1. Today is Shabbos Mevorchim Elul. The letters of the word Elul form an acrostic for several things, which cover all particulars of man’s service: The three pillars on which the world stands — Torah, Prayer, and deeds of loving kindness (mitzvos); teshuvah (repentance); and the idea of the redemption. These things cover all particulars of man’s service to G‑d, for in general that service is in the three areas of Torah, prayer and good deeds; preceded by the service of teshuvah which completes and renders perfect this service; and the ultimate perfection of this service which is the redemption.

Teshuvah is the preparation for service in the three areas of Torah, prayer and good deeds, although seemingly it should follow performance of mitzvos as a means of redeeming any deficiencies. Nevertheless, the Alter Rebbe notes that our Sages use the expression “teshuvah and good deeds” indicating that teshuvah precedes the performance of good deeds. The reason for this is that teshuvah makes the deeds “good and lustrous.”

In greater clarification: While both Torah and Yisroel preceded the creation of the world, Yisroel preceded Torah. Teshuvah is the idea of “the spirit shall return to the G‑d Who gave it,” and thus through teshuvah — the return of the soul to its source above Torah — Yisroel elevates Torah and mitzvos to a higher level, the level of Yisroel which is above Torah. Hence teshuvah acts as the preparation to make the “deeds” of Torah and mitzvos “good” — since it elevates them to this peak of perfection (to the level of the source of the soul).

Service in general (the three areas of Torah, prayer and good deeds, prefaced by teshuvah) reaches its perfection in the redemption. The purpose of Jews’ service is to make a dwelling place for G‑d in this world, by removing its concealments. This is the idea of the redemption: to redeem the world from its gross concealments and reveal its true existence — that it is a dwelling place for G‑d.

In the future redemption, there will be fulfilled the promise “The glory of the L‑rd will be revealed and all flesh together will see it, for the mouth of the L‑rd has spoken.” In other words, people will not just know G‑d, as in “Know the G‑d of your fathers” and “The earth will be full of the knowledge of the L‑rd,” but will actually, physically, see G‑dliness.

Torah study, although an intellectual exercise, will in the future also be seen. The precedent for this was already set at Mattan Torah, as stated “You have shown to know” and “All the people saw the voices” — “They saw that which is normally heard.” Although by the laws of nature set by G‑d “voices” can only be grasped by the faculty of hearing, at Mattan Torah “they saw the voices.” For since Mat-tan Torah was the idea of G‑dly revelation, He who established that voices can only be grasped by hearing, can and did make the Jews able to see voices.

Although the revelations of Mattan Torah were only a temporary phenomenon, nevertheless, it gives strength for Jews, through this G‑dly service, to be able to effect G‑dly revelation in the manner of physical seeing. Thus we find two aspects in the revelations of the future: That accomplished by people of themselves — “the earth will be full of knowledge of the L‑rd;” and the revelations from Above — “all flesh will see.”

“Deed is the essential thing.” Shabbos Mevorchim Elul, from which blessings flow for the entire month, is the appropriate time to resolve to increase in all aspects alluded to in the word “Elul” — the three areas of Torah, prayer, and good deeds, preceded by the service of teshuvah. In addition, there must also be the aspect of redemption — at the beginning of service a Jew must know that the ultimate in service is the redemption. This provides added impetus to his service, knowing that he can immediately bring the redemption.

2. Even if a Jew should not feel that his service can bring the redemption, the following parable will clarify it: A wagon is traveling, and seated within are sages discussing an intellectual matter. Although the wagon-driver thinks of the fee he will receive, and therefore urges on the horses; and the horses think of the fodder they will receive and therefore gallop — the thoughts of the horse (and the wagon-driver) do not in the slightest change the intellectual matter being discussed by the sages (although the sages need the wagon-driver and horses to reach their destination)!

So too in our case: Every person has a “G‑dly soul,” an “animal soul,” and an “intellect-soul” which is the intermediary between the two. The sages in the wagon are the G‑dly soul; the horses are the animal soul; and the wagon-driver is the intellect-soul, who connects the G‑dly and animal souls (just as the wagon-driver is the intermediary to urge on the horses to reach the sages’ destination). Just as the thoughts of the horses do not taint the sages’ discussion, so too the thoughts of the animal soul about physical matters do not taint the service of the G‑dly soul. Therefore, although a person may not feel that his service brings the redemption, it does not make the truth, and knowledge of the truth by the G‑dly soul, any the less. And since Jews are “believers, sons of believers,” eventually they will understand and comprehend the true situation.

In greater clarification: Not only does the animal soul not cause any damage to the G‑dly soul’s service, but the reverse: Through the synthesis of the service of the animal soul with that of the G‑dly, the latter’s service is elevated (just as the Sages reach their destination only through the horses). When the G‑dly soul causes the animal soul to also love G‑d, the former’s love experiences a lofty elevation. The animal soul has a natural strength and energy the G‑dly soul does not; and when the G‑dly soul causes it to love G‑d with this natural strength, the G‑dly soul can then reach a level that the animal soul has absolutely no association with. (Just as the sages discuss intellectual matters after the horses have brought them to their destination.)

A further point: The animal soul thinks of worldly matters (just as the horses of fodder) because so G‑d created the world. Hence the inner purpose in this itself is the elevation that will follow — just as the same reason the horses gallop is the desire of the sages to reach their destination — and therefore the wagon-driver urges on the horses (but since horses aren’t capable of appreciating the sages’ desire, they run only because of the fodder). The previous Rebbe explains that when the body is hungry for food or thirsty for drink, the true, inner reason is because of the hunger the soul has for the G‑dly spark found in the food. But since the body and animal soul are not capable (as yet) of appreciating this, it is expressed in physical hunger.

Hence a Jew must not be despondent that he has to deal with the animal soul and the world, for the opposite is true: The ultimate goal is to gain the advantages that accrues specifically from working with the world, and to refine and elevate the animal soul and the world. Therefore, even a Jew who is capable of deep study of Torah must still perform actual physical mitzvos — such as taking a coin and giving it to tzedakah.

Moreover, the mitzvah of tzedakah is not best performed by borrowing money to give to charity, but rather when one gives of one’s own money, after working to earn it. To earn money necessitates a cessation of study and engaging in business. The money is only a preparation to the mitzvah of tzedakah (which is the actual giving of the money), and hence the working to earn it is only a preparation to a preparation to the mitzvah. Moreover, even this preparation to a preparation is unsure, for one may not necessarily be successful in earning money. Nevertheless, a Jew who is of the category of Zevulun (business people) is obligated, by Torah, to engage in business. However, it must be in such a fashion that it will not disturb his service to G‑d, to the degree that it is specifically through this that he reaches the ultimate in his service — both in the service of the G‑dly soul and that of elevating the animal soul and the world, as explained above.

All the above (concerning the areas of Torah, prayer, and good deeds, teshuvah and redemption) must be translated into action, especially since it is now Shabbos Mevorchim Elul. Shabbos Mevorchim Elul has a unique distinction even compared to Rosh Chodesh Elul itself. On Rosh Chodesh Elul, service of Elul starts by man. On Shabbos Mevorchim Elul, blessings are drawn down from Above, and it is connected with Shabbos, which is sanctified of itself, without man’s service.

In addition, Shabbos Mevorchim Elul possesses a distinction loftier than that of other months. The power Jews have to bless the months comes from Shabbos Mevorchim Tishrei, when G‑d blesses the month of Tishrei. Since “the origin and conclusion of anything are rooted in each other,” it follows that the blessings of the Jews for the last month, Elul, are rooted in the blessings of G‑d for the first month, Tishrei; and conversely, G‑d’s blessings for Tishrei are rooted in Jews’ blessings for Elul.

Moreover, there is also the special distinction of the holy Shabbos itself, which is sanctified of itself and loftier than Yom Tov. The concept of Shabbos is ta’anug, delight, and in addition to the intrinsic delight of Shabbos, Jews, through their service, add to the delight on Shabbos — “You shall call the Shabbos delight.” And since delight gives added dimensions in all things, resolutions for the service of Elul undertaken on the auspicious day of Shabbos receive added dimensions.

May it be G‑d’s will that very soon we merit the true and complete redemption through our righteous Moshiach, which comes about through our service in the three areas of Torah, prayer and good deeds, prefaced by teshuvah.


3. There are many levels in teshuvah. The Alter Rebbe explains that teshuvah is not, as people mistakenly suppose, (only) on past sins, but is really the concept of “the spirit shall return to the G‑d Who gave it.” However, the fact that the Alter Rebbe finds it necessary to even mention the notion that people mistakenly have (that teshuvah is only repentance on wrongdoing) indicates that there is such a level in teshuvah — but that in reality even this level is the concept of “the spirit shall return to the G‑d Who gave it.” Our Sages say a person should always engage in Torah and mitzvos even not for its own sake “for from within (doing it) not for its own sake he will come to (doing it) for its own sake.” The meaning of this is not only that eventually a person, by first doing service not for its own sake, will come to doing it for its own sake, but that even now, when it is still not for its own sake, the inner content of such service is for its own sake (as alluded to in this saying — ”from within not for its own sake he will come to do it for its own sake,” meaning that on the inner (“within”) level it is already “for its own sake”). Likewise in our case: even that level which the people mistakenly suppose to be teshuvah is in reality, in its inner meaning, the true concept of teshuvah — ”the spirit shall return to the G‑d Who gave it.”

The reason for this is that the beginning of the service of teshuvah must be in the manner of not for its own sake for such is the order of the service of teshuvah (as the Rambam writes). (Just as in Torah study, a child is so created by G‑d that he cannot comprehend learning Torah for its own sake. Since so G‑d created a child, we must say that in reality, in the inner meaning of things, such Torah study is for its own sake — “from within not for its own sake, he will come to doing it for its own sake”). Everything in the world has a holy spark which keeps it in existence, and indeed, is its true existence. Certainly then, in regards to service to G‑d, we must say the beginning of the order of service of teshuvah, has a true, inner existence — the idea of “the spirit shall return to the G‑d Who gave it.”

Further still, even something which is the antithesis of sanctity, the most base evil, must have a spark of holiness which creates and keeps it in existence. This is the reason why through teshuvah a person’s transgressions are converted to merits, for also in the transgressions there is a holy spark. Certainly then, the level of teshuvah supposed by people has as its inner essence the true idea of teshuvah.

In the light of the above, we see that there are many levels in teshuvah, starting from that supposed by ordinary people and reaching to the ultimate — ”the spirit shall return to the G‑d Who gave it.” In general there are two levels, teshuvah (done) out of love, and teshuvah (done) out of awe (or fear). Within each of these, there are many levels. For example, in teshuvah from awe, the lowest level is teshuvah done out of fear of punishment. And since there are so many levels in teshuvah, it follows that there is an order in how this service is to be done: first teshuvah from awe and then teshuvah from love.

However, sometimes teshuvah may be done not in this ordinary fashion, but instead, one immediately reaches the highest level without going through intermediary levels. It is explained in Tanya that “this level of teshuvah at times precedes that of awe ... as in the instance of R. Elazor ben Dordia ... This was a chance occurrence... whereas the set order of service ... must be to first have fear...” The difference between teshuvah that is done in orderly fashion and that which is not, is the difference between the service of teshuvah in the month of Elul and that of the 15th of Av.

Chassidus explains that the G‑dly revelations of the 15th of Av are extremely lofty, for it follows the great descent of Tisha B’Av — and therefore the following ascent on the 15th of Av (through teshuvah) is correspondingly lofty — to the highest of levels. This indeed is the ultimate purpose of the descent of Tisha B’Av. Such an ascent from the depths of Tisha B’Av to the heights of the 15th of Av requires a service of teshuvah that is a leap transcending the regular order. Teshuvah during the month of Elul on the other hand, is within the regular order of ascending from level to level.

This explains why the month of Elul is blessed specifically on the last Shabbos of the month of Av. Although strength to bless the months in general comes from G‑d’s blessings for the month of Tishrei (as explained previously), nevertheless, since in fact Elul is blessed on the Shabbos in Av, there is a connection between them. For the service of teshuvah in Elul (which is regular service in orderly fashion) to be proper, it needs the strength deriving from the teshuvah of the 15th of Av — a teshuvah that transcends all order and limits. Therefore Elul is blessed specifically in the month of Av. The immensely lofty level of teshuvah of the 15th of Av (higher even than Yom Kippur) is drawn down and affects Jew’s behavior below. After this, the service of Elul can be proper.

The above helps clarify the saying of our Sages “A Jew who has a court case with a non-Jew should refrain (from holding it) in Av.” In man’s spiritual service, a “non-Jew” is the “strange god that is within you,” which is the Yetzer Horah. Commentators debate whether this refers to refraining from court-cases in just the first nine days of Av (until Tisha B’Av) or the whole of the month, even after the 15th. A Jew, upon learning that even after the 15th of Av he should try not to have a court-case with a non-Jew (because of the nature of the month of Av), may become greatly afraid of the undesirable matters of Av.

Such a Jew must be told that such fears are foolish, for it stems from the Yetzer Horah who is called an “old and foolish king.” In reality, “to refrain from court-cases in Av” is because of the loftiness of this month. When the Yetzer Horah (the “non-Jew” within each Jew) tells a Jew that he wants to debate and hold a case with him, a person’s conduct in Av is to “refrain” from it — not to have anything to do with the Yetzer Horah at all. For since a Jew is engaged in very lofty matters in Av — to convert Tisha B’Av to the ultimate heights of the 15th of Av — he has no time to engage in debate with the Yetzer Horah. Only after Av is ended, and Elul comes, does a Jew engage in debate with the Yetzer. For since Elul is the “month of mercy,” when the King is in the field, it is the appropriate time to rectify the Yetzer Horah. And even when one’s service is “to refrain from a court-case during Av,” it still affects the Yetzer — but the effect is automatic, not a direct confrontation (as in Elul).