsprings of your teachings spread to the outside." Then we will attain the ultimate vision: "the glory of G-d will be revealed and all flesh will see." (Yeshayahu 40:5)
Today is the 27th (Z'ach) of Menachem Av [the number 27 in Hebrew gematria is represented by the letters chof and zayin, hence z'ach, meaning "pure."] "Purity" and "clarity" are also adjectives which may be used to described sight, hence the connection to seeing.
On the 27th day of the month we read the section of Tehillim which includes the 15 chapters of Shir HaMa'alos. The term Shir -- song -- has the connotation of rising -- as Chassidus explains. Thus, Shir HaMa'alos would indicate a double ascent.
The 15 chapters of Shir HaMa'alos were sung by the Levites in the Beis HaMikdash when they stood on the 15 steps that rose from the first courtyard (precinct of the women) to the second courtyard (precinct of the Israelites). In our Divine service of Elul we may take a lesson from this, that even one who is on a very high level (i.e. in the Beis HaMikdash) must still seek to rise and improve even more. At the same time he must also influence those who look to him for guidance.
The 15 Shir HaMa'alos also allude to the esoteric powers of love and fear of the heart, which should influence all the activities of Elul.
By making the proper resolutions may we merit the true vision -- the revelation of the glory of G-d -- when the negative forces of Amalek will be destroyed and our judges will be restored -- the great Sanhedrin in the office of the "hewn stone," in the Third Beis HaMikdash, which will be built speedily and truly in our days.
In the portion of Re'ey the Torah tells us:
Do not listen to the words of that prophet or dreamer. G-d your L-rd is testing you to see if you are truly able to love G-d your L-rd with all your heart and all your soul. (Devorim 13:4)
The five-year-old Chumash student will raise a basic question: Does G-d need a test to know if you love G-d? Without doubt G-d knows this without any tests.
What is more troubling is that G-d should cause some miraculous event to happen in this test process which is clearly in violation of His own rule that "the Holy One, Blessed be He does not perform a miracle for naught"; after all, G-d knows without the test!
Why does Rashi ignore this problem when all of the Bible commentators tackle the question and offer answers within their own styles and contexts?
If Rashi believes, as some commentaries explain, that the one who will see and evaluate his faith in G-d as a result of the test, will be the person (the tested rather than the tester) and not the Holy One, Blessed be He -- then Rashi cannot remain silent and must say so -- because the simple sentence structure does not infer such an interpretation.
On another subject the Torah tells us:
You may then spend the money on anything you desire, whether it be cattle, smaller animals, wine, brandy, or anything else for which you have an urge. (Ibid. 14:26)
On this Rashi explains:
On anything you desire -- this is a general statement. Whether it be cattle, smaller animals, wine, brandy -- this is a particularization. Or anything else for which you have an urge -- Scripture again includes them in a general statement: How is it in the case of the particulars? They have the characteristics of being products of things themselves produced by the earth, and are fit to be food for man, etc. (Rashi, loc. cit.)
Several questions beg to be asked:
Rashi is not a halachic code. What was lacking in the plain meaning of the verse that forced Rashi to quote the halachic deduction of the Gemara?
On the other hand, once he does lead us to the Talmudic approach why does he leave us in the middle of the statement without spelling out the actual halachah deduced by the Talmud, that it would exclude "water, salt, mushrooms, etc.?"
A third Rashi:
Celebrate to G-d your L-rd for seven days...so that you will be only happy. (Ibid. 16:15)
Here Rashi adds:
According to its plain sense this is not the expression of a command but expresses an assurance, "You will be happy!" According to the halachic interpretation the Rabbis derived from here that the night before the last day of the festival is to be included in the obligation of rejoicing (Rashi, loc. cit.)
Several questions come to mind:
1 -- Why is the first explanation not enough, why must Rashi add a second interpretation? This is especially perplexing since Rashi writes that the first explanation is according to the plain meaning -- why add the halachic approach?
2 -- How does the Talmud derive from the word "only" that the last day must also be joyous, the word "only" is exclusive not inclusive!
3 -- With this thought in mind we might ask that perhaps the inclusion means to include the night after the holiday in which case it could apply to Pesach and Shavuos as well as Sukkos, why is Rashi silent on this?
In seeking to clarify these difficult Rashi's we must keep in mind the rule that Rashi does not repeat some explanation which he presented earlier in his commentary on Chumash, for he relies that the five-year-old Chumash student will remember his studies. This is especially so in the case of a commentary which arouses wonder or surprise.
When the five-year-old Chumash student reads the words, "G-d your L-rd is testing you," his mind immediately clicks back to the first test recorded in Scripture: "G-d tested Avraham" at the test of the Akeida. There the wonder was very strong. After all, G-d had finally granted Avraham -- at the age of 100 -- the offspring he had longed for, and now He was telling him to offer his beloved son as a burnt-offering. When the child studies Devorim and reaches this verse which speaks of tests he still remembers the facts surrounding the Akeida.
Therefore, Rashi need not answer the dilemma here, as his explanation in Bereishis will also clear up the problem here.
In the story of the Akeida the Torah tells us, "For now I know that you fear G-d," to which Rashi explains:
From now I have a reply to give to Satan and to the nations who wonder at the love I bear you. I now have a reason to give them now that they see that you are a G-d-fearing man. (Rashi, Bereishis 22:12)
Thus, Rashi makes it clear that when G-d says, "Now I know" (after a test), it does not refer to G-d's personal knowledge for that was perfect even before the test, rather, there is now knowledge and facts which provide an answer to the Satan and meddlesome gentile nations -- for the story had spread throughout the world.
So too, in our case of the test of the false prophet -- G-d needs not know for Himself, (He already does) rather, a new knowledge is generated by the conduct of the faithful (who "love G-d") which must be publicized in the world to answer the cynics and explain G-d's special love for the Jewish people.
Rashi's approach to explain the verse about Ma'aser Sheni is actually very logical and necessary. It is more surprising that those who published the question did not realize it themselves.
The verse as it stands is not clear in the plain meaning, for when the Torah says, "you may spend the money on anything you desire," why should it go on to say: "cattle,...wine, brandy," these are already included in "anything"? Moreover why repeat: "anything else..."?
Rashi must explain that this verse is structured on the rule of "a general rule followed by a specification and then again by a general rule," (Toras Kohanim) in which case the general rule may only include those items which are similar to the specifications mentioned, which Rashi explains must be the product of produce, and must be fit for human consumption.
This interpretation modifies our translation of the verse, whereas "anything you desire" could theoretically mean "anything," when the verse lists certain specifics -- other groups are now excluded. And when the latter general rule concludes the verse, it teaches that the specifics listed in the middle are not the exclusive things, but only the prototypes and all other items bearing similar characteristics are also to be included.
It is now clear that Rashi saw no need to finish the Talmudic deduction here as he did not want to teach the halachah, rather only the rule that has to be applied to learn the plain meaning of this verse.
When Rashi approaches the verse, "...you will be only happy," he wonders why it was necessary to state this, since in the previous verse the Torah said, "you shall rejoice on your festival." (Devorim 16:14) So he explains that the second reference to joy is not a command but a promise. However, this answer does not satisfy Rashi because there are many commandments in the Torah which are not accompanied by promises, why should the Torah add the promise here? And furthermore, why does the Torah use the term "only" which generally means to exclude something.
To answer these questions, Rashi goes on to quote the halachic exegesis of the Talmud which will supplement the plain meaning. According to Talmudic deduction this verse is not a promise, rather it includes a new command not covered in the earlier verse.
In chapter 16 of Devorim the Torah speaks of the Holidays of Pesach, Shavuos and Sukkos, but the concluding holiday of Sukkos, namely, Shemini Atzeres, is ignored. This is in contradistinction to the other chapters in Scripture which set out the yearly holidays. The absence of Shemini Atzeres might lead us to think that the rule of rejoicing will also not apply to Shemini Atzeres. For this reason the Talmud deduces that the verse, "So that you will be only happy," carries the additional commandment to rejoice on the eve of Shemini Atzeres. By citing this second interpretation Rashi removes any qualms concerning the first commentary.
But why does Scripture forget Shemini Atzeres in this chapter only to be inferred by a secondary deduction?
The answer to this is that the Torah wanted to include Shemini Atzeres, but with the elimination of several holiday practices. Since Shemini Atzeres is the eighth day of Sukkos we might assume that the other practices of Sukkos should be carried over to Shemini Atzeres. Therefore, the Torah includes Shemini Atzeres only by inference from the verse, "you will be only happy," to indicate that the other observances of Sukkos are dropped and only the rejoicing continues. Moreover, the rejoicing only applies in the evening and not during the day. Because this joy is not an integral part of the Shemini Atzeres holiday, rather it is because of the conclusion of Sukkos -- the night which ends the holiday. This is its Talmudic meaning.
[Note: This discussion deals only with Rashi's understanding of the mitzvah "Celebrate to G-d" as it applies to Shemini Atzeres. The total joy of Shemini Atzeres and Simchas Torah include other aspects of celebration not covered in this Sicha.]
In the sixth chapter of Pirkei Avos the Mishnah teaches:
Rabbi Shimon b. Yehudah said in the name of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai: Beauty, strength, wealth, honor, wisdom, old age, ripe old age, and children, are befitting the righteous and befitting the world.... (Pirkei Avos 6:8)
The various attributes listed in this Mishnah have been discussed on various occasions, however one of the verses quoted by the Mishnah leaves us a bit perturbed:
As it is stated...: "The moon shall be abashed and the sun put to shame when the L-rd of hosts will reign on Mount Zion and in Yerushalayim, and honor shall be before His elders." (Yeshayahu 24:23) (Ibid.)
Clearly this verse is cited to give precedence to the honor befitting the righteous, the "Elders," meaning sages and righteous. If so why does the author of the Mishnah also cite the first half of the verse which adds no proof to this argument?
Should you say that we must follow the rule, "any verse which Moshe had not divided, we may not divide," it will be pointed out that in Avos itself we find several examples of citing only the half verse which apply specifically to the points derived.
If ten people sit together and occupy themselves with Torah the Divine Presence rests among them, as it is said: "G-d stands in the assembly of the L-rd...."
The Mishnah there quotes only the first half of the verse.
Later on we find:
From where do we learn that the same is true even of three? For it is said "...among the judges it renders judgment." (Ibid.)
Here he quotes the latter part of the verse but skips the former half. It is possible that in chapter 3, Mishnah 6 the Mishnah could not quote both parts of the verse together because they are self-contradictory: the first half speaks of ten and the latter half speaks of three!
With this is mind however our question on this Mishnah is strengthened. The verse: "The moon shall be abolished...when the L-rd...will reign in Yerushalayim...," is clearly a prophecy dealing with the times of Moshiach, whereas the statement of the Mishnah concerning "beauty, strength, etc.," applies in contemporary times. This is more clearly emphasized at the close of the Mishnah:
Rabbi Shimon b. Menasya said: These seven qualities which the sages enumerated as befitting the righteous -- all of them were realized in Rabbi (Rabbi Yehudah HaNassi) and his sons. (Avos 6:8)
When the author of the Mishnah brings the words of the verse, "and honor shall be for the Elders," which speaks of present time, he cannot also quote the first half of the verse which speaks of the future time, which has still not come -- it would be self-contradictory!
Why then did not the author quote only the end of the verse to prove his point?
The truth is that the first half of the verse also adds honor to the sages. All the promises of the time of Moshiach depend on our action in the present state of the world. "Today is the time for action, reward will come tomorrow." If so, the fulfillment of the prophecy: "The moon shall be abashed...the L-rd of hosts will rein in Yerushalayim," depends on the honor given to the sages now! For this reason the Mishnah quotes the whole verse, to remind us of the importance attached to honor for the righteous.
From this verse we may also deduce that the honor given to the sages must be even greater than that given to the sun and moon.