1. There are many facets of this Shabbos which are worthy of mention, but one should always begin with the concept which is closest personally. In this case the Nasi, the Previous Rebbe, revealed to us the significance of the 18th of Elul — the birthday of the “Two Great Luminaries,” the Baal Shem Tov and the Alter Rebbe. Since “the Nasi equals the entire generation,” the concept he revealed is obviously the most significant to us all.

The Previous Rebbe explained that Chai Elul brings life and vitality (chayus) to the G‑dly service which is performed during Elul. Elul is the time to make an honest appraisal of one’s service of G‑d throughout the past year. This includes Torah study, prayer, charity, teshuvah, and bringing the redemption, as is known from the hints present in the acronym of the word Elul. Chassidus itself brings life and vitality into all Torah and mitzvos. This fact is hinted to in the birthday of the founders of Chassidus on Chai Elul, which brings life into the service of Elul, and through it, into all Torah and mitzvos.

This effect is intensified when other factors compound the life-giving quality of Chai Elul. This year, Chai Elul falls out on Shabbos, which also gives off vitality and blessings to all the subsequent days of the week. In addition, it is a Sabbatical Year, Shemitah, which is a source of vitality for the subsequent six years.

The impact of Shemitah is also seen from the fact that it is the prelude to the year of Hakhel. During the Shemitah year, every single Jew is free to devote his time to Torah study. This is the proper preparation making it possible for Hakhel to have the proper effect — that everyone can listen to the Torah in a way that makes a permanent impression strengthening their observance in Torah and mitzvos.

From all this we see that this Chai Elul provides a special opportunity and strength helping one add in the service of Elul, and through it, in all matters of Torah and mitzvos. Everyone should therefore make firm resolutions about future improvement. These should be as specific as possible, for only in that way can one be certain that the resolutions will be actualized.

2. In describing Chai Elul, the Previous Rebbe said that it is the birthday of the “Two Great Luminaries” (shnei meoros hag’dolim). Certainly his choice of words was precise, and provide insight into the nature of the day.

This phrase is used in the Torah to refer to the creation of the sun and the moon, which were originally created at the same time and through the one utterance y’hi meoros. Nevertheless, we find them described as two luminaries, indicating their individuality and distinctness.

We find the same regarding the Baal Shem Tov and the Alter Rebbe: on the one hand we have the day of Chai Elul which applies to them both equally. On the other hand, they lived in different times, and had different roles — as the founders of Chassidus in general and Chabad Chassidus respectively.

We can understand the relationship between their unity and distinctness through first looking at the difference between them. The Baal Shem Tov devoted himself primarily to arousing the innate faith, the spark of emunah present within every Jew. The Alter Rebbe, however, worked in the way of Chabad — stressing the necessity of exertion and avodah in the service of G‑d.

These two approaches correspond to the Chassidic concepts of mil’malah l’matah (“from above to below”) and mil’matah l’malah (“from below to above”). The Baal Shem Tov worked in a way which transcended all the rules and boundaries of nature. For this reason his primary efforts were non-intellectual — appealing to the infinite spark of G‑dliness within every Jew. For this same reason, his service was characterized by miraculous behavior, bringing that which is normally “above” down here to the physical world.

The Alter Rebbe stressed the opposite trend, taking that which is “below,” and elevating it to holiness. This represents the ultimate goal of making a dirah b’tachtonim, a dwelling place for G‑d in the lowest realms of existence. For that reason, he stressed the idea of working with one’s intellect and emotions in order to make them holy. This is also the reason why the idea of miracles always received little stress in Chabad — because the ultimate is not to break nature (mil’malah l’matah), but to elevate and purify it (mil’matah l’malah).

The same characteristics are alluded to in their names. The Baal Shem Tov’s name, Yisrael, represents the essence of the Jewish soul, which remains unaffected by any worldly occurrences — “even if he sins, he is still a Yisrael.” The Alter Rebbe’s first name, Shneur, refers to sh’nei or — the “two lights” of the revealed and concealed parts of Torah. This stress on Torah study corresponds to the service mil’matah l’malah. The second name, Zalman, has similar implication, since it’s letters also constitute the word l’zman, indicating serving G‑d within the natural constraints of time and space.

Both types of service are necessary, and together constitute a logical progression of development. We see in general that supra-natural conduct must precede that which is within nature. An example of this is when the Torah was given — a process which was initiated by G‑d’s descent to Mt. Sinai, and only then followed by Moshe’s ascent.

The same applies in the course of revelation of pnimiyus haTorah. First came the revelation from above through the service of the Baal Shem Tov. Only then came the service of the Alter Rebbe, revealing G‑dliness within the world and making a true “dwelling place below.”

This explains, then, the two qualities mentioned previously. They are called together “luminaries” because they represent stages in the one process of the revelation of pnimiyus haTorah and G‑dliness throughout the world. However, it is also stressed that they are “two,” i.e. distinct stages separated in time and in function.

The connection between the Baal Shem Tov’s service and that of the Alter Rebbe is also hinted to in an amazing story told by the Previous Rebbe 50 years ago. At that time he related how on Chai Elul, 5652, his father, the Rebbe Rashab, ascended to Gan Eden and heard seven Torah discourses from the Baal Shem Tov.

As mentioned previously, Chabad places little emphasis on miracles. This being the case, it is most surprising that this story was publicized. This is particularly true since it was a miraculous occurrence regarding Torah study, which certainly must be learned within the parameters of human intellect — as our Sages said, “Torah is not in the heavens.”

The answer lies in the two stages described above. Hearing the teachings in Gan Eden was a revelation from above in a supra-natural manner, similar to the service of the Baal Shem Tov. When it was conveyed by the Rebbe Rashab, with the additional explanations of Chabad Chassidus, the special advantage of service mil’matah l’malah was added.

Just as Chai Elul has both qualities, conveying this story brings us the advantages of both. We learn the seven teachings with our intellect in the way of Chabad; but the knowledge that they came to us in such an unusual way gives us a special feeling of spiritual elevation and a unique approach to it.

Why was it that it took so long for this story to be publicized, and that it was done only through the Previous Rebbe and not his father? As the darkness of the exile increases, more and more light is needed to dispel it. Just as the “spreading of the wellsprings to the outside” grows as time progresses, this story was also revealed to give us additional energy and inspiration in Torah and mitzvos.

The intent is, of course, that this inspiration affects us to the extent that it reaches the realm of action, and that our increased good deeds hasten the arrival of Mashiach, may he arrive speedily.

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3. Regarding the seven teachings of the Baal Shem Tov mentioned above, there are a number of details which need elaboration. In the written version of these seven teachings, the word chasser (“missing”) is written in several places. Since everything in the world — and certainly something regarding Torah — is guided by Divine Providence, this certainly contains a message for us all.

This is especially true since in other cases we find that even where it would be appropriate, the word chasser is not written. One of the Alter Rebbe’s well-known students, R. Aaron Strasheler, wrote that the second part of Tanya, Shaar HaYichud VehaEmunah, was never finished by the Alter Rebbe. In the first printed editions of Tanya, it was indeed printed at the end, “chasser.” This note was removed in later printings, however, and was certainly done upon the guidance of the Rebbeim. Perhaps the explanation is that after all the explanations and elaborations of the Rebbeim, there is in reality nothing “missing” — the subject is covered completely in other writings of Chassidus. If so, what could be the purpose here, in the teachings of the Baal Shem Tov, of leaving the word chasser?

This can be understood in light of the verse (Proverbs 9:9), “Give to a wise person and he will become more wise.” This means that there are certain things that a person must be taught directly, and others which he must realize on his own, only after personal effort and exertion. After giving him a certain amount of knowledge (“Give to a wise person”), he will be able to expand upon this knowledge and develop new concepts on his own (“and he will become more wise”). This is the desire aroused within a person when he sees the word chasser. He immediately wonders what was missing, and he uses the principles of Torah and his previous knowledge to try to formulate a possible completion of the missing section.

Another interesting aspect of this story is that the first two teachings were delivered publicly before the Baal Shem Tov’s students, his students’ students, the chassidim, and even women. From this description, it is obvious that women were not present for the latter five. The obvious explanation for this is that the teachings were aimed at different types of souls. Women have souls from alma d’nukva, whereas men’s’ souls come from alma d’d’chura. The last five teachings were meant specifically for souls from alma d’d’chura, and therefore only men were present. The first two fit both types of souls, and therefore women were also there.

Today, this presents somewhat of a paradoxical situation. Women are halachically obligated in the mitzvos of love of G‑d, fear of G‑d, belief in G‑d, etc. They are therefore obligated to learn Chassidus, which leads to the performance of these mitzvos. But the last five teachings are, as mentioned above, only for souls from alma d’d’chura! How could women learn them?

We can understand this by first relating an incident in which Torah meant for alma d’nukva came also to alma d’d’chura. The book Beis Rebbe tells of Freida, the daughter of the Alter Rebbe. She was especially dear to him, and he would frequently deliver Chassidic discourses specifically for her. In fact, when her brother, who later became the Mitteler Rebbe, wanted to hear Chassidus, he would sometimes ask her to make a request, whereupon he would hide and listen. Obviously the Mitteler Rebbe wasn’t fooling the Alter Rebbe, and didn’t intend to do so. If so, why did he have to receive this Chassidus in such a way? The answer lies in the concept mentioned previously. These discourses were intended specifically for alma d’nukva, and therefore had to be delivered to a female.

But we are left with the same question in the opposite direction: how could the Mitteler Rebbe learn this Torah if it was meant for alma d’nukva?

The explanation is that because of his unquenchable desire to learn this Torah, and his constant striving for it, he attained in his soul the ability to internalize Torah from alma d’nukva.

The same applies in our case regarding the last five of the seven discourses given by the Baal Shem Tov. They were really meant for souls of alma d’d’chura — but when a women feels a desire to learn this Torah as well, she creates within her soul the capability of connecting with this type of Torah.

The lesson to be derived from this is clear. There might be certain things which are in reality beyond the reach of your soul. However, through constant striving and persistent, you can nevertheless attain them.

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4. It is customary to discuss the Pirkei Avos read on the particular Shabbos. In order to finish before Rosh HaShanah, the custom is to read two chapters a week towards the end of the summer, in this case, chapters 3 and 4. The question therefore arises as to the Mishnah, kol Yisrael, which precedes the chapter, and Rabbi Chananyah, which follows. Do we consider them as two separate chapters needing these two Mishnayos before and after each of them; or are they considered this week like one long chapter, with kol Yisrael being read before Chapter 3 and Rabbi Chananyah after Chapter 4?

One might be tempted to be strict and say, “What’s the difference — I’ll say it an extra time just in case!” However, this is not the way to approach Jewish law and custom. One must determine exactly what halachah has to say on the matter. In this case, for example, saying the mishnayos an extra time would not only be a strict observance — since it might be an interruption between the two chapters, it might in truth be a leniency.

As far as the answer is concerned, we have discussed the matter on other occasions, and “Give to a wise person and he will become more wise.”

Regarding the two chapters themselves, we find that they correspond to the content of Chai Elul. First of all, Pirkei Avos itself is called mili d’chassidusa, showing a clear connection with Chassidus. In addition, the two chapters 3 and 4 show a connection with Chassidus in general (the Baal Shem Tov) and Chassidus Chabad, respectively.

The very numbers 3 and 4 (gimmel and daled in Hebrew) stand for the phrase Gomel Dalim (“give to the poor”). The 3 therefore corresponds to the idea of giving from above, the idea of mil’malah l’matah corresponding to general Chassidus, as mentioned above. 4 corresponds to the needy recipient, the elevation and purification mil’matah l’malah, similar to Chassidus Chabad.

We see the same idea in the content of the beginning of both chapters. Chapter 3 begins, “Reflect upon three things and you will not come to sin...” Reflection upon these things as they are above (“from where you came, to where you are going, and before whom you are destined to give an accounting”) automatically affects one’s behavior mil’malah l’matah. The beginning of Chapter 4, “Who is wise...who is strong...who is wealthy...who is honored...?” corresponds to Chabad, as explained in Chassidic philosophy.

Even the number of mishnayos in each chapter convey the same meaning. Chapter 3 contains 18 mishnayos, the number 18 corresponding to the sefirah of yesod, which gives to the sefiros which are below it. Chapter 4 contains 22 mishnayos, corresponding to the 22 letters of the Alef-Bet and the sefirah of malchus, which is a recipient. They therefore correspond to general Chassidus and Chabad Chassidus. Reading them both together represents their unity, as explained above.