1. Every Rosh Chodesh contains dual aspects: the general concept of Rosh Chodesh; and simultaneously, an element unique to the Rosh Chodesh of a particular month. A parallel to this would be man: Every person is created “in the image of G‑d;” simultaneously, no two are alike, as our Sages said “The Supreme King of Kings stamped each person with the seal of Adam, and no two are alike ... differing in voice, appearance, and understanding.” Both the general concept and the unique element are important, as we see that although G‑d’s Name illuminates in all the months, a different combination of the letters of G‑d’s Name illuminates in each month in particular. Likewise, these different combinations are alluded to in different verses appropriate for each particular month.

The general concept of Rosh Chodesh is alluded to in its name. “Rosh,” meaning “head,” indicates that just as the head encompasses the vitality of the whole body and directs it, so too Rosh Chodesh encompasses and directs the entire month.

In addition to this general concept, Rosh Chodesh Elul contains a unique element. The Tur states: “We learn in Pirkei d’R. Eliezer that on Rosh Chodesh Elul G‑d said to Moshe ‘Come up to Me on the mountain,’ which is when he went up to receive the latter set of tablets.” Our Sages, on the verse “I stood on the mountain as in the first (forty) days,” comment that “just as the first (forty) days were in favor (from G‑d) so too the latter (forty) days were in favor.” (As distinct from the intermediate forty days when G‑d was angered over the sin of the golden calf.) Indeed, in one respect, the latter forty days (when Moshe went up to receive the second set of tablets) are loftier than the first ones. The service of the first forty days was completely righteous; that of the latter forty was the service of teshuvah (on the sin of the golden calf). And the latter is loftier than the former, as our Sages said “In the place penitents stand not even the completely righteous can stand.”

The Tur continues that when Moshe ascended to receive the second set of tablets on Rosh Chodesh Elul, “they blew the shofar in the camp... Therefore our Sages ordained that Jews every year should blow the shofar on Rosh Chodesh Elul and the entire month, to warn Israel to repent, as stated ‘If a shofar be blown in the city, will not the people tremble in fear?!’”

Chassidus explains that the blowing of the shofar effects “ta’anug” (delight), an extremely lofty level. And the trembling in fear produced by the shofar is not a contradiction, for this fear is itself associated with ta’anug, as in the delight present in awe and fear before G‑d. Thus the unique element in Rosh Chodesh is that then Moshe ascended to the mountain to receive the latter tablets — the distinction of teshuvah. It also possesses the idea of shofar blowing — the service of teshuvah with ta’anug.

In the month of Elul, G‑d is as a “king in the field, when all are permitted and are able to receive him ... and he receives them all benignly and graciously ... so too in Elul we go to greet G‑d in the field.” And the service of Elul is the proper preparation for Tishrei’s service, when after receiving the King in the field “the people follow the King to His capital city, to His royal palace.”


2. The Alter Rebbe explains that the 13 attributes of mercy illuminate in the month of Elul. But, since it is compared to the king in the field and not in the royal palace, the days of Elul are weekdays and not Yom Tov. He writes: “This is a parable to a king who, before he comes to the city, the people of the city go out to greet and receive him in the field; then all who wish may go out to receive him, and he receives them all benignly and graciously. When he goes to the city, they follow after him to his royal palace.”

Simply put, the distinction of Elul is that even when a Jew is in the “field” — as he is on weekdays when he is engaged in agricultural work (i.e. worldly matters), the King nevertheless receives him graciously.

But not all is clear: The Alter Rebbe writes that “This is a parable to a king who, before he comes to the city, the people of the city go out to greet and receive him in the field.” It seems the Alter Rebbe is talking of city dwellers who go out to the field to greet the king there, and not farmers who live in the “field.” How can we say the king waits for city-dwellers to come from the city to greet him in the field?

A Jew, every day upon awakening, says: “I give thanks to You ... that You returned my soul to me ...’ After washing his hands he says “The soul You have given me is pure, You created it, You formed it, You blew it inside me, and You guard it within me.” He understands that since his body is alive only because his soul is within it, the soul is the principal part. Since this soul is from G‑d — “You gave it ... You created it ... You guard it within me” — every Jew in essence belongs to “the city of our G‑d,” “people of the city” in the above parable.

Nevertheless, there are time (on weekdays) when even a city-dweller must go from his place to the “field” to engage in worldly pursuits: A Jew, after praying and learning Torah at the beginning of the day, must leave the synagogue and prayer hall to elevate worldly matters (“the field”).

If a Jew, being a “city-dweller,” should not wish to go to the “field,” he should know that the King is found in the field, and there “receives them all benignly and graciously.” When the king is in his palace “one enters only with permission, and then only special people.” Thus, if he wishes to greet and be greeted by the king, he must go to the field. And while a Jew must actually engage in worldly affairs, the true intention is so that simultaneously he can greet and request of the king all his needs, knowing he will be received graciously and warmly.

3. In terms of man’s spiritual service: Tanya (Ch. 36) explains that the purpose of the creation of all the worlds is not for the sake of the upper (spiritual) worlds ... but ultimately for the sake of this lowly, physical world — “G‑d desired to have a dwelling place in the lowest of all worlds.” True, the revelation of G‑dliness is greater in the upper worlds. However, this very revelation is a lowering of the Divine light. The ultimate purpose is to have a dwelling place in this lowest of all worlds, a dwelling place for G‑d’s Essence, not just revelation. Thus, the Essence of G‑d is specifically in the “field,” for the making of a dwelling place for G‑d is specifically in this physical world.

Jews, then, who are “city-dwellers” (since their soul is “a part of G‑d Above”) go from the city to the field (to engage in worldly matters), for it is specifically in the field that they receive the King and the King receives them graciously — the making of a dwelling place for G‑d’s Essence in this physical world. It is only by lowering oneself to go from the “city” to the “field” that one makes this dwelling place for G‑d.

We find the concept that all Jews are “city-dwellers” in the “city of our G‑d” mentioned in halachah. The Rambam renders the halachic decision that every Jew “wishes to perform all the mitzvos and to refrain from the transgressions” — notwithstanding his outward appearance. Hence every Jew, because of his true inner desire, belongs to the “city of our G‑d” — “city-dwellers.” Indeed, the Rambam’s ruling refers not just to people in the “field,” but even to those in a “desert.” A desert is a desolate, unpopulated place, and in spiritual terms is much lower than a field. And even Jews in a desert really belong to “the city of our G‑d.” And, just as after going to the field city-dwellers receive an elevation, so too the greater descent of being in the desert effects a yet greater elevation. For since the desert is the lowest level in this physical world, the making of a dwelling place for G‑d there — the revelation of G‑d’s Essence — is of the loftiest level.

As above, the strength for the service of Elul comes from Rosh Chodesh, when Moshe went up to receive the second set of tablets. Therefore, we start to blow then. Although we only begin to blow the shofar on the second day of Rosh Chodesh, nevertheless, on the first day of Rosh Chodesh we practice blowing.

Indeed, in one respect the blowing for practice on the first day of Rosh Chodesh is loftier than the actual blowing on the second day (and the rest of the month). The principal concept of blowing the shofar is one blast, the “tekiyah gedolah” (the “great sounding”). This is similar to the “great shofar” of the future redemption. Therefore on Yom Kippur after Neilah (concluding prayer) we blow one blast, and it is of the level of the “great shofar.” The blowings on Rosh Hashanah are of the regular level of shofar, whereas on Yom Kippur ... it is of the level of the revelation of the “great shofar.” That is, after the 100 blowings on Rosh Hashanah, we reach the ultimate in shofar blowing on Yom Kippur after Neilah — the “great sounding.”

In similar fashion, this is the difference between the blowing on the second day of Rosh Chodesh Elul (when we blow ten soundings) and that of the first day (when it is practice blowing — just a simple blast). The halachah states that “all soundings are kosher for (the mitzvah of) shofar.” Hence, when we blow a simple blast on the first day of Rosh Chodesh (for practice), it is already the principal concept of the shofar, similar to the “great sounding” at Neilah on Yom Kippur which is loftier than the 100 soundings on Rosh Hashanah. In other words, the simple sounding of the shofar on the first day Rosh Chodesh is similar to the simple “great sounding” (one great blast) on Yom Kippur.

In greater clarification: the phrase “great sounding” and not “long sounding” indicates that this sounding is not just greater in quantity (i.e. longer than any of the blasts on Rosh Hashanah) but also in quality — such as the meaning in the blowing (similar to the meaning in the phrase “blow on a great shofar for our freedom”). In our case, when we blow just one simple blast on the first day of Rosh Chodesh (for practice) with great meaning, directed to G‑d Himself, it is a “great sounding.”

This is the distinction of the month of Elul, the preparation to the service of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. And since Rosh Chodesh encompasses all the days of the month, this concept already exists then, beginning from the first day of Rosh Chodesh.

In addition to the above, extra strength is given from the renewal of the moon on Rosh Chodesh. This is associated with Jews, for “Jews count according to the moon,” and, just as the moon is the “small luminary,” so too “Ya’akov is the small one.” Moreover, this is also associated with the redemption, for “Jews are destined to be renewed like the moon.”

There is a special distinction in Rosh Chodesh Elul now, in the times of exile. In the times of the Bais Hamikdosh, when the new moon (Rosh Chodesh) was fixed according to visual observation, Rosh Chodesh was not necessarily two days. In the times of exile however, when Rosh Chodesh is fixed by the calendar Rosh Chodesh Elul is always two days. And hence every Jew enjoys the distinction of Rosh Chodesh for two days — including the strength derived for the entire service of Elul.

4. The month of Elul is the time when Rabbis prepare their sermons for this month and the Days of Awe. Some of these Rabbis suppose that since it states of Elul “If a shofar is blown in the city, will not the people tremble in fear,” and likewise the “Days of Awe,” their sermons must be full of anger, “fire and brimstone.” They think that the more they shout at and admonish Jews in their sermons, the greater the speaker they are, and the better the job of “educating” their flock.

However, Torah tells us “the words of Sages are heard quietly,” teaching us that when the words are not spoken “quietly,” they do not achieve their desired effect. Moreover, a person knows in his heart on what spiritual level he stands — and how can one have the audacity to publicly admonish Jews in such reprehensible terms?

It is recorded in Scripture that when G‑d commanded Yeshayahu to be a prophet to the Jews, Yeshayahu commented improperly about the Jews (“I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips”). For this he was immediately punished, as stated “One of the Serafim (angels) flew to me, having a live coal in his hand ... and he laid it upon my mouth.” Now, Yeshayahu’s improper comment about the Jewish people was not said publicly, but when he was talking to G‑d. He was answering whether he accepted the mission of prophesying to the Jews, and of course, he had to tell the truth to G‑d — that he was afraid of the mission because “I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips.” Nevertheless, Yeshayahu was punished for unseemly words against the Jews!

Moreover, Yeshayahu’s words were not idly said, but were necessary for concrete action — that he cannot prophesize to the Jews since they are “a people of unclean lips.” In addition, he did not say anything bad about the Jews’ hearts or minds, but only their lips — and that only to G‑d and not publicly. Nevertheless, it was considered unseemly conduct to talk thus about G‑d’s people!

The lesson from this is clear: People rationalize their instinct to criticize and condemn others by saying it is for the purpose of correcting the other’s misdeeds. Indeed, they say, it is because they love Jews that they so severely denounce them. The above story teaches us differently: One need not search for a great lover of Israel than the prophet Yeshayahu; and yet we see what was the result of his improper comment about them. And the reason why Yeshayahu did so, despite being chosen by G‑d as the prophet of the true and complete redemption, is because through this we in later generations know how not to act!

The above is especially important now, in the month of Elul. It is the month of mercy, when Moshe went up on the mountain to receive the second set of tablets. Moshe at that time prayed for mercy even for those who had sinned with the golden calf; and indeed, effected that G‑d should say “I have forgiven according to your words.” Hence, in this month which is the time to ask for and strive to receive blessings for a good and sweet year for all Jews — G‑d forbid to speak bad about Jews! The Alter Rebbe writes that in Elul the “King is in the field,” and receives every Jew graciously and favorably. Yet these Rabbis stand before the King when He is receiving Jews graciously and scream at find fault with Jews!

The vast majority of Jews are not guilty of the faults these people scream about. And even if there are a few who have some remote connection to such faults — who appointed these people as a “prophet” to denounce the only son of G‑d — “You are sons to the L‑rd your G‑d!?”

If a person wishes to fulfill the mitzvah of “You shall surely admonish your fellow,” the halachah rules it must first be done privately, and even then in a quiet manner, not angrily and vehemently. It is related of R. Zusia, one of the disciples of the Mezritcher Maggid, that when he wanted to cause a Jew to change his ways, he would stand nearby and say “Zusia has committed such and such a sin” (and would enumerate these things the other had done, but would say “Zusia has done it”), and would cry over “his” transgressions. When the other would hear this, he would be aroused to true repentance.

Another important point: Even when speaking in the manner of “the words of the Sages are heard quietly,” there are two ways: to talk of the bad things the other has done and the punishment he will get; or talk of good things, the reward received for doing good. Why talk of the bad, when one can talk of the reward received for doing mitzvos, for repenting etc? There is so much literature about this aspect that it will suffice for sermons for the entire year! Indeed, talking of a person’s faults is useless. The best way to get a person to mend his ways is when one talks pleasantly about the greatness of doing good. When one explains to a person about the inherent greatness of every Jew, that, as the Rambam writes, through one mitzvah he can “tilt himself and the entire world to the meritorious side,” it is the best way to influence him to become better.


5. The Menorah in the Bais Hamikdosh was made with cups, knobs and flowers wrought into its design. The Talmud (Menachos 28b) states the cups (not the receptacles for the oil, but the cups that were part of the design) were “like Alexandrian goblets.” The Rambam, in his Commentary on the Mishnah, writes that the cups were wide at one end and narrow at the other. However, when the Rambam drew a diagram of the cups on the menorah he drew them upside down — the wide part at the bottom, and the narrow at the top. Why did the Rambam do so, when a cup is usually the other way around — narrow at the bottom, wide at the top?

We must say that since the Rambam depicted the cups in this fashion, he had a source in a Midrash that we do not possess. If not, the Rambam would not have depicted the cups upside down. But the question still remains: Why were the cups on the menorah upside down?

The Talmud (Menachos 86b) states: “Scripture says ‘He made for the house (Bais Hamikdosh) broad and narrow windows’ — broad on the outside and narrow on the inside, for I (G‑d) am not in need of light.” Rashi explains that the regular way of constructing a window in a wall is to make the opening in the wall wide on the inside so that the thickness of the wall will not prevent the light from outside entering in. In the case of the Bais Hamikdosh, the windows were made narrow on the inside and became wider on the outside, so that the light from the Bais Hamikdosh should go forth to the outside and illuminate the world — for “I do not need light.”

The revelation of the light from the Bais Hamikdosh in the entire world was through the menorah, whose function was to illuminate. This gives us the reason why the cups in the menorah were narrow on the top and wide on the bottom. Just as the windows of the Bais Hamikdosh were narrow on the inside and broad on the outside so that the light should go forth to the outside world; so too the cups in the menorah (which was the vessel through which the light of the Bais Hamikdosh went outside) were narrow on the top and wide on the bottom — for this indicates that the principal idea in the menorah is the flow of light (i.e. G‑dliness from above to below — the revelation of G‑dliness in the world below the Bais Hamikdosh).

Thus we see there is no contradiction between the way the cups in the menorah were placed (upside down) and the regular way a cup stands. When a cup stands on a table, the bottom is narrow and the top is wide. However, when one drinks from the cup (which is the cup’s function), the cup is tilted and the bottom is now the wide part and the top narrow. This is the normal, proper way for a cup when it is performing its function of transmitting drink.

So too in the case of the cups in the menorah. Since their function is to transmit the light below, they were made narrow on the top and wide on the bottom. In this scheme of things, it is the normal, proper way for a cup to be.

There is a lesson in this for man’s spiritual service. A Jew’s soul is compared to a lamp — “the soul of man is the lamp of G‑d.” The function of Jews is to be “lamps of illumination,” to illuminate the entire world through the light of Torah. The lesson from the windows in the Bais Hamikdosh and the cups on the menorah is that when one wishes to give of one’s knowledge to another, and in general to make this world a dwelling place for G‑d, it must be done in the broadest fashion (just as the cups were broad on the bottom) — even if for oneself personally it is enough to have less (narrow on the top). And if one must change his nature to perform service in such a fashion, so be it — for “I was created solely to serve My Maker.”