1 1. Chai Elul2 is the birthday of our mentor, the Baal Shem Tov, and of the Alter Rebbe. The Baal Shem Tov was born on Chai Elul in the year 5458 (1698), whose letters (תנ"ח), when transposed, comprise the word נַחַת, [which means peacefulness, a pleasant sense of fulfillment]. The Alter Rebbe was born on the same date 47 years later, [in the year 5505 (1745)].

I would like to tell you about two episodes related to this, but since this is not a time for lengthy narrations, I will tell you only as much as is needed now.

In accordance with a practice instituted by the Geonim,3 it is customary to read every day the chapter of Tehillim whose number is the same as one’s age in the current year.

The Alter Rebbe’s father, R. Baruch, who was very worried because after several months of marriage his wife had not yet conceived, went to visit the Baal Shem Tov. That was in the year 5503 (1743). On Chai Elul, in the year 5504 (1744), the Baal Shem Tov began to read chapter 47 of Tehillim every day, in accordance with his age at that time.4

In the year 5648 (1888)5 I heard from a chassid, who was both a maskil and an oved, something that he himself had heard in 5602 (1842) from my great-grandfather, the Tzemach Tzedek, on erev Rosh HaShanah of the year 5603. As is widely known, the Tzemach Tzedek was born on erev Rosh HaShanah of the year 5549 (1789). On that date every year, after Selichos, he would deliver a maamar of Chassidus, which was followed by words of arousal. In that year, those words were: “Chassidim! Rouse yourselves to teshuvah with chapter 47 of Tehillim, which we say before the Sounding of the Shofar. My grandfather – that is, the Alter Rebbe – was born with kapitl 47, which the Baal Shem Tov had begun to read daily on his birthday, on Chai Elul, 5504 (1744). On Chai Elul, 5505 (1745), the Baal Shem Tov began to read kapitl 48 (which includes the words, ‘G‑d is great and mightily praised in the City of our G‑d6) – and that was when the Alter Rebbe was born.”

3. The Tzemach Tzedek, citing R. Pinchas Reizes,7 said once that the subject of the first Torah-teaching that the Alter Rebbe heard in the name of the Baal Shem Tov was that very verse. Moreover, the first Torah-teaching that the Alter Rebbe delivered after undertaking the nesius8 was based on the very same verse.

4. It is commonly said that every concept needs a sign, a handle, with which it can be grasped. Thus, the Baal Shem Tov was born in the year 5458 (1698), whose letters (תנ"ח), when transposed, serve as such a sign, because they spell the word נַחַת.9 He enabled the Holy One, blessed be He, to derive nachas from every Jew, including ordinary, unlettered Jews. As is well known, he used to travel about among the townships and villages and would gather together the local men, women and children. The questions he asked a person about the state of his health or his livelihood would trigger a response such as, “Thanks to the One Above!” By doing so he encouraged their untrammeled faith to surface, and that response richly aroused nachas in the World Above.

The wish of our mentor, the Maggid of Mezritch, is widely known: “If only we could kiss a sefer Torah with the same love that the Baal Shem Tov showed the little children – when he was a teacher’s aide – as he conducted them to their cheder!” Every Jew is a sefer Torah!

5. The Alter Rebbe was born in the year 5505 (1745), whose letters (תק"ה), when transposed to read קה"ת, are the initials of the phrase, קַרְנֵי הוֹד תּוֹרָה – “the rays (i.e., the radiance) of the glory of the Torah.”

The yeshivah in the court of the Alter Rebbe comprised three chadarim – three levels, which were known as cheder alef, cheder beis and cheder gimmel. The entrance requirements to cheder alef included a complete mastery of Shas Bavli and Yerushalmi.10 The eminent scholar, R. Aizel [Homiler] recalled that “in the two lower chadarim we totalled almost 40 scholars,11 and the Alter Rebbe required that we should attain not only Torah, but also the radiance of the Torah, and not only the radiance of the Torah, but also the radiance of the glory of the Torah.”

As everyone knows, the letters that spell אֱלוּל, the name of the month of Elul, are the initial letters of the phrase, אֲנִי לְדוֹדִי וְדוֹדִי לִי – “I am my Beloved’s, and my Beloved is mine…,”12 and that verse concludes with the phrase, “…Who browses among the roses.” In the original, that last word is שׁוֹשָׁנִים, whose letters, when transposed, enable the non-literal derush-interpretation of the Sages: שֶׁשׁוֹנִים בַּתּוֹרָה – “who earnestly study the Torah.” Another verse reads, דּוֹדִי לִי וַאֲנִי לוֹ – “My Beloved is mine, and I am my Beloved’s.”13 The Baal Shem Tov established the principle that the plainest of plain people is the greatest of the great. The Alter Rebbe demonstrated that the plainest of plain people actually became one of the greatest of the great – as is demonstrated by the case of R. Yekusiel of Liepli.14

6. Agudas Chabad15 is not a party. The Baal Shem Tov and the Alter Rebbe had no intention of setting up parties within our People. They strove to uplift their spiritual state – and not only that, but they also cared about their material situation and exerted themselves to improve it.

Efforts for the good of the public fall into three main categories. There are those who talk and also work: they do work, but they talk about it too much, with propaganda and advertisements and the like, which are in fact needed to further their activities. Then there are institutions that talk and make waves but do nothing; in fact, even when they talk they already know that they are not going to actually do anything. It’s just empty talk.

Agudas Chabad belongs to the third category, the kind of body that works and doesn’t talk. Its publicity is utterly out of proportion to its actual attainments. It is impossible to measure what has been achieved by the central body of Tomchei Temimim Yeshivos, by Merkos L’Inyonei Chinuch, and by Meiginei HaChinuch HaKosher,16 in the dissemination of Torah study and yiras Shamayim in America’s public domain. A mere glance at a student of Tomchei Temimim is the best, live advertisement. Those students are our live posters and advertisements. In the course of the past year, an additional 3000 children were introduced to the so-called “Wednesday [Release] Hour,” where they hear about faith in G‑d and learn how to pronounce a blessing before eating. Children who come from homes that are devoid of kashrus and mezuzos and Shabbos recite a blessing or a pasuk. Those children stir up such waves in Heaven that all the angels come running...

7. Chai Elul in the year 5653 (1893) was the first time that I heard about Chai Elul, from my father.17

On this date, let me address a heartfelt chassidish appeal to the directors of Agudas Chabad, and to the teachers and administrators of the Tomchei Temimim yeshivos and the Achei Temimim yeshivos and the Chadrei Torah schools, and to the administrators of Merkos L’Inyonei Chinuch.

Appraising and appreciating the achievements that these institutions have attained in this country, thanks to the merit and the power granted by our holy forebears, is a great reason for satisfaction – but it has a drawback.

It is true that all of the above-mentioned institutions have attained great accomplishments – and above all, they will arouse the founding fathers of kosher conduct and kosher education.18 At the same time, the drawback of today’s assemblage is that you have heard many warm praises of your efforts in the dissemination of Torah. Thus, when you make tonight’s accounting in the course of the prayers that accompany the Shema that is read before retiring,19 you could even fall prey to pride and sloth in your forthcoming labors.

In that vein, let me tell you about a secret meeting in Petersburg that hoped to forestall an impending anti-Semitic decree. Details I cannot share at this time, except to say that its participants included my father, other prominent Torah personalities, communal activists, and the foremost lawyers of Petersburg.

After the meeting, my father invited all of its participants to his hotel room, where the discussion was brought to consider the question, What kind of personal accounting20 ought each one of them make at that night’s Kerias Shema? In that context, my father asked Schliassberg, a lawyer who used to represent people under death sentence in czarist Russia, what kind of personal accounting he made every night.

The advocate answered that every night he counted how many people he had saved that day from their death sentence.

My father corrected him, saying that he should count how many more people he could have saved that day. If defending such a person took (say) two or three hours, in the course of 24 hours he could have saved many people.

[The Rebbe Rayatz now resumed his appeal:] The same applies to you, the administrators and teachers of the yeshivos and the chadrei Torah schools. Your nightly accounting ought to be: How many more souls could you have saved?

G‑d promises Avraham Avinu, “And Avraham will surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the world will bless themselves by him.”21 This does not refer to the offspring of Keturah, nor of Yishmael, nor of Eisav, but to the offspring of Yaakov, Bnei Yisrael.

One might well ask, Where do we observe the “great and mighty nation” of Bnei Yisrael? We constantly see the Jewish People being crushed and battered. However, the meaning of the above promise is that every individual Jew is great and mighty. Whatever the nations of the world have, they have taken from Jews. In all disciplines, astronomy and so on, Jews have been the first. Indeed, when the gentile nations needed a figurehead for their faith, they took a Jewish apostate…

That is the meaning of the above-quoted Divine promise that “all the nations of the world will bless themselves by [Avraham].” Every individual Jew is “great and mighty,” and is invested with the strength to take action for the dissemination of Torah, and to work in the cause of Yiddishkeit.

Regarding Avraham Avinu it is written, “…for I know him well, that he will instruct [his children and his household after him] to observe the way of G‑d”22 – that is, the way that leads to the observance of the Torah and the mitzvos. It is for the sake of this that G‑d says, “for I know him well, that he will instruct…”

Empowered by the Divine promise that “Avraham will surely become a great and mighty nation,” forge ahead in your work for the dissemination of Torah and the awe of Heaven!

I turn now to yeshivah students in general, and to the students of the Tomchei Temimim Yeshivos in particular: Let every one of you invest effort in that task of disseminating Torah and the awe of Heaven – and with G‑d’s help, your efforts will succeed.

May the One Above grant all Jews, wherever they are, a kesivah vachasimah tovah,23 and may they all be blessed with a good and sweet year. May G‑d protect all the sons and daughters of the Jewish People wherever they may be – on land, at sea, or in the air.24 May G‑d grant that by Chai Elul next year our Righteous Mashiach will have brought us all together in Eretz Yisrael.