1. In Likkutei Torah, the Alter Rebbe describes the spiritual atmosphere of the month of Elul with the following parable:

Before a king enters his city, the inhabitants of the city go out to greet him and receive him in the field. At that time, anyone who desires is granted permission [and can] approach him1 and greet him. He receives them all pleasantly and shows a smiling countenance to all.... To explain [the parable]: In the month of Elul, we go out to receive His blessed countenance in the field.... This refers to the reflection of the Thirteen Attributes of Mercy [for as the stated previously in the maamar, “the Thirteen Attributes of Mercy are revealed in Elul”] in a manner allowing them to be received, “face to face...” as it is written, “k-t is v-u-v-h and will shine for us.”

There is a problematic dimension to this parable: It is explained that the verse, “I am my Beloved’s and my Beloved is mine,” which characterizes the service of Elul, begins, “I am my Beloved’s,” to emphasize that it is the Jews who initiate the love relationship with G‑d.

To explain: Shir HaShirim which employs the metaphor of the marriage relationship to describe the intense love and connection shared by G‑d and the Jewish people contains two similar verses: “I am my Beloved’s and my Beloved is mine,” and “My Beloved is mine and I am His.” The Rabbis explain that the two verses reflect two different patterns expressing this marriage relationship.

The latter verse beginning, “My Beloved is mine,” implies that the relationship begins with Divine revelation and this is what stimulates the response and service of the Jews. Conversely, “I am my Beloved’s,” implies that it is the Jews who initiate the relationship with G‑d and motivate Him to respond and draw down influence to them.

This concept appears to conflict with the parable of “the king in the field,” which implies that the king leaves his palace (his usual place) and goes out to the field (the place where his people are found). The parable appears to imply that in Elul, G‑d begins the relationship by revealing His Thirteen Attributes of Mercy.2

Frequently, it is explained that the revelation of the king in the field, i.e., the expression of the Thirteen Attributes of Mercy in the month of Elul, merely generates the potential for the service that follows, but it is that service itself which is of primary importance. Thus, although the revelation from above precedes the service (and is necessary for that service to be carried out for otherwise, the “people of the field,” who are on a low level could not fulfill the service of “I am my Beloved’s”), the development of the relationship depends on man.

Nevertheless, this explanation is not adequate. The maamar relates that, “the inhabitants the city go out to... the field,” implying that there is a priority to the service carried out in the field. Because of that priority (which depends on the service of the Jews), the King goes out to the field, i.e., there is a revelation from above.

There is another conceptual difficulty regarding the nature of the service of Elul. Elul is the month of mercy and therefore, is characterized by an increase in prayer which relates to that quality. Similarly, it is associated with an increase in the study of Torah for the Thirteen Attributes of Mercy which shine in the month of Elul parallel the Thirteen Rules of Biblical Interpretation.3 What connection do the services of prayer and Torah study have to the presence of the King in the field?

These concepts can be understood within the context of the explanation of the metaphor of a field in our personal service. A field is a place where grain grows. Growing grain and converting it into food which grants us sustenance requires, to quote our Sages’ expression, siddurah d’pas, a series of labors which reflect the entire sphere of work on the material plane. All our work on that plane is included in the 39 labors4 which are forbidden on the Sabbath.

The designation of what is considered a labor is derived from the labors which were necessary to construct the Sanctuary in the desert. This teaches us that our involvement in mundane activities must be with one intention, to create a Sanctuary for G‑d, to make the world “a dwelling for Him,” a place where His presence rests.

The importance of these mundane activities can be seen from the fact that most of our time is spent involved with them, dealing with our material needs and earning the wherewithal required for them. To express this in the context of Biblical phraseology. It is written, “Six days shall you work, and the seventh day shall be a Shabbos unto the L‑rd, your G‑d.” Why this disportionate relationship? Since G‑d “chose us from among the nations... and elevated us,” why didn’t He create the world in a manner in which we could devote the majority of our time to holy matters, the study of Torah and the fulfillment of mitzvos. Instead, in a manner similar to (להבדיל) gentiles, we are primarily involved with material activities.

The explanation is that this reflects the purpose of creation. G‑d created the world so that He could have a “dwelling place in the lower worlds.” Therefore, our service must center — not on the spiritual as it exists for itself5 — but rather on the ordinary and mundane aspects of existence with the intent of drawing G‑d into them.

The primacy of such service is also emphasized by our Sages who state that the first question a soul will be asked in the judgment in the afterlife is: “Did you deal justly in business?” Even before being questioned about Torah study or prayer, the soul will have to give an account of its dealings within the context of material reality.

[This concept is also reflected in the observance of the Shabbos. On one hand, Shabbos is not a day of mundane activity. A Jew should enter Shabbos with an attitude of, “All your work is completed.” On the other hand, this very advice implies that the ultimate conception of Shabbos pleasure does not involve diverting one’s attention from one’s affairs entirely and concentrating solely on spiritual matters.6 Rather, one may reflect on one’s material affairs, although not in the same way as during the week, instead, contemplating them as they are in a complete and perfect state.]

Based on the above, we can appreciate the significance of the King’s presence in the field during the month of Elul. The King’s presence in the field — not only generates the potential for our service — it represents the ultimate purpose of that service. Our efforts must be directed towards bringing the revelation of G‑dliness into the field, into the mundane realities of our material world. Not only must G‑d be revealed in the realms where spirituality is revealed — metaphorically, the king’s palace — the lowest aspects of existence should be transformed into a dwelling for Him.7

The above concepts shed light on the meaning of the verse (Koheles 5:8): “There is an advantage to the work of the land in all things. A king is subjugated to the field.” On a simple level, this verse means that a king is dependent on the field because he derives his sustenance from it. On a theoretical level, it means that the work in the field, i.e., service in the context of mundane reality, provides the King with His livelihood, as it were. Since this is the service which fulfills His desire for a dwelling in the lower world, He is subjugated to the field and the people who carry out this service.

In this context, the metaphor of the king in the field takes on added significance, becoming relevant to the totality of our service of Torah and mitzvos. Hence, it is appropriate for the month of Elul, the month of stock-taking for the previous year and — primarily — the month of preparation for the year to come.

As such, we find that the name Elul serves as an acronym for verses referring to the full spectrum of our service of G‑d: “...[I] caused it to happen. I will provide for you...” — which refers to the service of Torah study,8 “I am my Beloved’s and my Beloved is mine,” — which refers to the service of prayer, “[Sending portions,] a man to his friend and presents to the poor,” which refers to the service of tzedakah, thus including the three pillars on which the earth stands.

It also serves as an acronym for the verse, “[You shall circumcise] your hearts and the hearts of...” which refers to the service of teshuvah which enhances the nature of the above services,9 and the verse, “And they said, ‘I will sing to G‑d...’ ” which refers to the redemption, the culmination of our service.

On a deeper level, there are two dimensions to the presence of “the King in the field:” a) the emphasis on the importance of service within the mundane realities of our world, the field; b) the fact that the King (G‑d) reveals Himself there in an essential manner.

The latter dimension represents the unique aspect of the month of Elul. Throughout the year, the emphasis is on carrying out the service in the field (with the intent that this lead to the revelation of the King). In Elul, which marks the culmination of the service — and the preparation for the service of the new year — the intent of the service, the revelation of the King’s presence is expressed.

The revelation of the King’s presence is dependent on the study of Torah. Service in the field primarily involves activity with mundane affairs, matters which are not by nature holy, but are performed “for the sake of the King,” i.e., the service of “All your deeds should be for the sake of heaven,” and “Know Him in all your ways.” Although this service is for the sake of the King, it does not bring about the revelation of the King.10 The revelation of G‑dliness — particularly, those dimensions of G‑dliness which are transcendent in nature — comes about through the Torah which is G‑d’s will and His wisdom and is one with Him.11

Nevertheless, since the intent is that G‑d be revealed “in the field,” this revelation is brought about by the Torah study of the people of the field. Although during most of the day, they are involved with mundane affairs, by establishing a fixed time12 for Torah study, their entire day becomes permeated by Torah and thus, the revelation of the King is drawn down into every aspect of their lives, even the mundane activities of “the field.”

This does not mean that the “men of field” should give up their usual activities entirely and devote themselves solely to Torah. This is not desired. Rather, to refer to the parable again, when the king passes through the field, the people in the field will temporarily stop their usual activity and approach the king — while they are wearing their ordinary clothes.

Similarly, in Elul, although the “men of the field” will continue their daily activities, because they are aware of the King’s presence, they will increase their study of Torah.13

Significantly, it is the study of Torah and not the service of prayer which brings about the revelation of the King. Prayer primarily involves the elevation of our lowly plane of existence, stepping beyond the limits of the material world to the point where the soul yearns to expire. This movement is directly opposite to the revelation of the King in the field.14

In contrast, Torah study reflects the drawing down of G‑dliness into this world. Although the Torah is also infinite, nevertheless, it has undergone a process of descent which enables it to be grasped by human intellect and to enclothe itself in worldly matters. Furthermore, through the decisions of Torah law that involve worldly matters, the world is altered according to the Torah’s standards. Thus, Torah study is the means to bring about the revelation of the King in the field.

For this reason, during the month of Elul, together with an emphasis on prayer, an emphasis is placed on Torah study15 and both are associated with the verse, “I am my Beloved’s.” Indeed, the full expression of our love for G‑d comes through:

Clinging spirit to spirit, as it is written “Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth,” which refers to the service of Torah study in which the actual words of G‑d are in one’s mouth.

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2. Parshas Shoftim begins with the command to appoint judges and enforcement officers. This reflects the emphasis on Torah activity within the world mentioned beforehand. The judges are, to quote the Rambam, “the essence of the Oral Law, the pillars of instruction, from whom statutes and judgment emerge for all of Israel.”

The Torah relates that the judges must be positioned, “in all your gates.” A gate represents the transition between the city and the field beyond it. The judges’ presence at the gate ensure that the activity carried out in the field will be in accord with the Torah’s dictates.

Although the essential obligation to appoint judges applies in Eretz Yisrael and not in the Diaspora, nevertheless, even in the Diaspora, the mitzvah to establish a court system applies. Even when we are in exile16 where the appointment of judges is dependent on the permission of the secular authorities, when we stand firm for our Torah principles, the power of the Torah effects the conduct of the country (and the entire world at large). Thus, we find the Previous Rebbe describing how the Tzemach Tzedek “arranged affairs” in Petersburg, the capitol of Russia.

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3. A connection to the importance of Torah study can also be found in the teachings of Pirkei Avos studied this week. This week, we begin the first chapter of Pirkei Avos which after describing the chain of receiving and transmitting the Torah, emphasizes the importance of Torah study, counseling, “Raise up many students.”

It also contains the teaching: “The world stands on three things — Torah, the service of G‑d (prayer), and deeds of kindness.”

On the surface, the sequence in which these services are listed is problematic. Every day, they are carried out in a different order. We are advised to first, “give a penny to a poor person and then, pray,” and only after prayer, “proceed from the synagogue to the house of study.”

Similarly, in regard to the history of the Jewish people, the order of the Patriarchs was: Avraham, who is identified with the service of deeds of kindness — receiving guests; Yitzchok, who is identified with service of G‑d (he was prepared as a sacrifice, and prayer was instituted in the place of sacrifices); and only then, Yaakov who is identified with Torah study.

It is Yaakov, however, whom our Sages refer to as, “the chosen of the Patriarchs.” Why was it necessary for them to make such a distinction? To teach us the primacy of Torah study. Similarly, in regard to Pirkei Avos, Torah study is mentioned first because it is the service of primary importance in “maintaining the world,” in establishing a dwelling for G‑d in the lower worlds, as explained above.

To conclude with a directive for deed: It is important to publicize all the aspects of service associated with the month of Elul, putting an emphasis on the service of Torah study,17 in particular, public sessions of Torah study, where, “ten sit and occupy18 themselves with Torah.”

May this lead to the return of the entire Jewish people to Eretz Yisrael when, led by Mashiach, we will appoint judges and enforcement officers including the judges of the Sanhedrin which will meet in the Chamber of Hewn Stone in the Beis HaMikdash. May in the immediate future, we merit the fulfillment of the prophecy when, as related in the Yalkut Shimoni, “Mashiach will stand on the roof of the Beis HaMikdash and proclaim, ‘Humble ones. The time for your redemption has come.’ ”