1. Rosh Chodesh Elul, since it is always two days, connects the last day of the previous month (which is the first day of Rosh Chodesh) with the month of Elul. Although this connection is present in every month which has a two day Rosh Chodesh, there is a particular significance to the connection of the first day of Rosh Chodesh Elul to the month of Elul.
There are two reasons for this: First, Rosh Chodesh Elul is always two days; and hence the last day of the previous month is always connected to Elul. Second, it states that Moshe Rabbeinu ascended Mt. Sinai the third time on Rosh Chodesh Elul and descended on Yom Kippur. Sources disagree however, as to whether he ascended on the first or second day of Rosh Chodesh. But the very fact that some commentaries connect the first day of Rosh Chodesh Elul with Yom Kippur, shows a connection between the first day of Rosh Chodesh with the service of Elul and Yom Kippur, the service of teshuvah.
Of the month of Elul, the Previous Rebbe said, “It is a month of reckoning, a month of teshuvah.” The reckoning is not a service in itself; rather it is for the purpose of seeing where one is lacking in one’s service and then compensate for that lack. This compensation is not merely for the purpose of filling in gaps, for the word for compensation, “Mashlim,” comes from the word “Shleimus,” which means complete, perfect. Even if nothing is lacking in one’s service, one can raise it to a higher level. And surely, if one must compensate for one’s actions, one is required to do teshuvah, just as one must pay a debt.
The concept of teshuvah is particularly relevant this year which is a Shemittah year, a year of Shabbos. As the Alter Rebbe stressed, Shabbos which is composed of the same letters as the word “tashev” expresses a high level of teshuvah; and on Shabbos one carries out the service of teshuvah through pleasure. Rosh Chodesh also emphasizes teshuvah, for Erev Rosh Chodesh is called “Yom Kippur Katon — a minor day of atonement.” And the Talmud notes that the sacrifices of Rosh Chodesh are “for Me a sacrifice” — as if G-d Himself is making atonement. And it is the Jewish people who bring the sacrifice.
When speaking of teshuvah itself, the emphasis is on deed, not speech or thought but actual deed. Deed is carried out by the lowest part of a person, the body, down to the calf of the leg which takes a person from place to place. Although the concept of teshuvah has been discussed, written about, and printed many times in the past years, it must be spoken of anew. For in addition to the heightened awareness which comes through actually hearing, the Alter Rebbe explained that every year a new light shines down which has never shone before. Thus, each year there must be a higher level of teshuvah to be attained and one must add in one’s Torah, tefillah, acts of kindness, and teshuvah — all these things being emphasized in the month of Elul. For the letters of Elul are an acronym for verses which emphasize each of these things: “Ina L’yado V’samti Lecha — referring to a city of refuge — emphasizes Torah study as our sages explained (Makkos 10a) “the words of Torah are a refuge.” “Ani L’Dodi V’Dodi Li — I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine” expresses tefillah. “Ish L’rayahu U’matanos L’evyonim — a man to his friend and gifts to the poor” stresses acts of kindness. And, “Es L’vavcha Ves L’vav — Hashem will circumcise your heart” is an expression of teshuvah.
And the fulfillment of this will bring about yet another fulfillment, that of the verse “L’Hashem Vayomru L’emor — Ashira” (which reversed spells out Elul). Then Moshe will sing with the coming of our righteous Mashiach speedily in our days.
2. Elul is connected this year, not only with Shemittah, but with the day Rosh Chodesh falls on, a Tuesday, the third day, a day of double good, good to the heavens and good to the creatures. And, as has been explained, these two goodnesses are not exclusive of each other, rather in the creatures one sees heaven and in the heavenly one sees the creatures. This expresses the epitome of teshuvah, connecting the highest with the lowest. While man is the highest of all creatures, in another sense he is the lowest; for while all others were created as living animals, man was created from dust. And yet within this lowest of creatures is a neshamah, a part of G-d above, making man truly a combination of the highest and the lowest.
In the Bais HaMikdash, the highest and the lowest of the world combine; for while we say that even the heavens cannot contain Hashem, Who is higher than all physical and spiritual limitations, He came down into this lowest of all worlds to dwell. As the Midrash states: “Hashem vowed that He would not enter the higher Yerushalayim above until He would enter the lower Yerushalayim below.”
The Rambam notes (Hilchos Bais Habechira, Ch. 2, Halachah 1) that the altar of the Bais HaMikdash was built on the threshing floor of Arnon, king of the Yevusi. The Yevusi were one of the seven wicked nations which had to be destroyed and this threshing floor belonged to the king, the one who embodied the strength of that nation. And it was precisely in such a place that G-d chose to erect the altar which unites the Jewish people together, effecting a unity which surpasses that of Yerushalayim or even the Bais HaMikdash. For although Yerushalayim is called “the city in which all Yisrael is united” its unity is not a fusion of all into one, but rather a joining together of different things. Similarly, the Alter Rebbe said, “A true friend is one who senses your joy,” who does not have to be told. Yet even within such a relationship they remain two distinct individuals.
The unity effected by the altar was on an entirely different level, Dovid HaMelech collected money from all the Jewish people to buy the place of the altar. With each giving only one shekel, one could not apportion any section to any individual, rather it was bought with money which had been indiscriminately combined and added together. Although Yerushalayim was not divided according to tribe (although there is one opinion which says it was) it was divided in other ways. For example, the Mishnah says: “There were ten levels of holiness in Yerushalayim, each greater than the other.” Thus there were differences within Yerushalayim, unlike the altar.
The Rambam notes that the location of the Bais HaMikdash can never be changed. This teaches us that when the first generation paid for the location of the altar, they did so as the emissaries of all future generations, establishing the holiness of that place for all time. This unity of the altar is demonstrated in its very function, for it is the place where the fats and blood are sacrificed. And Chassidus explains that fats and blood represent the sacrifice of pleasure and vitality. Furthermore, the sacrifices from below bring “a sweet savor from above”; through the Jew sacrificing his own pleasure and vitality, he brings about G-d’s pleasure — “a sweet savor”; and the two intermingle, uniting the highest and the lowest.
Similarly, the true idea of Torah is not in the heavens but in this lowest of all worlds, the world of deed. This expresses the general concept of Elul which, as the Alter Rebbe explains, is the time when the King is in the field, available to all. Although on Yom Kippur one sees the higher levels of a King in His palace, in Elul one sees the true love, the true connection between the King and His people. The “palace” is comparable to the Holy of Holies, the exclusive quarters of the King where none dare enter. But in the field He is approachable, accepting all with a smiling countenance.
3. In Torah there is a clear reference made to Rosh Chodesh Elul: (Chaggai 1:1) “In the sixth month, on the first day of the month” a prophecy was told by Chaggai to the Jewish people for all generations to come. In this prophecy G-d asks why there are Jews who say that it is not yet the time to build the Bais HaMikdash, a question which is relevant for today, for there are those who must now be asked this same question.
The Jewish people then took this prophecy as a call to action, whereupon they went up on the mountain to chop wood for the Bais HaMikdash. They commenced to take their feet and go up on the mountain, rising above their level; moreover., their purpose was not just to rise to a higher level, but to accomplish something on that level, to chop wood and begin building the Bais HaMikdash.
Chaggai realized that people would question this course of action, protesting that they could not chop wood for the Bais HaMikdash and then assume that they would miraculously be able to build it. So he assured them that they need not worry: “I am with you says the L-rd.” Even a small child, or a person on the lowest of levels realizes that if G-d accompanies you on the mountain, helps you chop the wood, and helps you build the Bais HaMikdash, nothing can interfere with your work.
Today, although Mashiach has not yet come and we do not know the exact location of the Bais HaMikdash and hence, cannot yet build it, we can still prepare for its building; “Go up to the mountain and bring wood,” each Jew can go out of his personal golus. Just going upon the mountain does not mean one has gone out of golus, for the mountain itself is in golus. But, through going up on a mission from G-d one does free oneself from golus. And although the Bais HaMikdash cannot be built until Mashiach comes, each Jew can prepare, regardless of all stumbling blocks, for he is not afraid and “does not flinch before mockery.”
Thus, when Rosh Chodesh Elul comes and an individual sees this prophecy in Torah he is encouraged to go up on his mountain, and the point that it is not now the time to build the Bais HaMikdash is nullified. For the prophecy states: “You are sitting in your house and this house (the Bais HaMikdash) is destroyed” — we are told that it is destroyed; yet we must prepare for its rebuilding. The individual will be motivated to tell others of it and should not worry about being embarrassed, for Chaggai has already made the prophecy public for all time. And as stated in the prophecy of Yeshia: “So shall be My word that goes forth out of My mouth. It shall not return to Me void, but shall accomplish that which I desire and succeed in that for which I had sent it.”
Each person need only work to bring these words to fruition, to go up on his mountain and do what he should do, fulfilling more Torah and mitzvos. He need not be afraid to stand up in the tumult of the world, the darkness of golus, but do as the Previous Rebbe said: “Do teshuvah right now and the redemption will come right now.” A question may be raised; this was said forty years ago and Mashiach has not yet come. But this question can be applied to all past predestined times for Mashiach’s coming; and while these were auspicious times for him to come; side events thwarted him.
Thus, a person has nothing to fear, but should go up on his mountain, and construct his Bais HaMikdash, the Bais HaMikdash that is within every Jew. And as this is a year of Shabbos, it is to be done in a manner of Shabbos, with pleasure, which adds both in quality and quantity of service, hastening the building of the third Bais HaMikdash speedily in our days.
4. As has been spoken of, this is a year of Shabbos, a year in which the ground lies fallow. Similarly, from the age of sixty on, a person lies fallow. As the Mishnah says (Pirkei Avos 5:22): “at the age of sixty — old age.” And our sages explain that “old” refers to one who has acquired wisdom. At this time one has more free time and justifiably so, for he becomes less involved with matters of the world and more involved with Torah and mitzvos.
[The Rebbe Shlita then reiterated the comments on the elderly made in the Chof-Av farbrengen.]