Awed by Impending Judgment

“In the month of Elul, even the fish in the sea quake in fear.” This characteristic Jewish adage describes the traditional approach to Divine service during this month. Nor is this merely man’s natural emotional response; it is anchored in our Rabbis’ teachings. Thus the Tur states:1 “Our Sages ordained that the shofar be sounded from Rosh Chodesh Elul, for the entire month every year, to warn the Jewish people to repent, as it is written,2 ‘Is it possible that when a shofar is sounded in the city, the people will not tremble?!’ ” Similarly, Rabbeinu Yonah highlights the theme of fear, stating,3 “From the entry of the month of Elul until Yom Kippur, one should tremble and fear, in awe of [G‑d’s] judgment.” In this spirit, R. Moshe Alshech interprets4 the verse,5 “She shall weep for her father for thirty days,” as alluding to the tears of teshuvah to be shed in the month of Elul.

And in fact, what else could be expected? After all, on Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur, the Days of Judgment, “All the inhabitants of the earth pass before You like a flock of sheep. As a shepherd examines his flock, making his sheep pass under his staff, so do You make the soul of every living being pass, and You count and reckon them….”6 Surely, any person who is at all spiritually sensitive, and who realizes that his turn will soon come to pass before his Creator, “will shudder; fear and trembling will seize him.”6

A New Focus on Our Divine Service

That said, there is a time-honored aphorism among chassidim:7 “Chai Elul is the day that infuses vitality (chayus) into Elul.” Chai Elul, the 18th of Elul, is the birthday of the Baal Shem Tov (5458/1698) and of the Alter Rebbe (5505/1745). The implication is that their teachings and those of the Rebbeim who continued their legacy infuses new energy into the month of Elul, enabling it to be imbued with love and joy.8 They taught our people to approach Elul not only with awe and reverence, but also with happy anticipation, inspired by the expectation that soon they would be in G‑d’s presence. True, G‑d is our King and Judge, but He is also our loving Father.

One of the classic teachings that inspired this approach is the Alter Rebbe’s renowned parable of the king in the field. To quote: “Before a king enters a city, its inhabitants go out to greet him and receive him in the field. At that time, anyone who so desires may go out and greet him. He receives them all pleasantly and shows a smiling countenance to them all.” With that image, the Alter Rebbe fanned the flames of the inherent love for G‑d that lies hidden in the heart of every Jew.

King in the Palace, King in the Field

For the last two centuries, the Alter Rebbe’s parable has inspired chassidim to heartfelt Divine service during Elul. Without minimizing — rather, while enhancing — the dread and awe that traditionally characterized Elul, the month has come to be appreciated as a month of deep love, in which through sincere prayer, one can “greet the king.”

Year after year, as the Rebbe taught and retaught the Alter Rebbe’s analogy, a new insight came into focus — that Elul, when the King is in the field, is not merely a month that leads to inspired Divine service. Beyond that, it reflects the ultimate purpose of creation as a whole, which is the construction of a dwelling for G‑d within our material world.9

On Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur, the King is in His palace; at that time, He reveals Himself in all His awesome majesty, above our ordinary level of spiritual awareness. During Elul, by contrast, the King is in the field; He reveals Himself in a manner that a man can appreciate within the frame­work of his everyday reality. And that is the purpose for which all existence was brought into being.

Spreading the Wellsprings Outward

To enable an English reader to appreciate the stages of development that our Divine service in Elul has undergone, this publication presents three texts:

a) a translation of the Rebbe’s maamar entitled Ani LeDodi, 5726that focuses on the concept that the encounter between the Jews and G‑d “in the field” reflects the essential loving relationship that they share;

b) a translation of the Alter Rebbe’s seminal maamar with that title that appears in Likkutei Torah the maamar that gave the Jewish world the analogy of the king in the field10 — upon which the Rebbe’s maamar is based;11

c) an adaptation of the Rebbe’s sichos from Shabbos Parshas Shoftim, 5750 (1990).12 It highlights the above-mentioned concept, that the King’s presence “in the field” represents the ultimate purpose of creation — fashioning a dwelling for G‑d in our material world.

The translation of the maamarim has been made user-friendly with the help of square-bracketed additions to the text, as well as references and explanatory notes.

It is our earnest hope that the study of these sources will inspire each of us and our people as a whole to maximize this unique time, to go out to the field and meet the King, so that ultimately we will behold Divine pleasure, “the consummate revelation of G‑d’s ‘smiling countenance.’ ”13 For “at that time our mouths will be filled with laughter”14 — when at long last we return to Eretz Yisrael, “the King’s palace,”15 together with Mashiach.

Sichos In English

15 Av, 5772 (2012)


Rabbis Eliyahu Touger and Sholom Ber Wineberg who translated the maamar;

Uri Kaploun, who edited the Foreword;

Rabbi Aaron Leib Raskin, who reviewed the translation and added sources;

Yosef Yitzchok Turner, who was responsible for the layout and typography;

and Rabbi Yonah Avtzon, Director of Sichos In English, who coordinated the project in all its particulars.