1. This is the Shabbos on which the month of Elul is blessed. Elul is a month of general significance, the month when we make a reckoning of all the service which we performed in the previous year with the intent of correcting and compensating for any deficiencies. Also, it is a month of preparation for the coming year so that the service of that year will be on a higher rung.

For this reason, Elul is connected with the three services: Torah, service (prayer), and deeds of kindness which are the “pillars on which the world stands.” Indeed, these services are reflected in the very name of the month, the name Elul (אלול) serving as an acronym for verses from the Torah associated with each of these services. In reard to Torah study, our sages cite the verse: אנה לידו ושמתי לך which refers to the Cities of Refuge. This relates to Torah study because “the words of Torah are a refuge.” In regard to prayer, they cite the verse: אני לדודי ודודי לי — “I am my Beloved’s and my Beloved is mine” and in reard to deeds of kindness, they cite the verse: איש לרעהו ומתנות לאביונים — “[Sending portions] each man to his friend and gifts to the poor.”

The stock-taking of the service for the previous year and the preparations for the coming year must involve every dimension of our service which is — in turn — included in these three fundamental services. For this reason, it is Jewish custom to increase the performance of these three services in the month of Elul.

The above concepts establish a connection between Elul and the service of teshuvah which involves “regret over the past and the acceptance of good resolutions for the future.” Thus, a fourth verse is cited ומל ה' א-להיך את לבבך ואת לבב זרעך — “The L‑rd, your G‑d, will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your descendants.”

The service of teshuvah is not merely intended to compensate for deficiencies in the other services, but rather must be considered as an independent service in its own right. We see this concept in our Sages’ expression “teshuvah and good deeds.” If teshuvah was only intended to enable us to correct faults in the other services, it would be more appropriate to state “good deeds and teshuvah.” (This would imply that a Jew’s service should consist of “good deeds.” If for some reason, he does not carry out this service as desired, he will repent.) Stating teshuvah first indicates that the service of teshuvah is of primary importance. It elevates the nature of one’s deeds making them “good,” i.e., lifting them to a higher level of good than they possess in their own right.

Teshuvah reflects a great yearning and desire to cling to G‑d which adds energy and vigor to every aspect of our performance of Torah and mitzvos. Though generally, teshuvah is associated with repentance from sin — and the greater thirst and vigor of teshuvah comes about because of one’s awareness of the descent and distance created by sin1 — there is a concept of teshuvah which is relevant to every Jew, even one who never tasted sin.

The service of teshuvah is reflected in the verse, “And the spirit will return to G‑d who granted it.” Since the soul has descended from its spiritual source into the material realm, it feels distant and separate from G‑d. These feelings awaken a desire and yearning within the soul to cling to G‑d which, in turn, elevate the mitzvos which are performed, making them “good deeds.”2

To elaborate: The Mishnah states: “I was created to serve my Creator.” The purpose of a Jew’s service is to labor with his own potential to fulfill Torah and mitzvos. So that he will not regard his achievements as “bread of shame,” his connection with G‑d is not given to him as a present, but is rather the products of his own efforts.

Therefore, it follows that the ultimate level of performance of mitzvos is when a Jew applies his heart and mind to their performance. He does not fulfill them merely as perfunctory physical activities, but invests his mind and also the energy of teshuvah into these deeds, thus making them “good deeds.”

This service of teshuvah is accomplished through the person’s own efforts, through service on his own initiative. The soul as given by G‑d is on a high peak. A Jew through the service of return, however, can reach an even higher level and the acquisition of this spiritual peak is his own accomplishment. Similarly, the service of teshuvah contributes a new dimension to the mitzvos. Their transformation into “good deeds” through the Jews’ service elevates their level above the rung possessed by the mitzvos as they were given by G‑d.

In this context, we can understand the central role of teshuvah in the service of Elul for it is through teshuvah that the three services of Torah, prayer, and deeds of kindness are lifted to a higher level, becoming “good deeds.”

The service of teshuvah and its influence on these other three services does not, however, represent the ultimate rung of service. Though teshuvah reflects the ascent of the soul on its own initiative after the descent into this world of concealment and challenge, the very fact that it deals with these two stages indicates an association with the concepts of descent and concealment. Thus, it cannot reflect the essence of G‑d — or the essence of a Jew — which has no relation to these concepts at all.

The ultimate level of service reflects a connection between a Jew and G‑d which does not allow for any possibility of transgressing His will. This level will be revealed in the Messianic Age when “I will remove the spirit of impurity from the world.” There will be no possibility for the concealment of G‑dliness which allows for the potential for sin.

In microcosm, this service is also possible in the present age, each individual experiencing a personal redemption from those factors that may sway him away from the service of G‑d. This service is also reflected in the name, Elul, which also serves as an acronym for a fifth verse which refers to the concept of redemption. In the verse, אז ישיר משה...את השירה הזאת לה' ויאמרו לאמר אשירה... — “Then, Moshe... sang this song to G‑d and spoke saying, ‘I will sing...,’ ” the letters of the word Elul are found in reverse order. Our Sages explain that this verse uses the future tense, thus alluding to the ultimate level of redemption, the Era of the Resurrection when G‑d’s essence will be revealed throughout the world.

To explain: G‑d gives a Jew free choice, as the opening verse of this week’s Torah portion relates, “Behold, I am setting before you life and good, death and evil... May you chose life.” However, the very fact that there is a crossroads and that one has to choose between one of two paths indicates that this level is below G‑d’s essence. “I,” G‑d’s essence, transcends “life and good” and their opposites. Despite the great spiritual peaks associated with the service of free choice, the fact that choice is possible demonstrates that this is a lower level than G‑d’s essence.

Even the concept of life — since it has a specific definition and there is the possibility of increasing life [and the opposite, ח"ו] — is not appropriate to Him. On the contrary, the very fact that the Torah relates that He “is setting before you life,” implies that He, the Giver, is above the quality which He gives.

G‑d’s essence is above all concept of definition, nor is any concept of choice appropriate regarding Him. Concerning this level, the Torah states, “There is nothing else.” Though in other texts, it is explained that the verse, “There is nothing else outside of Him” implies that “together with Him,” there is the possibility for existence, i.e., it is possible for there to be a world that reflects His Being, this is also a lower level. When speaking of His essence, the verse, “There is nothing else” is more appropriate, i.e., there exists only Him and Him alone.

A Jew can also reach this level. Since his soul is “truly a part of G‑d,” even this rung is within his potential. The Baal Shem Tov taught, “Whenever you grasp part of the essence, you grasp it in its entirety.” Therefore, since the Jews are “part of G‑d” — “Israel and the Holy One, Blessed be He are one,” the essence in its entirety is reflected within a Jew’s soul. Thus, he has the potential to establish a connection which transcends the possibility of choice. Such a person will have one desire alone, to fulfill G‑d’s will. Nothing else will even come to mind.

It is not that he will go through a period of intellectual stock-taking and as a result, choose to do good. He does not think about the matter at all, but rather to quote our Sages’ expression, “Bows naturally.” His own will and personal identity are totally nullified and thus, it is impossible that he will have any desire or yearning to do anything outside G‑d’s will.3

Based on the above, we can appreciate the advantage the service of redemption contributes to the other four services associated with the month of Elul: The service of “teshuvah and good deeds” is given over to man’s free choice. He stands at a crossroads and has the choice of “life and good” or its opposites. Thus, even though ultimately, through a process of thought and meditation, a person will choose the correct path, the fact that he has a choice demonstrates that he has a connection to the other path.

The service of redemption lifts a Jew above these levels. When a Jew is connected with the level of G‑dliness about which it is said, “There is nothing else,” he also stands above any thoughts of a second path. Without even thinking, as a natural reflex process, he follows G‑d’s will reflecting the state of oneness which will be revealed in the Messianic Age.

This service is dependent on a Jew’s independent efforts. On the surface, since these acts are a natural response, without conscious choice, it would seem that it would not be considered service, nor should it earn a Jew a reward.

In fact, however, the opposite is true. This level of service represents the fullest expression of a Jew’s initiative and potential for achievement. In regard to the service of conscious choice, the Torah states, “Behold, I am setting before you life and good, death and evil;” i.e., the potential for the service of “choosing life” is given from above. In contrast, the level of following G‑d’s will as a natural, spontaneous response is not given from above — for it transcends the possibility of being given. Instead, a Jew reaches it on his own initiative. Though he is living in this material world with a physical body and all the veils and concealments they bring, he performs the services of Torah, prayer, and deeds of kinds — and also the service of teshuvah — in a manner which reflects how “Israel and the Holy One, Blessed be He, are one,” transcending intellectual choice.

The service of redemption is not separate from the other four services of the month of Elul. On the contrary, it is through these services and particularly, the service of teshuvah, that a soul connects with its essential source — the level on which “Israel and the Holy One, Blessed be He, are one” — that makes possible the single-minded service of redemption.

A Jewish soul is “truly part of G‑d from above.” The Hebrew word for truly ממש also has the meaning, “material form.” In the above phrase, the two meanings are complimentary, it is when the “part of G‑d,” the soul becomes enclothed in the body and takes on “material form,” that its essence, that it is “truly a part of G‑d,” can be revealed.

To explain: The soul passes through several intermediate levels in its descent into this material world as we recite in our morning blessings:

The soul which You gave me is pure (the world of Atzilus),

You created it (the World of Beriah),

You formed it (the World of Yetzirah),

and You blew it within me (the World of Asiyah),

It is through the service while enclothed within a body — and not on these spiritual levels — that the essence of the soul is revealed. In the spiritual realms, only the intermediate qualities of the soul are revealed. In contrast, when a soul descends to this material world and carries out the services of Torah, prayer, and good deeds — and in particular, the service of teshuvah — in thought, speech, and deed, the essence of the soul — which is connected to G‑d’s essence — is revealed.

Based on the above, we can understand the nature of the service of the month of Elul as reflected in the five services mentioned above: The three services of Torah, prayer, and good deeds are “the three pillars on which the world stands;” i.e., they reflect the natural order of the world.

The service of teshuvah lifts us above the natural order of the world, to the source of the soul (in the World of Atzilus). This allows the mitzvos we perform to be “good deeds” and “illuminated deeds.” This also brings about the fifth level, the service of a Jew on his own initiative reflecting how “Israel and the Holy One, Blessed be He, are one,” revealing the essence of the Jewish soul which is one with the essence of G‑d.

Since this service is not granted by G‑d, but rather achieved by a Jew through his own efforts, it will bring him the highest and most complete reward, that being the opportunity to continue to serve G‑d in this manner as explained in the interpretation of the Mishnah, “The reward for a mitzvah is a mitzvah.”4 This can be seen in the behavior of the great tzaddikim who reached the level that the essence of their souls was revealed while they were living in this world — reaching the level “You will behold your world (your portion of the World to Come)5 in your lifetime.”

What did they do after experiencing such a revelation? They continued to serve G‑d, advancing further in the performance of Torah and mitzvos. This is the concept of redemption in its fullest sense. It comes as a result — and a direct continuation — of our service of Torah and mitzvos in the present age.

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2. A connection to the above concept can also be seen in this week’s Torah portion, Parshas Re’eh. The closing verses of this portion describe the celebration of the pilgrimage festivals. In this context, the Torah states, והיית אך שמח, “You shall surely rejoice.” On that verse, our Sages comment that the word אך alludes to the inclusion of a concept not explicitly mentioned in the verse and that this is a reference to the celebrations of Simchas Torah.

This concept is difficult to understand: Generally, the word אך implies an exclusion, a limitation of the concept mentioned explicitly in the verse. In this instance, however, it is serving the opposite function, alluding to the inclusion of a subject which is not mentioned.

This concept relates to the ideas discussed above because the three pilgrimage festivals parallel the three services of Torah, prayer, and deeds of kindness. They refers to the service of the righteous which is carried out through joy as it states, “Serve G‑d with happiness.” This happiness is fully expressed on the pilgrimage festivals.

Despite the fact that a Jew is found in a world of limitation in which the G‑dly light is concealed, he restricts that limitation and reveals happiness, a quality which “breaks through barriers” and reveals an unbounded quality within this limitation. This reflects the Talmudic principle “a limitation which follows a second limitation is intended as an inclusion;” [to cite a parallel, a double negative connotes a positive statement].

The inclusion referred to in the verse, the rejoicing of Simchas Torah, reflects a higher level of happiness than the other festivals. The hakkafos of Simchas Torah — which are a custom instituted on the initiative of the Jewish people — transcend the celebrations of the other festivals that were commanded by the Torah.

This concept can also be associated with the beginning of the following week’s Torah portion, Parshas Shoftim, which mentions the commandment to appoint judges and enforcement officers.6 The Talmud teaches that the Sages would appoint enforcement officers on the festivals to ensure that the celebrations remained within the bounds of modesty. (Thus, we see a limitation — אך — to the holiday celebrations.) In regard to the celebrations of Purim,7 however, we do not find such a provision. On the contrary, then the celebration is boundless. “A person is obligated to become drunk... to the point that he does not know the difference between ‘Cursed be Haman’ and ‘Blessed be Mordechai.”‘

Seemingly, since a person has loosened the reigns of intellect, he “does not know,” it would seem that there would be more need for supervision and yet, none is required. This shows that when a Jew steps beyond the realms of intellect, when he reveals the essence of his soul, there is no need for supervision. G‑d, Himself, watches over him. Since the essence of a Jew’s soul is connected to G‑d’s essence, just as G‑d’s essence stands above the possibility for choice, so, too, a Jew will naturally, without the need for conscious thought, do G‑d’s will.

To bring the above down in actual deed: The month of Elul should be filled with the services of Torah, prayer, and good deeds. These should be infused with light and energy by the service of teshuvah. This will lead to them all being carried out in the spirit of redemption, serving G‑d with a single-minded commitment which reflects the complete unity between a Jew and G‑d to the extent that it is impossible for a Jew to do anything that is opposite G‑d’s will.

In addition to the activities involving one’s own self, one must work to reveal these qualities in the world at large. These efforts of refinement will serve as a preparation for the fulfillment of the prophecies, “I will remove the spirit of impurity from the world,” and “the world will be filled with the knowledge of G‑d as the waters cover the ocean bed,” revealing how “there is nothing else” but G‑d’s essence throughout all existence.8

Accordingly, each person should take on the resolution to increase his efforts to bring stability to the world at large. In particular, this applies within the realm of Chinuch, education,9 for educating a child has an effect on all the children and grandchildren who will ultimately descend from him.

This is particularly relevant in the present days when parents are enrolling their children in schools for the upcoming year. Each and every person should make an effort to influence them to send their children to Torah schools.10

This will serve as a preparatory step to the new year, תש"נ, a year of miracles. This is further emphasized by the fact that the first day of Rosh HaShanah falls on the Shabbos, an allusion to the era which is “only Shabbos and rest forever.”

3. The above can be connected with the fact that this is the fortieth year after the Previous Rebbe’s passing. The Torah teaches that after the passage of such a time period, one receives “a heart to know, eyes to see, and ears to listen.” These potentials must be used for the service of G‑d through Torah and mitzvos. When a Jew carries out such service, “walking in My statutes and observing My mitzvos,” G‑d grants him abundant blessings as the Torah continues including the blessing, “You shall walk upright;” i.e., proceed without shame.11

This is in the potential of every Jew as implied by the use of the singular form of the word “your G‑d” in the command, “I am the L‑rd, your G‑d” which implies that this is an individual matter, relevant to every single person. Similarly, in this week’s portion, Moshe’s charge, “Behold, I have set before you...” employs the singular form, i.e., it is addressed to each Jew individually.

This service will hasten the coming of the redemption. The Previous Rebbe stated that all that was necessary was to “polish the buttons and to stand prepared for Mashiach to come.” That service has also been completed and all that is necessary is to dance with Mashiach, with unbounded joy, in the Messianic redemption.