1. Why don’t we say the usual Blessing for the New Month on this Shabbos preceding Rosh Hashanah?

Rosh Hashanah is, after all, also a Rosh Chodesh (Day of the New Moon) as the Torah refers to it, “In the seventh month on the first day of the month” (Vayikra 23:24). As such, it should receive a blessing from the Shabbos before it, just as every Rosh Chodesh does.

Regarding this Shabbos, the Previous Rebbe passed on to us a teaching of the Alter Rebbe, which he heard from his teacher, the Great Maggid, in the name of the Baal Shem Tov:

The seventh month is the first month of the new year and the Holy One, Blessed be He, Himself, blesses the month on the Shabbos Mevarchim, which is the last Shabbos of the month of Elul. It is with this power that the Jewish people bless the other months, eleven times a year. It is written: “Today (lit. this day) you are all standing....” “Today” refers to Rosh Hashanah, the day of judgment. We know this from the verse: “And the day was ...” (Iyov 2:1) which the Targum renders: “The day of great judgment.” When the Torah says: “Today you are standing,” it means you are all standing, persisting and meritorious in your judgment. It is on the last Shabbos in Elul, just before Rosh Hashanah that we read Nitzavim, for this carries with it the blessing of the Holy One, Blessed be He, on the Shabbos that blesses the seventh month. The seventh month (Tishrei) is full [and satiated] and bestows much goodness on all the Jewish people throughout the entire year. (HaYom Yom, 25 Elul)

So, in fact, G‑d does bless the Rosh Chodesh of the seventh month! And in fact the blessing is so intense that it empowers the Jewish people to be able to bless the other eleven months of the year! Invariably this Rosh Chodesh is also Rosh Hashanah, consequently this Shabbos gives the blessing for Rosh Hashanah to bless all the rest of the days of the coming year.

Knowing that this wondrous blessing emanates from G‑d is there still place for an input on our part? Decidedly yes! What connection and what impact can we have with the blessing? By repeating this teaching of the Baal Shem Tov we not only transmit the import of the teaching, but we also increase the impact, just as each successive Nasi added some aspect by repeating the teaching in the name of his predecessor.

The AriZal explained the verse in Esther: “These days should be remembered and celebrated (lit. come into being).” When they are “remembered” properly then they actually happen — all the great occurrences “come into being” again now!

Thus, although this concept has been repeated many times since the Baal Shem Tov first opened the path and forged the way — nevertheless this year again we can accomplish as much, and more, with our discussion of his teaching.

Our sages teach on the verse:

He declares His word unto Yaakov.... G‑d only tells Israel to do and observe those things which He Himself does. (Shmos Rabbah 30:9)

Consequently when the Gemara says:

We [must] raise an object to a higher level of sanctity. [Or, lit. “In matters of sanctity we must always increase.”]

Certainly the Holy One, Blessed be He, carries out this ruling, Himself, and the blessing of this Shabbos for this New Year is greater and more intense than ever before.

This idea of yearly increments in the revelation of benevolence on Rosh Hashanah is explained in Tanya, and the same concept applies to this Shabbos Mevarchim which blesses the seventh month. Being that the coming year is a “full year” (leap year of 13 months), the blessing is also “full.”

Which brings us to understand and appreciate the quality of this Shabbos. Having reached the point in Shabbos following the prayers and the time when the Blessing of the New Month would have been said, the blessing is already generated and absorbed in an essential way. This is certainly true of the physical blessings, which is the main theme of the radiation of benevolence on Rosh Hashanah [as explained by Ramban and others.]

May this also bring to the fulfillment of the blessing:

Indeed, the righteous will extol Your Name; the upright will dwell in Your presence, (Tehillim 140:14)

that we will appear before G‑d and be in the presence of “Your face” in the Third Beis HaMikdash. And then the promise will be fulfilled: “Arise and sing ye that dwell in the dust.” (Yeshayahu 26:19), with the three shepherds among them: the Great Maggid, Baal Shem Tov and Alter Rebbe — also the Previous Rebbe — who all taught this lesson we have spoken of, and have revealed it and placed it in our power. So may it be for us.

May the blessings of the Holy One, Blessed be He, radiate to us all, to care for all our needs in an ever increasing way until:

The L‑rd shall be to you an everlasting light, (Yeshayahu 60:19)

at the advent of the true and complete redemption through our righteous Mashiach speedily and truly in our times.

2. This year, the final Shabbos of the closing year, which blesses the day of Rosh Hashanah, falls on the 28th of the month of Elul. The 28th of Elul was the fourth day of creation in which the “two great lights” were created.

The special theme of this Shabbos (on which G‑d blesses the year) has been revealed to us through the teachings of the Baal Shem Tov and Alter Rebbe, whom the Previous Rebbe called the “two great luminaries.” This aspect, of course, was also emphasized by the fact that Chai Elul, the birthday of the Baal Shem Tov and the Alter Rebbe, this year occurred on Wednesday, the day of the creation of “the two great lights.”

Consequently, when the Shabbos Mevarchim of the seventh month occurs on the 28th of Elul, the fourth day of creation, when the “two great lights” were fixed in the heavens, there evolves a stronger emphasis and unique increase in all the aspects of the activities associated with the teaching of the “two great luminaries” — that G‑d blesses the seventh month on this Shabbos. (The revelation is even greater for this reason.)

Rosh Hashanah recalls the day on which Adam was created. Having been composed of:

The body of the earthly and the soul of the heavenly, (Rashi, Bereishis 2:7)

man comprises the joining of the physical and spiritual, celestial and terrestrial; the absolute nethermost with the ultimate supernal. What is the point of this unification?

Man’s soul stems from the absolutely loftiest plane. The Alter Rebbe explains this in Tanya:

Truly a part of G‑d above, as it is written, “And He breathed into his nostrils a breath of life....” And it is written in the Zohar: “He who exhales, exhales from within him,” that is to say from his inwardness and his innermost. (Tanya ch. 2)

On the other hand, man’s body is from the lowest “dust of the earth.”

This is in contrast to the creation of all other temporal, living beings made by G‑d. As Torah Or describes it:

All of the living beings, the flora and fauna of the world, were created body and soul (life-force) together, as one entity, just as we see them now. The Talmud expresses it thusly: All creatures were brought into existence in their full form (beauty). (Rosh Hashanah 11a)

This means that body and soul were created jointly, and both materialized together. Hence, the Torah tells us, that G‑d saw that all He had wrought was “very good.” The first instance of existence encompassed and expressed the full goodness — matter and form — body and spirit.

But not man! He was made in a different way. First G‑d gathered soil from the corners of the earth and formed the clay body — it was not alive — but it was a fully formed body — all limbs, organs, veins, sinews, nerves etc., and only then did G‑d breathe a soul of life into this “golem.”

Obviously the human body is therefore lower than the animal’s — or the flower’s — body, for they were created alive and he was formed without life. Especially as man was formed from bits of earth gathered together from the low ground, not even from the mountains, and kneaded into a clay body, as Rashi puts it:

It is like a kneader (of bread) who first pours in water and afterwards kneads the dough — similarly here: He first watered (the ground) and afterwards He formed man.” (Ibid 2:6)

Is this not strange and paradoxical: That the body of man, the “chosen one” of creation, should be made in a more gross manner than all other physical beings?

Torah Or ponders this point and then explains:

Because man has been singled out among all the creations of the universe and through man all creation can be uplifted, as it says: “He has also placed the world in their heart” (Koheles 3:11). For this end his lofty soul must be clothed in a lowly body, so that all other aspects of creation may be raised along with it. For example, when one wishes to raise a heavy object from the ground with a lever, the end of the lever must be placed under the lowest part of the object in order to raise the entire object. If not the lower sections would not be raised. Therefore man is unique, his body is lowly dust — but his soul is supernal, “truly a part of G‑d,” and only he has the power to raise all aspects of the corporeal world — even the lowliest of matter — to the highest spheres of holiness. (Torah Or, Bereishis 3:4)

Thus, the theme of Rosh Hashanah — the salient point — is the joining of the extremes to effect the goal of creation. And it is this theme, which we can also find in the two great lights — their place is in the heavens, but their job is to illuminate the lowly worlds!

In a like manner we may view the role of the “two great luminaries” — the Baal Shem Tov and the Alter Rebbe.

These two human “floodlamps” illuminated the universe with the teachings of Chassidus — the highest heavens — and yet they also realized that their ultimate goal was to brighten the lives of all the Jews here on earth. Their purpose was to spread the wellsprings of Torah and Chassidus to the farthest “outside,” to shine on the deepest, darkest crevices of the earth; their goal was to illuminate.

We now find more meaning in associating the occurrence of the Shabbos before Rosh Hashanah on the 28th of Elul, the day the lights were set in the heavens, with the emphasis on the teaching of the “two great luminaries,” that G‑d blesses Rosh Hashanah on this Shabbos and the blessing continues all year. It fits with the theme of Rosh Hashanah — the joining of opposite extremes.

For us, this means more attention and dedication to the work of spreading the light of the “two great luminaries” to brighten the world, and this will bring us the increased blessing of the Holy One, Blessed be He, for the seventh month and the entire year. Primarily the blessing should bring success in the work of disseminating the wellsprings to the outside, in a full and satiated manner, by personally studying and being filled with the teachings of Chassidus — then being able to satisfy others.

Then we will merit the endowment of all of G‑d’s blessings, most of all, the blessing which is the fulfillment of the promise given by Mashiach to the Baal Shem Tov, that when the wellsprings will spread outside, Mashiach will come — truly in our time.

3. This coming year, 5746, being a leap year, presents an interesting question relating to the blessing given to Rosh Hashanah on this Shabbos, as described by the Previous Rebbe.

The teaching, as quoted from the Baal Shem Tov, said that: “It is with this power that the Jewish people bless the other months eleven times a year.”

Why did the Baal Shem not add: “and in a leap year, twelve times”? To suggest that he spoke only of the majority of years would be difficult — since the leap years are not nullified — they remain as a minority but must also have the blessing of G‑d.

We may however understand that since the name of the extra month is also “Adar” therefore in a sense it is an extension of the first “Adar” month of the leap year. The fact that it is counted as a separate month with its own Shabbos Mevarchim would relate to the esoteric teaching, that the month is associated with the tribe of Levi. But, because it does not have a new name, this would show that externally it is not a separate entity, and therefore there is no need to say that in a leap year we receive strength from Shabbos Mevarchim Tishrei to bless the months, “twelve times.”

Let us now analyze both of these aspects of the leap month in our Divine service. For we know that although in legal, halachic application we must always make a decision or ruling based on following only one opinion, e.g. in the case of a debate between Beis Shammai and Beis Hillel the halachah is usually decided according to the opinion of Beis Hillel. However, when it comes to a moral lesson for our general service and worship of the Holy One, Blessed be He, then we may learn from both opinions. Even the opinion that is not ultimately accepted as binding law may also have a moral lesson for us, for both are the word of the living G‑d. Chassidus affords many examples of this practice.

In our case, if we were discussing which Adar is the “real” Adar we would enter into an halachic debate and would have to accept one or the other opinion as law. But, since we are interested in the moral teaching, not the halachic rule, we may incorporate both opinions.

Why do we add a leap month? because of the diminution of the moon.

What does that mean?

In the beginning the sun and moon were equal: “Two great lights.” When the moon “complained” about this phenomenon it was told to “diminish” itself, becoming the “smaller” light. A secondary outcome of that reduction phenomenon was that the lunar year became shorter than the solar year. The occasional leap year is inserted to reconcile the difference between the two; to realign the solar and lunar years. Thus a leap month completes the gap of the lunar year. This deficiency was brought about because of an undesirable action, for which it is necessary to do “teshuvah” and to seek forgiveness. Thus the leap year adds emphasis to the Divine service of teshuvah — repentance — even for tzaddikim.

Now, if the second Adar is viewed only as a continuation of the first Adar — then it connotes the steady work of the tzaddik — doing things right the first time. If, however, the second Adar is a new special entity, then it represents the path of teshuvah: repentance for sinners and, also, return to spiritual loftiness for tzaddikim.

Having proposed that in matters of moral conduct we may follow both opinions — it stands to reason that we should follow both the path of tzaddikim as well as the Divine service of the baalei teshuvah — each at its appropriate time.

In these days of diaspora we set the year by the calendar so we know now that the year 5746 is a leap year — [when the Beis HaMikdash stood they would not know this until the end of the month of Adar]. As such, Torah decrees that this is a leap year and all the ancillary qualities apply — as we have just explained. Even though we believe that Mashiach will come now, and when Mashiach comes we will once again establish the months by the testimony of witnesses, hence, we will not be able to foretell if this year will actually be a leap year. Despite this we must follow Halachah, and at this moment it rules that this year is a leap year.

May it be the will of G‑d that everyone will be involved in these aspects of Divine service and may we properly complete our personal preparations for Rosh Hashanah, for tomorrow we say the Selichos of Erev Rosh Hashanah, and also to see to it that others have what they need for Yom-Tov. May it be done with joy.

And we will merit the full blessings of the Holy One, Blessed be He, on this Shabbos Mevarchim and may we speedily merit “the day which is completely good ...,” and since we are certainly meritorious in G‑d’s eyes the redemption should be speeded up.

So may it be for us, quickly and truly in our days, with happiness and gladness of hearts.