1. This Shabbos is the Shabbos on which the month of Elul is blessed. Elul is the last month of the year and therefore, has been set aside as a month to review our service throughout the entire previous year. The connection to the totality of our service is alluded to in the name Elul for its Hebrew letters (אלול) are interpreted to be an acronym for the words of the Hebrew phrase (אני לדודי ודודי לי) meaning “I am my Beloved’s and my Beloved is mine,” thus emphasizing the connection between a person (“I”) and G‑d (“my Beloved”).

In particular, this connection is twofold in nature, involving the arousal of the Jews in establishing a connection to G‑d — and thereby elevating the earthly plane — through the service of Torah and mitzvos. This is alluded to in the phrase “I am my Beloved’s.” Similarly, this connection includes the drawing down of influence and assistance from Above as reflected in the phrase, “my Beloved is mine.”

Although the above acronym mentions both services, it begins with “I am my Beloved’s,” which reflects the arousal of the Jewish people.1 This is the foundation of all service, that even before there is a revelation from Above, a Jew should begin serving G‑d on his own initiative.

The ultimate purpose of man’s creation and the descent of his soul into this world is to serve G‑d on his own initiative. And furthermore, through such service, man derives his most satisfying pleasure. It is human nature, that of the gentiles as well as the Jews, to appreciate something that they have worked for and earned.2 Conversely, something which they have not worked for is regarded as “bread of shame.”

There is also an arousal from Above that makes possible the service of Elul and in this vein, Elul is described as the month when G‑d’s Thirteen Attributes of Mercy are revealed and the month when “the King is in the field.” These influences, however, are merely preparatory in nature. The essence of Elul is the arousal of love by the Jewish people, and it is this awakening which calls forth revelation from Above, “my Beloved is mine.”

Since service on one’s own initiative is the primary element of man’s service throughout the entire year, this is the service emphasized in the month of Elul, the month in which one takes stock of one’s service as a whole.3 And it is through this service that we call forth a higher level of Divine level which is reflected in the blessings of the new year.

Nevertheless, despite the emphasis on service on one’s own initiative, since both thrusts — i.e., also the revelation from Above — are alluded to in the name Elul, it follows that the stocktaking which is carried out this month must focus on both these thrusts. For there are services carried out by the Jewish people which reflect the thrust of revelation from Above and carrying out these services facilitates the ultimate aspect of rev­elation from Above, “my Beloved is mine,” G‑d’s manifestation of love for the Jews.4

The importance of taking stock of both these services is reflected in the fact that there are always two days Rosh Chodesh to the month of Elul. In particular, this year when these two days fall on Shabbos and Sunday, the connection to these two services is highlighted. Sunday reflects the service of elevating the earthly plane, while Shabbos represents the revelation of holiness from Above.

This is reflected in the narrative of creation (a narrative which, in the spiritual sense, repeats itself every week). Sunday was the first day of creation, the beginning of the existence of the worldly plane. And from that day, we proceed day after day, in a process of elevation and refinement preparing for Shabbos as our Sages said, “Whoever toils on erev Shabbos (which in an expanded sense refers to all the days of the week), will eat on Shabbos.”

Shabbos, in contrast, is a day of spiritual pleasure and, furthermore, this pleasure is revealed and drawn down into even the material entities of this world. And it is from the Shabbos that “all the days of the coming week are blessed,” i.e., the influence of Shabbos contains the positive factors that will become manifest in the week to come.5

Since everything in the world, even the very fundamental elements of existence were brought into being “for the sake of the Jewish people” and “for the sake of the Torah,” it follows that a parallel to both these approaches exists within a Jew’s Divine service.

A Jew is made up of a soul — “an actual6 part of G‑d from Above” — and a body — a physical entity stemming from dust.7 From the perspective of the body, there is a need for the service of elevating the physical plane, and that this service be a step-by-step process as reflected in the manner in which we proceed, day by day going further in the task of refinement. In contrast, from the perspective of the soul, the service is one of revelation from Above, beginning on the highest spiritual levels and drawing them down into this world. Each individual is capable of this service and should demand such a service of himself.

The two services are interrelated. Even on those days which are characterized by holiness and service which is above the limitations of man, one must not lose total sight of one’s material environment. Thus these days are also counted as days of the week, i.e., as a Sunday, or a Monday. Similarly, while the Beis HaMikdash was standing, in addition to the special sacrifices offered on these days, the daily offering which was sacrificed each day of the year was also brought.

Conversely, a Jew begins his service each day, even on a weekday, with the declaration, Modeh Ani in which he thanks G‑d for returning his soul, i.e., there is an emphasis on revelation from Above. This connection of Shabbos, revelation from Above, to the days of the week is also reflected in our Sages’ statement that Shamai the Elder would always eat “in honor of the Shabbos.” If he saw a choice animal on the first day of the week, he would purchase it for Shabbos. If, afterwards, he would find an even more choice one, he would purchase that one for Shabbos and use the first for the weekday meals. In this manner, every moment of his existence was associated with the Shabbos.

In general, these two paths of service can be identified with the two general categories of Yissacher and Zevulun. Yissacher, the students of the Torah, are associated with the service of revelation from Above. In contrast, the lifework of Zevulun, those involved in commerce and financial activity, is one of elevating the world and the natural environment in which they are found.

As mentioned above, of these two service, the service of elevating the earthly plane, and in doing so serving G‑d on one’s own initiative, is of fundamental importance. This is also reflected in the observance of the two days of Rosh Chodesh Elul this year. The first day of Rosh Chodesh Elul is the thirtieth day of the month of Av. The month of Elul itself begins on the second day of Rosh Chodesh and it is on that day that the blowing of the shofar and other customs associated with Elul begin. And thus, it is significant that the second day of Rosh Chodesh Elul falls on Sunday, the day associated with the beginning of the service of elevating the material plane.

To explain this concept in greater depth: Since “G‑d desired a dwelling in the lower worlds,” the fundamental service we render to Him must take place with the context of these worlds, following the natural order established within creation. Such a service is characterized by gradual progression, going from one level to the next, beginning from Sunday, the first day.

Although a Jew has a soul which is “an actual part of G‑d” — and it is because he possesses this soul that he can carry out this service of elevating the earthly realm — that soul has been enclothed in a physical body. As the soul is enclothed within the body, it is limited by the body and the natural limits of the world. And thus its service must begin on this plane. And it is through this service of “I am my Beloved’s,” a Jew’s affirming his commitment to G‑d and elevating his material environment8 that he fulfills the ultimate intent of all creation, to establish a dwelling for G‑d in this material world.

Based on the above, we can resolve a related question: Since man was created on the sixth day of existence, seemingly, he should begin his reckoning of the week from that day. Why do we begin counting the week from Sunday?9 To emphasize how the essential goal of our service is transforming this world into a dwelling for G‑d. And focus is drawn to this goal by beginning our weekly counting, not from Friday when the creation of the world reaches a state of completion, but from Sunday, the beginning stage of service.

This service transforms the world into a dwelling for G‑d’s essence, a place where the most fundamental aspect of His being is revealed. Just as in the creation of the world, it is only G‑d’s essence that could bring into existence the material reality which exists, so too, it is G‑d’s essence that will come into expression in the dwelling established in this world.10 And furthermore, this service brings about greater revelation in the spiritual realms.

Similarly, it is through this service that a Jew taps the essence of his soul. When the soul is enclothed in the body and works to elevate the material environment, the essence of the soul is revealed. And at the same time, this service elevates all the higher levels of the soul. To express this in allegory, when a building is lifted up from below, every aspect of the building is elevated.

Based on the above, we can conclude that the stocktaking of our service which must be made in the month of Elul should be threefold, focusing on the service carried out by man on his own initiative, elevating the worldly realm, the service involved with revelation from Above, and the fusion of these two thrusts.

Each of the services, elevation of the earthly realm and revelation from Above possesses an advantage lacking in the other. The service carried out by man on his own initiative is internalized by him and becomes part of his own thinking processes. It is, however, restricted by our human limitations; even the revelation from Above which this service evokes is limited in nature.

In contrast, the revelation from Above reveals an aspect of Jew’s soul that is above our ordinary worldly limits. This level, however, is not internalized with our thinking processes. Therefore, the ultimate level of fulfillment involves a fusion of both these services. This results from a revelation of G‑d’s essence which, in turn, is brought about by the arousal of the essential potential in man, the awakening of “I am my Beloved’s.” This allows the revelations which transcend our framework of reference to be expressed and to be internalized within that framework.

Thus a Jew must make an accounting and see if in fact he has turned to G‑d on his own initiative and what is the extent to which he has been able to elevate his surrounding environment. Similarly, he must make a reckoning of the manner in which he has used the revelations imparted to him from Above, the revelations that stem from the essential G‑dliness of his soul. And he must also take stock and see whether he has been able to fuse the two, combining “I am my Beloved’s” with “my Beloved is mine.”

This stocktaking is not only individual in nature, but effects the world at large. As the Rambam writes, a single mitzvah performed by one individual has the power to tip the balance of the entire world and bring salvation and deliverance.

2. Our service of stocktaking must also relate to the Future Redemption, for it is the responsibility of the Jewish people to bring about this redemption. According to all the signs mentioned by our Sages, the redemption should have come. And therefore, our energies are focused on this goal. Herein, there is a connection to this week’s Torah reading, Parshas Eikev, which relates to the present time period, described as Ikvesa diMeshicha. There are two interpretations of this term: a) The first focuses on the more common meaning of the word eikev, “heel,” the least sensitive portion of the body. Thus Ikvesa diMeshicha refers to the lowest of all levels in the spiritual history of the Jewish people, a generation characterized by a redoubled spiritual darkness, in which all the undesirable omens which our Sages said would precede the Era of the Redemption have taken place. b) Eikev also means “after.” Thus it refers to the end of the exile, the time directly before Mashiach’s coming. This surely refers to our generation, for to borrow an expression used by the Previous Rebbe, we have already “polished the buttons,” i.e., all the service demanded of us has been completed and we are on the threshold of the Redemption. And therefore, in anxious expectation of the time when G‑d will take the Jews out of exile and bring them to Eretz Yisrael, we cry out, Ad Maasei, “Until when, will we be forced to remain in exile.”

The two interpretations of the term Ikvesa diMeshicha are interrelated. It is precisely when the Jews have reached the low levels implied by the first interpretation, that the ultimate fulfillment promised by the second interpretation will be realized.11

In this light, the stocktaking which we must carry out in the month of Elul, must also focus on the imminence of the Redemption. A Jew has the potential to arouse himself, to arouse others, and to arouse G‑d, Himself, as it were. As mentioned, according to all the signs given by our Sages, and definitely in the light of the miracles which we have witnessed recently, the ultimate Redemption should have come already, and in this year. For the miracles described in the Yalkut Shimoni are to take place in “the year in which the King Mashiach will be revealed.”

Furthermore, Mashiach’s coming will be hastened by the positive influence of the study of Hilchos Beis HaBechirah, the laws of the Construction of the Beis HaMikdash. G‑d has promised that our study of these laws will be considered equivalent to the actual building of the Beis HaMikdash. Indeed, the Beis HaMikdash is completely built in the spiritual realms and all that is necessary is to cause it to descend here to this earth.

Moreover, it is also after the fifteenth of Av, a day associated with an increase in Torah study.12 And it is the Shabbos on which the month of Elul is blessed. Elul is the time when “the King is in the field” and there He receives all His subjects happily and grants all their requests. Thus this is a time when we have the potential and the responsibility to call out to G‑d and demand, Ad Maasei, “Until when must we remain in exile.”