1. The Previous Rebbe said that beginning with Shabbos Mevarchim Elul, one could sense the “Elul air” in Lubavitch.

Just as each day has its own unique type of G‑dly service, so too each of the 12 months. The unique aspect of Elul can be seen in halachah, where the Tur states, “Beginning Rosh Chodesh Elul, one recites many Selichos and Tachanunim...to request mercy.” (Ch. 581)

For this reason, we find that Torah scholars, during the month of Elul, take away time from their Torah studies in order to add on in prayer and “to request mercy.” Obviously they include requests for all of the physical blessings, since this is the general purpose of prayer mid’oraysa, as the Rambam rules.

Even a Jew who does not understand the meaning of the words he utters, still has this general intention. He has in mind that G‑d knows his physical needs, and will certainly fulfill them. Physical blessings are an important part of serving G‑d; as the Rambam says, they enable a Jew, “to be free to learn Torah and fulfill mitzvos.”

G‑d’s blessings are given “measure for measure,” i.e. they correspond to the person’s actions. Therefore, when we have mercy on someone else, this arouses G‑d’s mercy towards us.

In particular, this means fulfillment of the commandment to “love your neighbor as yourself.” The expression “as yourself,” is literal. When you yourself need something, you don’t have to sit down and meditate about it, but rather feel it immediately. For example, when you are hungry or thirsty, meditation is unnecessary. You sense it immediately and automatically act to rectify the situation. The same should apply when it comes to another Jew. One should be sensitized to his needs, and react immediately to fulfill them.

(In Tanya, the Alter Rebbe describes how one can come to Ahavas Yisrael through meditating about one’s fellow Jew. However, with meditation, one cannot reach the highest level of Ahavas Yisrael. The coldness of intellect prevents one from leaping beyond boundaries and loving him truly komocha, as yourself. Therefore, one must transcend intellect and leap beyond its limitations.)

In this way, G‑d fulfills our requests “measure for measure.” Seeing that the individual has himself shown mercy and love, G‑d shows the same to him, blessing him in all his needs.

In many congregations, the custom is also to give reprimand (divrei mussar) during the month of Elul. In view of the above, however, care must be taken to ensure that it is done with love and in a peaceful manner. This is one explanation of the proximity of the commandment of Ahavas Yisrael to that of reprimand. (Vayikra, 19:17-18) Reprimand must be issued because of one’s love for the person and genuine concern that he behave properly.

To put it a little differently, the primary commandment is that of Ahavas Yisrael. However, sometimes it is expressed directly, through kindness, and sometimes through reprimand. Since the reprimand stems from love, certainly it must be done pleasantly and peacefully.

When the listener sees that the speaker truly cares about his well-being, chances are good that he will accept the advice and act upon it. Experience proves that the opposite approach — that of anger and insult — brings no practical results. Furthermore, such an approach is actually prohibited by the Torah! We find that the prophet Yeshayahu was punished for using disparaging language regarding the Jewish people.

Let’s examine this: Yeshayahu was, even among the prophets, considered especially close to G‑d. Furthermore, these words were spoken in private, heard only by G‑d. He certainly was required to tell the truth, and undoubtedly did so. Nevertheless, since the expressions he used were disparaging, he was punished, since one should not use such expressions about G‑d’s children, the Jewish people.

In summary, Elul is the proper time to have an extra measure of mercy towards others, regarding both their physical and their spiritual needs — including increased effort in the mitzvah campaigns.

This will bring about fulfillment of the verse (said in the special psalm for Elul), “You are my light and my salvation.” “Light” refers to the G‑dly revelation which we will receive even during the final days of exile; “salvation” refers to the final revelation of Mashiach.

2. There are additional lessons to be derived from the particular time in which Rosh Chodesh Elul falls out this year. The first day of Rosh Chodesh is on Tuesday, the third day of the week. We find that on the first Tuesday of creation, G‑d proclaimed twice, “it is good.” This double expression is interpreted by the Sages as referring to the double goodness present: “good for the heavens and good for the creations.”

Even the simplest person can relate to this on a practical level. When he does a favor for another Jew (“good for the creations”), he keeps in mind that he is fulfilling G‑d’s command (“good for the heavens”). Conversely, when he sets out to do G‑d’s will (“heavens”), he keeps in mind that this desire must also find expression in helping another (“creations”). As our Sages put it, “As He is merciful, so too you must be merciful.” Although this is the idea of Elul in general (as mentioned above), this lesson receives extra stress when Rosh Chodesh falls on Tuesday.

A further lesson can be derived from the weekly Torah portion, Re’eh. There are a countless number of lessons in the parshah, but the one thing which encompasses the entire parshah is its name. The name of this week’s parshah, Re’eh, is related to re’iah, or sight.

When you mention “sight,” the first thing that comes to mind is actual concrete vision. In our context, it refers to the instructions we are given as to how we should serve G‑d. When one hears that this is the time for extra kindness towards others, for example, one could accept this mission with kaballas ol and blindly carry it out. The Torah requires, however, that he actually see — to perceive its necessity and its consequent reward.

When the person complains that he doesn’t see it, we must explain that he has mistranslated the word Re’eh. It doesn’t mean, “you do see,” or “you shall see,” but “SEE!” It is a command; you must open your eyes and SEE!

Since we are given such a command, we must say that all the prerequisites have been satisfied; we have the ability to see, and there must be sufficient light around us. If not, G‑d would not tell us to see, but rather to first make the necessary preparations. All that needed is for us to open our eyes.

This is the lesson conveyed by the beginning of the parshah, “See, I have placed before you today life and goodness, etc... and you shall choose life.” Even the simplest person can understand this, since he sees in his daily life that some actions bring about desirable results, and others the opposite. We are commanded to see — to point our eyes in the proper direction and clearly perceive the necessity to cleave to Torah and mitzvos, to “choose life.”

Although the lessons mentioned above apply even to the simplest Jew, nevertheless, they are important even for one who has already learned the entire Torah. Sometimes his learning doesn’t really become part of his being, and therefore he doesn’t bring his Torah study down to the level of action. Even worse, sometimes his very study leads him away from doing the mitzvah.

For example, when a poor person requests charity, the scholar might prefer first to study in depth all the laws pertaining to charity, and only later think about actually giving. This person must be told the necessity of being “good to the creations,” and giving the charity immediately — who knows what might happen to the poor person in the meantime! The Gemara relates that a poor person once came to Nachum Ish Gamzu, but he died because he wasn’t helped soon enough. The Shulchan Aruch therefore rules that charity must be given immediately.

The scholar claims that the story with Nachum Ish Gamzu is completely beyond understanding. After all, one of the foundations of faith is that G‑d provides for all His creatures. Certainly He can take care of this poor person without his charity. Why is there a mitzvah to give charity, you might ask? Obviously, to give him the opportunity to do another mitzvah, not because the poor person really needs him! Since the whole mitzvah is therefore for the giver, he prefers to first learn about the mitzvah, then immerse in the mikveh, don a gartel, etc. In the meantime, G‑d will take care of this poor person!

We answer him that Nachum and the Sages of the Gemara also had faith in G‑d, but nevertheless stressed the importance of giving immediately. His lack of understanding is due to insufficient effort. Apply yourself more, and you will certainly be able to understand it — but first give the charity!

As we show mercy towards others properly — i.e. immediately — so too G‑d will show the same towards us with immediate redemption, as our Sages said, “He did not keep them [in Egypt any longer than necessary,] even for the blink of an eye.”

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3. In the course of the week, many questions were asked regarding the farbrengen of last Shabbos. This is now the proper time for further discussion. However, when asking questions, one should keep in mind that it is not the question which is the main thing, but the answer! Some are so pleased to have found a question that they make no attempt to answer it themselves. This sometimes leads to an additional problem; in their self-satisfaction, they overlook more fundamental questions in the very same subject.

Last week we discussed Rashi’s commentary on the verse, (Devarim 9:11) “G‑d gave me the two golden tablets (luchos), the tablets of the covenant.” Rashi explains why the word luchos is spelled without the letter vav, making it appear singular, “tablet.” He answers that the spelling comes to teach us that both tablets were identical (in spite of the great difference in length between the first five commandments and the last five).

We asked why it is that Rashi chose to explain the word in this verse, since the same variant spelling is used in the verses immediately preceding. We answered that the change in spelling stands out in this verse more than in others, since the word is used twice, once with a vav and once without.

The question has been presented that earlier, (Shemos 31:18) the same word is used twice, with the letter vav omitted both times. According to the explanation given last Shabbos, it seems that Rashi should not have commented on that verse.

However, we must first explain why Rashi ever finds it necessary to explain these variations in spelling, since he does not always do so. Rashi does so only when the change in spelling is questionable in that context; when according to the content of the verse, it would seem proper to spell out the word fully.

For example, when Rivkah gave birth to Yaakov and Eisav, the verse says that there were twins (tumim) within her, with the word tumim missing a letter. This spelling seems curious, since both Yitzchok and Rivkah were tzaddikim, and the pregnancy came directly from G‑d answering their prayers. It would seem fitting to spell the word out fully. Why should it be written in a way that indicates a defect? To answer this, Rashi explains that one of the twins, i.e. Eisav, was wicked, and therefore the word is written to reflect this lack.

Similarly here: the question arises even the first time that the word is spelled with the missing vav. Knowing the great holiness of the tablets, the question arises, why should luchos be spelled in a way that indicates a defect? To this Rashi answers, to the contrary, that here the change in spelling indicates a special quality, that both were identical.

For this reason, Rashi explains the change in spelling in Shemos, although the variation doesn’t stand out there as it does here. Last week’s question was somewhat different: why, among the several verses where the same spelling is used, did Rashi choose to comment on this one (verse 11) in particular. To answer this, we explained that Rashi comments on the most prominent variation in that section.

Here we can see the great precision in the wording of Rashi. In explaining the birth of the twins, Rashi says that the spelling is choser, “lacking.” In describing the tablets, however, Rashi doesn’t say that the spelling is “lacking,” but rather that, “it is spelled, luchas.” The reason that Rashi expresses himself differently is that with the twins, the spelling alludes to a lack (i.e. that one was wicked), therefore Rashi says the spelling is “lacking.” Here, however, the spelling alludes to a special quality, therefore, Rashi doesn’t mention that the spelling is “lacking.”

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4. This week’s parshah discusses the mitzvah of charity, and two verses in particular stress the importance of making special efforts in this regard. Devarim 15:8 says, Faso’ach tiftach es yadcha, “open your hand,” twice repeating the word “open.” Rashi explains that the repetition signifies that one should do so, “even many times.” Similarly, verse 10 states, nason titein lo, “give him,” also repeating the word, “give” twice. Here, Rashi explains that one must give, “even 100 times.”

The obvious question is why does Rashi say “many times” in one verse, and “100 times” in the other. This difference is even more striking when we examine Rashi’s source, the Sifri, which says “100 times” by both verses!

The explanation of this lies in the difference between the two expressions, “open your hand,” and “give.” Rashi comes to explain the simple meaning of the verse, and in pshat, the two phrases are different.

“Opening one’s hand” refers primarily to the donor’s preparations. This is clear from the previous verse, which warns, “do not harden your heart or shut your hand against your needy brother.” You must overcome your emotions and give generously and cheerfully. This “opening of the hand,” precedes the actual giving.

The word “giving” refers to the actual transfer of money to the poor person. One could prepare oneself to make a donation and consequently open one’s hand. If there is nobody there to receive it, however, the gift will never reach its destination. The word “give” is used only when there is someone receiving.

Therefore, in the course of a day, it is unlikely that an individual will “open his hand” 100 times, since the preparation takes some time. The actual giving, on the other hand, can be to even more than 100 people. Even a small child who has begun to learn Chumash sees that on special days such as Purim, many poor people gather around one wealthy person. At that time, he might open his hand only once, but give to 100 poor people. Therefore, in the verse which speaks of opening one’s hand, Rashi says “even many times,” while in giving, he says, “even 100 times.”

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5. It is customary to discuss my father’s commentary on the Zohar. Although there is no commentary on this week’s parshah, in the end of parshas Shemos he discusses the month of Elul. There, he describes the unique quality of Elul, which corresponds to the level of binah, understanding. This seems to contradict the general idea of Elul mentioned previously, i.e. the stress on asking G‑d for mercy, even above Torah study. Since binah corresponds to Torah study, why should Torah scholars decrease their study in favor of prayer during Elul?

However, Elul has two aspects: one as Elul is itself, and the other as the preparation for the coming year. Rosh Chodesh Elul marks the beginning of Moshe’s ascent on Mt. Sinai for the final 40 day period, culminating with the giving of the second set of tablets of Yom Kippur. During this time, Moshe learned continuously with G‑d — during the day, the written Torah, and at night, the oral Torah. This is the general idea of Elul — binah and Torah. But this is Elul as it is a month for itself. As the month of preparation for Tishrei and the entire following year, Elul is the time for extra prayer.

This explains why during Elul, a month connected with Torah, Torah scholars decrease their study in favor of more prayer. The individual service of Elul demands more Torah study, while the preparation for Tishrei demands more prayer. Since the latter has lasting importance for the entire year, it takes precedence.

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6. This week’s chapter of Pirkei Avos is chapter 6. This chapter speaks of the wondrous qualities of the Torah, and (as the commentaries explain) is therefore read immediately before Shavuos. This is also the connection with the Shabbos preceding Rosh Chodesh Elul, since Elul, as mentioned above, is connected with binah and Torah.

Elul, as we mentioned, also has a special connection with prayer. Since we pray in the direction of the Bais HaMikdash, and prayer itself is a replacement for the sacrifices, it is fitting to discuss the 10th mishnah, which deals with the Bais HaMikdash.

The Mishnah lists five possessions of G‑d in the world, including the Bais HaMikdash, and proves it from the verses:

“Since it is written: ‘The place which You, O L‑rd, have made for Your abode; the Sanctuary which Your hands, O L‑rd, have established’; and it [also] says: ‘And He brought them to the place of His holiness, the mountain which His right hand has acquired.’”

There are several questions on this mishnah:

1) How does the first verse prove that the Bais HaMikdash is a “possession” of G‑d? The word “possession” (kinyan) is not even mentioned.

2) The second verse does mention the word kinyan (“acquired”), but only about the Temple Mount, not the Bais HaMikdash itself.

3) Why does the mishnah quote the beginning of the verse, “And He brought them to the place of His holiness”? The end of the verse seemingly would have been sufficient.

The explanation lies in the significance of the word “possession,” which indicates that the object under discussion has special importance. This concept is conveyed by the first verse, which says that “Your hands, O L‑rd, have established” the Bais HaMikdash, and that G‑d has made it His abode. The proof from this verse is not for the word kinyan, but rather for the concept which is conveyed by the word kinyan — the idea of importance.

The last two questions can be answered together. The importance of the Temple Mount is — as its name indicates — that it is where the Temple is located. Therefore this verse (which does contain the word kinyan) gives even further stress to the holiness of the Bais HaMikdash — its holiness spreads beyond its boundaries to the entire mountain. Similarly the beginning of the verse: “the place of His holiness,” refers to the entire Eretz Yisrael, which is holy because of the effect of the Bais HaMikdash on the entire land.