1. This Shabbos is the first Shabbos of the month of Elul.1 This is a month in which we should take stock of and complete all the service associated with the year, תשמ"ט (a year connected with the concept of release), and prepare for the service of תש"נ, a year of miracles.

Each day of Elul is of unique importance for each day of the month can elevate and compensate for the service of that day in all the months of the previous year and prepare for the service of that day in all the months of the year to come2 (i.e., the first of Elul is connected with the first day of all the months of the previous and coming years, the second of Elul with the second day, etc.3 ).

According to the principle that “ ‘we must live with the times,’ i.e., find a lesson relevant to our lives within the weekly Torah portion,” it is self-understood that there is a connection between the above concepts and the weekly Torah portion, Parshas Shoftim.

Parshas Shoftim begins with the commandment to “appoint judges and police in all your gates.” This concept is relevant in the personal service of every Jew. Judges, those who decide the law, allude to the study of Torah which teaches us the proper behavior to follow. Police, those who enforce the law, allude to the service of actual deed.4 By “appointing judges and police” for himself, a Jew assures that his behavior will follow the Torah’s guidelines.

This concept is further emphasized by the interpretation of “your gates”5 as referring to our sensory organs, our eyes, ears, etc. These organs are the “gates” through which we take in information from the outside environment and respond to it. We must “appoint judges and police” to control our appreciation of these stimuli and our response to them, directing them according to the Torah’s standards.

This brings out the connection to the month of Elul, the month of stocktaking. In such a month, there is a greater emphasis on judging and controlling our behavior to compensate for any deficiencies in the service of the previous year and to prepare for the service of the year to come.

This concept also relates to the conclusion of the weekly portion which discusses the mitzvah of Eglah Arufah (decapitating a calf as atonement for an unsolved murder). The appointment of “judges and police” is intended to prevent undesirable events of this nature from occurring. When such an event does occur — even though it occurs “in a field,” beyond the domains of their city — they perform the service necessary to bring about atonement.

This also relates to the service of the month of Elul which is associated with and prepares for the atonement of Yom Kippur. Indeed, it is explained that the cycle of repentance and atonement of these days has its source in the forty day period which Moshe spent on Mount Sinai, beginning Rosh Chodesh Elul and ending on Yom Kippur. [This involved repentance for the sin of the Golden Calf and G‑d’s pronounce of atonement, “I have forgiven according to your words,” on Yom Kippur.]

The fact that the corpse is found “in the field” can also be understood as an allusion to the metaphor of “the king in the field” which describes the service of Elul. To quote Likkutei Torah:

Before a king comes to a city, the people of the city come out and greet him in the field. Then, it is permitted [and the potential is granted] for all those who desire to go and greet him. He receives them all with a pleasant countenance and shows a smiling countenance to all.

Going out to “greet the king” in this manner brings about atonement since the Thirteen Attributes of Divine Mercy are revealed in the month of Elul.

2. This week’s — and the following week’s — portion contain a verse which when translated literally would read: “When you go out to war over your enemies...” A Jew must “go out” to war, i.e., the confrontation with the undesirable aspects of this world represents a departure and a descent from his natural state. When he approaches such a confrontation, he must know “not to fear them,” that he is “over” his enemies.

A Jew is “truly a part of G‑d from above” — “Israel and the Holy One, Blessed be He, are one.” Therefore, by nature, he stands above all the undesirable aspects of this world. Thus, the war is not a battle between two equals. Rather, he is on a totally different plane than the enemies he faces.

Why does a Jew descend to this low physical world? Because G‑d begged him, as it were, to do so. G‑d gave each Jew a mission which involved descending from the spiritual heights6 to become clothed in a physical body in this world where G‑dliness is concealed.

Thus, if this descent leads to undesirable consequences, this is not the Jew’s fault. It occurred only because G‑d sent the soul to such a place and hence, it is something which to quote the Torah’s expression in regard to an accidental murder, “G‑d caused it to come to his hand.”7 Therefore, “our hands did not shed this blood.” We cannot be held accountable for this sin.8

The ultimate purpose of this descent is an ascent. Through working to make a dwelling place for G‑d within this material world, the soul ascends to a higher level than it experienced before its descent. The Torah and mitzvos themselves are given for the sake of the Jewish people as we say in the Mishnah recited after Pirkei Avos: “G‑d wished to make the people of Israel meritorious; therefore He gave them Torah and mitzvos in abundant measure.” Similarly, Tanna D’vei Eliyahu states that two entities preceded the creation of the world, Torah and Israel. Of the two, Israel is on the higher level.

Since the Torah and mitzvos were intended to elevate the Jewish people and the Jews are above the Torah, it is impossible that an imperfection or deficiency in the service of the Jews should cause a descent in their level. The Torah bypasses, as it were, the blemishes and deficiencies caused by sin in appreciation of the point in a Jew’s soul that transcends Torah.

This concept sheds light on the request, “Atone for Your people, Israel.” Why is atonement possible? Because the Jews are “Your people,” connected in a complete bond with G‑d, they are above Torah. Hence, a deficiency in their service of Torah and mitzvos does not disturb this essential bond.

This connection is expressed by the service of teshuvah which has its source in the arousal of the essence of the soul. Therefore, on a revealed level, the Torah is above the Jewish people [as evidenced by the need for us to follow the Torah’s laws]. The service of teshuvah, however, reveals the essential connection between the Jews and G‑d which surpasses the Torah. Furthermore, teshuvah has the power of compensating for all the deficiencies9 created in a person’s service of G‑d, lifting him to a very high level as our Sages declared: “In the place of baalei teshuvah, even complete tzaddikim cannot stand.”

{The Rebbe Shlita continued developing this theme within the context of the metaphorical significance of the portion of the Mishneh Torah connected with the present day. This has been published as a separate essay, entitled “The Challenge of the Sea.”}

The awareness of the essential connection between the Jews and G‑d which surpasses the Torah should lead to an intensification of our efforts to reach out to every Jew. Though Elul should involve an increase in each person’s individual service of G‑d as expressed in a variety of different customs,10 it should also lead to an increase in our efforts to reach others.11 To quote the Rambam: One who saves a single Jewish soul is considered as if he saved an entire world.

May it be that the essential quality possessed by each Jewish soul motivate G‑d to hear the prayers of the righteous and “your people are all righteous” and bring the redemption. “All the appointed times for the coming of the redemption have past;” we have even “polished the buttons,” to cite the Previous Rebbe’s expression, and we are all “standing prepared to greet Mashiach.”