Section 1

The first letters of the words of the verse, Shir HaShirim 6:3. אני לדודי ודודי לי — “I am my Beloved’s and my Beloved is mine,” spell out the name אלול — Elul.1 The implication is: The [spiritual service] beginning in Elul is that of “I am my Beloved’s,” i.e., an “arousal from below,” [an initiative taken by the Jewish people to draw closer to G‑d].2

[This phase continues] until Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur, when G‑dliness is drawn down in an apparent manner. [This G‑dly response is twofold, as alluded to] in the verse:3 “His left hand is under my head and His right hand embraces me.”4 The period from Rosh HaShanah to Yom Kippur reflects “His left hand,” the aspect of fear, which results from the [awe-inspiring] revelation of G‑d’s sovereignty at this time.

[During this period,] therefore, we refer to G‑d [in our prayers] as “the King,”5 for [at that time, it is revealed that] “Your Kingship is kingship over all the worlds.”6 Even the hidden [spiritual] realms7 are struck with the awe and fear of the King. This [influence] is also drawn down upon all Jewish souls, arousing them to accept the yoke of the kingdom of Heaven and [motivating them to hold] G‑d in awe [throughout] the entire year. For the fear and the love of G‑d are not generated and implanted in a person’s heart through his own efforts [alone], but rather have their source in the radiance [of G‑dliness] drawn down from Above at [specific] times of revelation.8 Regarding the fear of G‑d, the time for its revelation is Rosh HaShanah.9

ודודי לי — “My Beloved is mine” — refers to [this revelation from Above]. Nevertheless, [to merit this revelation,] one must first awaken love and fear through an arousal from below. [This is man’s spiritual task] in Elul.10

[Although the Divine service of Elul is to be initiated by man, there is also a revelation of G‑dliness at this time which enables that arousal. Thus,] it is known that Elul is a time when the Thirteen Attributes of Mercy are revealed.

If so, it is necessary to] understand:11 Why are [the days of Elul] ordinary weekdays and not festivals? The Shabbosos and the festivals [are distinguished] because they are days when [a dimension of] G‑dliness [transcending the natural order] is revealed; [on them,] His G‑dliness radiates [downward].12 In particular, the revelation of the Thirteen Attributes of Mercy reflects a very elevated level of G‑dliness and [seemingly should merit distinction], for this is the level revealed on Yom Kippur.13 Now, obviously, there is a great difference between Elul and Yom Kippur.14

This concept can be illustrated by way of analogy: Before a king enters a city, its inhabitants15 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 all. As he proceeds to his city, they follow him. Afterwards, when he reaches his royal palace, one may only enter [his throne room] with permission — and this is granted only to the nation’s elite, to a select few.16

[To explain the] analogy: In the month of Elul, [we establish a relationship with G‑d within the context of our mundane realities].17 We go out to receive the light of His countenance in the field, so to speak, as it is written:18 “G‑d will cause His countenance to shine upon you.” This refers to the emanation of the Thirteen Attributes of Mercy in a manner that allows them to be received “face to face”;19 i.e., the revelation of His inner will illuminates the source of the Jewish souls.

This results from turning the essence of our inner will toward Him, cleaving to Him with our hearts and souls — [indeed,] from the very depths of our hearts20 — and with self-sacrifice, as is explained in other texts.

This emanation is drawn down from the attribute of א-ל, which is the first of the Thirteen Attributes of Mercy.21 It is the source for the others and includes them all, as implied by the verse:22Keil Havayah shines light to us.” This refers to the light of G‑d’s infinity itself,23 as it is written:24 “G‑d, your L‑rd, is a consuming fire.” To explain by analogy: In a general sense, there is no distinction between fire itself and the light and rays which radiate from it.25 Similarly, as it were, the light of His countenance that shines to the entire Jewish people [emanates] from the attribute of א-ל and is the actual light of G‑d’s infinity itself.

Because of [their connection to this level of G‑dliness,]the Jewish people are called Israel, ישראל, i.e., שר א-ל means “א-ל is a ruler.”26 The yud [which begins the term] implies that this is an ongoing activity. We find the yud serving this purpose in the verse:27 “This is what Iyov would do (יעשה).” This means that the attribute of א-ל enclothed within each Jew is ruler and master of his inner [being28 in an ongoing manner].

For each Jew has an actual spark of G‑dliness which grants life to his G‑dly soul. This spark is naturally drawn upward, seeking “to be illumined by the Light of Life,”29 and to sacrifice itself for Him.30 [This G‑dly spark] transcends [the powers of] wisdom or knowledge that exist in one’s soul. For through wisdom or knowledge, one could not attain this aspect [of Divine service] — to efface one’s own identity and to abandon all self-concern for G‑d’s sake.31

This is the meaning of the verse:32 “You are children of G‑d, your L‑rd.” A child is “the foot, [i.e., an extension,] of his father,”33 accepting his father’s will [with a commitment] that disregards intellect or knowledge, just as the foot does not exist as a separate entity from the head and has no will of its own.34

This is the meaning of our Sages’ counsel:35 “Negate your will before His will.” In order for G‑d’s inner will to shine upon a person, he must negate all his personal desires to the point that he has no other desires at all.36


In Elul,37 [the love relationship between G‑d and the Jewish people is intensified. As implied by the verse]: “I am my Beloved’s [and my Beloved is mine,” it is the Jewish people who] initiate [the strengthening of these bonds, through] an arousal from below. [This awakens an arousal from Above that brings about awesome revelations of G‑dliness] on Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur. [Then it is revealed how] “My Beloved is mine.” G‑dliness is drawn down to this material plane [and is revealed according to the pattern suggested by the verse:] “His left hand is under my head [and His right hand embraces me.”] First, awe [of G‑d, the left hand, is called forth and then love, the right hand, is elicited].

[Man’s spiritual arousal is invited by G‑d, as reflected in the fact that] the Thirteen Attributes of Mercy [are revealed] in Elul. [Now, these Thirteen Attributes are revealed on Yom Kippur, making it a sacred festival.] If so, why are [the days] of Elul not marked as festivals?

[To explain by analogy:] It is like a king [whose countrymen] come out to meet him in the field [without the pomp and ceremony present in his throne room]. [Similarly, in Elul, G‑d] “shines His countenance upon” us, revealing the Thirteen Attributes of Mercy “in the field,” i.e., within our mundane reality.

The term “shines” points to the verse: “Keil Havayah shines light to us,” [awakening the G‑dly potential every one of us possesses. This potential is alluded to in the name] Israel, ישראל, [which can be divided into the words,] ישר אל, “direct [from] G‑d,”38 [and whose letters can be rearranged to form the words,] שר א-ל — “א-ל is a ruler,” [i.e.,] the potential of א-ì [enclothed within each Jew] is a ruler and a master of his inner [being. This motivates every Jew to dedicate himself to G‑d without restraints, to the point of self-sacrifice.]

Section 2

[The previous section focused on the analogy of a king in the field. In order to gain a deeper appreciation of that analogy, we must reflect on the parallels to] the concept of an inhabited city, a field, and a desert that exist within man.

A desert is “an unsown land”;39 [its earth will not produce crops]. This refers to our deeds, words and thoughts which are not directed to G‑d.40 [The intent is] not only the blemishes of [forbidden] thought, speech, or action, but even permitted matters; [e.g., thoughts or actions] that are not necessary for the service of G‑d and are thus “wasteful.”41 For “it is not the manner of a king to involve himself in mundane affairs”;42 [i.e., G‑d will not manifest Himself in material activities that are not motivated by a spiritual intent].

This is what is meant by [the description of the desert as a place] “where no man has dwelt.”43 In this instance, “man” refers to “the image like the appearance of a man upon the image of the Throne,”44 [which refers to the image of G‑d formed by the Divine powers of the realm of Atzilus].45 [This level of “man”] “does not dwell” [in a desert, i.e., it will not manifest itself within the undesirable behaviors mentioned above]. Rather, “they shall make Me a Sanctuary and I will dwell within them.”46

The proper advice [for a person whose spiritual state resembles a desert] is, “And you shall seek G‑d, your L‑rd, from there.”47 To explain: On the verse:48 “And G‑d saw the light and it was good,” our Sages comment:49 “[He saw] that it would be good to conceal [the light].”50 The aspect of light which is the illumination of His inner will exists within each and every Jew. However, it is, by nature, very well concealed and [effort is] necessary to reveal [this] “treasury of fear of G‑d.”51

There are those in whom this [potential to love G‑d] is like a lost object or in exile, [as it were].52 Concerning this, the Torah tells us, “You shall seek,” i.e., that it is necessary to search for [this potential within ourselves]. One only searches for a lost object [and not for something that is readily accessible. In this instance, the search is for] something that is lost [within] his [own self], as if in exile, i.e., the exiled spark of G‑dliness described above.

This is what is meant by the phrase, “[And you shall seek] G‑d, your L‑rd”: i.e., [every person should search for the spark of] “G‑d, your L‑rd,” which is drawn down from the dimension of א-ל that rests within each person, giving life to his individual G‑dly soul.

The verse states: “And you shall seek... from there.” The search must begin “from there.” It is only possible to search for and find a lost object in the place where it was lost.53 Similarly, it is only possible to grasp the light of G‑d’s countenance, to direct one’s love to Him, and to manifest fear of Him, by searching first in the place where it was lost. In this spirit, it is written:54 “Let us search our paths....” We must review our undesirable deeds, words and thoughts from their earliest beginning.

This will arouse feelings of contrite bitterness in one’s heart, as implied by the verse:55 “And he will return to G‑d and He will have mercy upon him.” [This is the plain meaning of the phrase on the level of pshat. On the non-literal level of derush, however, the concluding Hebrew word can be understood to mean, “...and he shall have mercy upon Him”; i.e., the individual] should arouse his own feelings of mercy for the spark of G‑d that is in exile within him.56

In this context, we can understand the phrase:57 “to Yaakov who redeemed Avraham.”58 Yaakov represents the attribute of mercy, which has the potential to redeem the attribute of love — exemplified by Avraham, our Patriarch — from exile. [Avraham] is called our Patriarch59 because [he endows us with the potential] to act like sons, i.e., extensions60 of our Father [in Heaven], to nullify ourselves and to surrender our will to G‑d’s.61

When, however, a person reviews his deeds, and his feelings of compassion are still not aroused and he does not feel contrite bitterness despite contemplating how the spark of G‑dliness has fallen into exile within his soul, he should think about the following analogy: By nature, when [a person injures his body], even stubbing his toenail on a stone, he consciously feels pain and is aggrieved. When does this apply? As long as the affected limb is still attached to his body. If, however, the limb is severed, the brain no longer feels pain because the limb has been cut off from its source.

We, the Jewish people, are similarly connected and attached to G‑d. We should therefore feel the pain and the damage that we cause by drawing the spark of G‑dliness [within us] into exile. [For, as stated above, not only do a person’s undesirable behaviors cause him to descend, but they bring the G‑dly spark within him into exile as well.] “Even if a Jew sins, [he remains a Jew],”62 and still possesses this G‑dly spark. It does not depart from him; it is merely exiled. Furthermore, he still retains the quality of ישראל — “א-ל is a ruler,” as explained above. And a ruler, even when subjugated, is on a different plane from a common person. It is obvious that he is a ruler and, with one movement, can transform his status from one extreme to another and return to his previous status.

[One’s awareness of this Divine potential that exists within him should arouse him to remorse and pain. For, as explained above, he should be sensitive to the pain of the Divine presence that he has drawn into exile.] If, however, a person no longer feels the pain and blemish in his soul, [this is a sign] that he has caused such extensive damage that his soul has been separated and entirely cut off from its source. He should therefore arouse even greater compassion [upon his soul] due to the very fact that he does not feel that he is in need of it.

In another source,63 this concept is explained based on the words of our prayers:64 “With Your great mercy, have mercy upon us.” There it is explained [that we appeal to G‑d’s mercy] because our limited intellect does not appreciate just how much we truly need [His compassion]. The attribute of mercy, the [all-pervasive] attribute of Yaakov, “extends from one end to the other.”65

If even reflecting on the above is not sufficient to arouse the attribute of mercy, the proper advice is found in the Zohar66 in explanation of the expression:67 “a shepherd among the roses”: “Just as fire causes a rose to change color from red to white, similarly, ‘If your sins are as crimson, they will become as white as snow.’”68 Sin, and similarly all thought, speech and deed that are concerned with worldly matters, are identified with the color red, for they are the thoughts and schemes of the [evil] inclination. These can be transformed and become as white as snow through the quality of fire.

[In the sacrificial service in the Beis HaMikdash, there were two types of fire:] fire which descended from Above and fire brought from below.69 Not every person merits the fire which descends from Above.70 [Bringing] the fire from below [is, however, within the potential of each individual] through self-affliction and fasts that reduce one’s fat and blood,71 which have their source in kelipas nogah. Through this, “G‑d will cause His countenance to shine,” revealing the radiant countenance spoken of above.


[In order to gain a deeper appreciation of the analogy of the king in the field, we must reflect on the parallels to] an inhabited city, [a field, and a desert that exist within man].

A desert is “an unsown land,” a place “where no man has dwelt,” [i.e., a place where G‑dliness is not manifest,] the direct opposite of [the Beis HaMikdash, of which] it is said:72 “Would G‑d truly dwell on earth?”

The proper advice [for a person whose spiritual state resembles a desert is:] “And you shall seek G‑d, your L‑rd, from there.” [Every person has an inherent G‑dly potential. Often, however, it is hidden, as implied by our Sages’ interpretation of the verse]: “And G‑d saw the light and it was good,” as “it would be good to hide [the light].” [This refers to the light that shines to every Jew, as it is written]: “א-ל is י-ה-ו-ה, and He shines light to us,” direct from G‑d,73 [as it were]. For some, however, [not only is the light hidden,] it is lost, as intimated by our Sages’ statement:74 “Who is a fool? One who loses what (מה) he is given.”75 This reflects [the prophecy76 which speaks of] “those lost in the land of Ashur” and [the lament]:77 “I strayed like a lost sheep.”

[To repent,] it is necessary to search in the place where the loss took place, i.e., a person should examine his deeds, [following the advice of the verse:] “And you shall seek G‑d, your L‑rd, from there.” [The term “there” refers to the realm of kelipah, where G‑d’s presence is not manifest.]

[When one “seek{s}... from there,” reviewing his undesirable conduct, this will arouse feelings of contrite bitterness in his heart.] “And he will return to G‑d and He will have mercy upon him.”

[On the non-literal level of derush, the latter verse can be interpreted as meaning that the person will have mercy on the spark of G‑dliness in his soul and bring it into expression. When this is accomplished, it is possible to reach a positive connotation] of a desert, as implied by the phrase:78 “Your speech is attractive.” For through teshuvah, [the concept that] a desert is a place “where no man has dwelt,” [can be seen in a positive light, referring to] a rung above the level of “man.”79 [This level can be referred to as] “the great and awesome desert.”80

[When, however,] a person [does not feel contrite bitterness and] mercy for his soul [after reviewing his deeds], he should realize that [this lack of sensitivity comes because his soul] has become so blemished that it has become separated and cut off from its source. [The awareness of this separation] should arouse even greater feelings of mercy. This generates hope.

[If even meditation on the above does not arouse a desire for te­shuvah, the person should follow the advice implied by the phrase,] “a shepherd among the roses.” A rose [has thirteen petals, alluding to] the Thirteen Attributes of Mercy. An additional allusion suggested by roses is [reflected by the verse]: “If your sins are as crimson, they will become as white as snow.” [Now,] a rose changes color from red to white through fire. [Similarly, through the fire of self-affliction, a person can redeem his inner G‑dly nature]. This will cause G‑d to shine His countenance upon [the Jewish people].

Section 3

[To complement the spiritual power of the service of teshuvah described above,] each person must seek an additional course of action for the sake of his soul. [The service required] is alluded to in the following passage:

In the marketplaces and the streets, I will search for the one whom my soul has loved....81 When I found the one whom my soul has loved, I held fast to him and did not let him go until I brought him into my mother’s house and into the chamber in which I was conceived.82

The search is carried out “in the marketplaces and the streets,” [i.e.,] in the place where the loss occurred.83

Nevertheless, [even when the search is successful, and through teshuvah], the person “finds the lost object” [and thus identifies with his inner G‑dly potential], the light of G‑d will not be maintained without vessels. [For without them, his inability to retain the light] will cause it to depart. It is thus necessary to make vessels for the G‑dly light. These are the letters of the Torah. Thus, in the above passage, “my mother’s house” refers to the Written Law, and “the chamber in which I was conceived,” to the Oral Law.84

[This concept is clarified] by the verse:85 “G‑d, your L‑rd, is a consuming fire.” Just as a fire cannot take hold except through a wick or another entity, [the revelation of G‑dliness must have something to which to attach itself. This is the implication of the verse], “I held fast to him and did not let him go until I brought him into my mother’s house.”

This is also implied by the Zohar’s86 interpretation of the expression, “the shepherd among the roses.” [Noting that the Hebrew for “roses”, שושנים, shares the same letters as] שושנים, “those who study,” [our Sages comment: “Do not read ‘among the roses,’ read] ‘among those who study Torah law.’” The word “shepherd” is used since [through this study, the Jews become like shepherds, so to speak, as our Sages say]: “[The people of] Israel sustain their Father in Heaven.”87

Through the study of the Torah, which embodies G‑d’s will, “the spirit brings a Spirit88 and draws to it [that] Spirit,”89 causing the inner aspect of G‑d’s will to rest and be revealed within the individual concerned. [To illustrate this concept:] When a person eats, his soul becomes connected to his body, causing the faculties of his soul to be expressed within it more powerfully. Similarly, “[The people of] Israel sustain, [i.e., perform a function equivalent to the provision of food for,] their Father in Heaven.”90 Through one’s involvement in Torah and mitzvos, which are G‑d’s will, “the spirit brings a Spirit and draws to it a Spirit,” causing the radiance of the Sublime will to rest and become manifest [within him], with a shining countenance, through the letters of the Torah.

[This] is also [accomplished through] the mitzvah of tzedakah,91 the attribute of Chessed (kindness) which is the external manifestation and vessel that can contain the qualities of light and love, which are its inner dimensions, as we say, See Berachos 5b. “For in the light of Your countenance...You have granted us a Torah of life and the love of kindness.” The explanation is that the light of G‑d’s countenance has two mediums — Torah and kindness — [through which it is drawn down to this material realm], as clarified above.


[After searching for and establishing a connection to G‑d through teshuvah, a person must follow the course of action alluded to in] the verses: “[When I found the one whom my soul has loved,] I held fast to him and did not let him go.”

[After a person successfully] discovers [a means to] reveal this love, he must “hold fast to ‘him’” and [by making the appropriate vessels,] “bring ‘him’ into my mother’s house,” [i.e., the study of] the Written Law, and “into the chamber in which I was conceived,” [i.e., the study of] the Oral Law.

[This also relates to the Zohar’s interpretation of the expression:] “the shepherd among the roses” as referring to “those who study Torah law.” [The word “shepherd” is used since through this study, the Jews become like shepherds, so to speak, as our Sages say:] “[The people of] Israel sustain [their Father in Heaven.” This also arouses] sustenance [for the Jews]. The two mediums, Torah study and kindness, [draw down G‑d’s light and love].