1. How to Climb the Baal Shem Tov’s Ladder

Concerning1 Chai Elul, my revered father-in-law, the Rebbe [Rayatz], writes2 that it is the birthday of our mentor, the Baal Shem Tov, and of the Alter Rebbe. And, as is well known, on a person’s birthday his soul-root3 is dominant. (Like every subject in nistar, the mystical dimension of the Torah, the source for this, too, is hinted at in nigleh, the Torah’s revealed dimension - in the Talmud Yerushalmi.4) Hence, on Chai Elul the teachings of the Baal Shem Tov and the Alter Rebbe are infused with new strength.

As it is expressed by my revered father-in-law, the Rebbe [Rayatz],5 the Baal Shem Tov paved a way that enables every single Jew, even the very simplest, to serve G‑d; the Alter Rebbe showed how every single Jew, even the very simplest, can serve G‑d. Elsewhere6 he uses a different image: The Baal Shem Tov set up a ladder so that everyone (including simple people) would be able to ascend; the Alter Rebbe showed people how to climb the ladder.

Though the meaning of the path and the ladder are not spelled out explicitly, it is clear from other teachings of my revered father-in-law7 that the major theme of the Baal Shem Tov is the love of G‑d, a love of the Torah and love for a fellow Jew.8 Sometimes this is expressed in ascending (instead of descending) order: love for a fellow Jew, a love of the Torah and the love of G‑d.

2. Are Your Fellow Creatures Pleased with You?

These three loves are so interconnected that they are in fact one.9

As the Mishnah teaches:10 כל שרוח הבריות נוחה הימנו רוח המקום נוחה הימנו - “Anyone with whom his fellow men are pleased, G‑d is pleased with him; but anyone with whom his fellow men are not pleased, G‑d is not pleased with him.”

The choice of the word בריות (here translated “fellow men”, but lit., “creatures”) recalls how the Alter Rebbe explains (in ch. 32 of Tanya) our Sages’ description11 of Aharon: אוהב את הבריות ומקרבן לתורה - “loving creatures and drawing them near to the Torah.” There the Alter Rebbe notes: “This means that even those who are far from G‑d’s Torah and His service, for which reason they are classified simply as creatures” - i.e., their sole quality is that they are G‑d’s creatures - “one must attract with strong cords of love… to draw them close to the Torah and the service of G‑d.” (The concept of being “G‑d’s creatures” figures in an encounter recorded in the Gemara:12 When R. Elazar one day commented on an ugly man whom he met, the latter retorted, “Go and tell the Craftsman Who made me….”) And just as those who are called mere creatures are to be loved and drawn near to the Torah, so, too, in our present context, it is the opinion of exactly such fellow Jews that the Mishnah considers: “Anyone with whom his fellow men [lit., creatures] are pleased, G‑d is pleased with him; but anyone with whom his fellow men [lit., creatures] are not pleased, G‑d is not pleased with him.”

From the earlier-mentioned interconnection between the three loves, it follows that a lack of ahavas Yisrael (“his fellow men are not pleased with him”) proves that there is a lack of ahavas haTorah and ahavas HaShem (“G‑d is not pleased with him”).

To examine this connection more closely: Ahavas HaShem alone can lead a man to isolate himself from people in general and from simple folk in particular. Similarly, ahavas haTorah alone can make a man so precious in his own eyes that he keeps himself distant from his fellow Jews. These two loves alone are thus insufficient. And not only is ahavas Yisrael indispensable: a lack of this love indicates (as above) that one is lacking in one’s love of G‑d and of the Torah.

Loving one’s fellow Jew fortifies one’s love of the Torah and makes one’s love of G‑d true. And [true] Ahavas HaShem and ahavas haTorah bring about ahavas Yisrael.

3. The Three Loves Are Really One

In this matter Chai Elul plays a major role: Even if throughout the year these three loves and their interconnection were somewhat neglected, they and their interconnection are revitalized with the arrival of Chai Elul - the birthday of the Baal Shem Tov and the Alter Rebbe, the day on which their teachings are infused with new strength.

In plain words, this means that one’s brain comes to realize and one’s heart comes to feel that no separation is possible between one’s love of a fellow Jew, of the Torah and of G‑d, because they are all one - just as Israel, the Torah and the Holy One, Blessed be He, are all one.

4. The Rebbe Still Has Obligations

Explaining the content of the twelve days from Chai Elul to Rosh HaShanah, my revered father-in-law, the Rebbe [Rayatz], teaches13 that they should be a time of spiritual stocktaking for the twelve months of the year, a day for each month. For a start, Chai Elul itself is the day of cheshbon hanefesh for the past month of Tishrei - when many of those present today were together with my revered father-in-law, the Rebbe [Rayatz] during his lifetime in this world.

And since the Rebbe [Rayatz] says that Chai Elul is the day of cheshbon hanefesh for the past month of Tishrei, it is certain that he himself is also taking stock of last Tishrei.

Now there are people who are afraid that after the histalkus there is a state of being14 “free among the dead.” In truth, however, this phrase does not apply to everyone. Thus Sefer Chassidim writes15 that tzaddikim, who are referred to as alive even after their passing,16 are not like other men (ככל
אדם17) who have died and who are free of the mitzvos; rather, even after their histalkus they have all their previous obligations.

With this in mind we can understand the statement in the Gemara18 that after his passing Rabbeinu HaKadosh used to visit his home every Friday evening for Kiddush. And Sefer Chassidim adds that “his recitation of Kiddush enabled others [i.e., members of his household] to discharge their obligation to hear Kiddush” - even though one who is himself not obliged to hear Kiddush cannot enable others to discharge their obligation.19 The explanation is that Rabbeinu HaKadosh is not included in the category of men in general who have died and who are free of the mitzvos; rather, he has the obligation of Kiddush (like all other obligations) as previously.

In this light, too, we can understand the episode recorded in Emek HaMelech20 in which Avraham Avinu was once counted towards a minyan - because, unlike the departed in general, he is not free of the mitzvos.

In the case of comprehensive souls,21 the souls of those whose only concern throughout their lives was a total dedication for the sake of their disciples and for those who were bound to them and for all of Israel, there is no external factor that can separate them from their main concern. Hence now, too, they are not separated from their flock22 - now, too, they are present in this world and under obligation in all matters of the Torah and the mitzvos - and help and support them in all their affairs. They enable Jews at large to fulfill their obligations. Not only are they not “free” of the mitzvos, but they are under obligation in all matters as before. Indeed, their obligation is even greater than before, because the limitations imposed by a finite body no longer exist.23 (It is likewise explained in Tanya,24 that “even a perfect tzaddik who serves G‑d with awe and with a love that delights in Him,” is nevertheless an entity who loves - which is not the case when the limitations of the body cease to exist.)

Thus, in relation to the stocktaking of Chai Elul for the past month of Tishrei, after the histalkus too the Rebbe [Rayatz] is obliged to do so, and indeed does so, as in the past - like last year, like two and three years ago, and like thirty years ago, since the time that he utterly dedicated himself to the needs of his disciples and of those who are bound to him, to help and support them in all their affairs.

5. Knocking on the Palace Door

The stocktaking that the Rebbe [Rayatz] is making on Chai Elul for last Tishrei also includes all the blessings that he gave last Tishrei.

He once told me that he had never gone bankrupt (G‑d forbid): he had remained firmly reliable in the payment of all his dues. If so, he will certainly see to the fulfillment of all his blessings.

As far as he is concerned, since he made promises he is certainly able to fulfill them, otherwise he would not have promised. There is one condition, however: hiskashrus with him, and faith that now, too, he is able to fulfill - and in fact will fulfill - all his promises.

Speaking of the alien thoughts25 that sometimes distract people during prayer, the Rebbe [Rayatz] once offered a parable. A man knocks on the king’s door, but when the king approaches and opens the door for him, he walks away. Our Sages teach26 that “one should first recite G‑d’s praises in order, and then pray.” The former stage corresponds to knocking on the king’s door; the actual prayer corresponds to the moment of goodwill at which the king opens the door; and if a person allows his mind to wander to alien thoughts while praying, it is as if he walks away at the very moment at which the king opens the door for him.27

To connect this with our subject: Since we all immersed ourselves today in a mikveh, and have gathered together for a farbrengen, as the Rebbe [Rayatz] wants us to do, it is as if we knocked on his door - so it wouldn’t be right to get up and leave…. On the contrary: we should utilize this opportunity and bond ourselves with the Rebbe, by studying his teachings and picturing his face in our minds.

All those who saw the Rebbe, let them picture his face. The idea of doing so is more than reinforced by the statement of Rabbeinu HaKadosh in the Gemara:28 “The reason that I am sharper than my colleagues is that I saw R. Meir from behind; if I had seen him from the front I would have been even sharper.” Indeed, the Talmud Yerushalmi relates29 that “R. Meir’s cane was in the hand [of one of the Galilean elders], and from it he gained understanding.”

And through hiskashrus with the Rebbe, all his blessings will certainly be fulfilled.

6. Three Faces of Elul

As is well known, the letters that spell the word אלול , the name of the month during which one takes stock of the past year’s avodah, serve as initials that hint at all three modes of divine service30 - “the study of Torah, avodah (the service of G‑d), and gemilus chassadim (the practice of kindly deeds).”

The name אלול is an acronym for the initials of the phrase,31 אני לדודי ודודי לי - “I am my Beloved’s, and my Beloved is mine.”32 This alludes to prayer, representing (in the above list) avodah, for, as our Sages teach,33 “What is ‘the service of the heart’ [of which the Torah speaks]? It is prayer.”

The name אלול is also an acronym for the initials of the phrase [concerning Purim],34 איש לרעהו ומתנות לאביונים - “[the sending of food gifts,] each man to his friend, and gifts to the poor.”35 This alludes to the service of G‑d through tzedakah and gemilus chassadim.

In addition, the name אלול is an acronym for the initials of the phrase,36 אנה לידו ושמתי לך - “[If he did not plan to kill, but G‑d] made it chance upon his hand, then I will provide you [with a place to which he can flee].”37 This verse speaks of the Cities of Refuge, which allude to the service of G‑d through the study of Torah, as will presently be explained.

7. Imprisonment vs. Rectification

Let us first understand the function of the Cities of Refuge,38 לנוס שמה כל מכה נפש בשגגה - “to which one who unintentionally strikes [i.e., kills] a soul can flee.”

By way of introduction,39 it will be noted that among the nations of the world there is punishment by imprisonment. In contrast, this is not to be found in the Torah, of which it is written,40 “For this is your wisdom and your understanding in the eyes of the nations.” (In certain situations a person is locked in a cell,41 but this is not punishment by imprisonment: it is a preparatory stage towards a different penalty [viz., capital punishment.)

The nations of the world know of (and have) one world only - this world. Here a man lives seventy or eighty years, as in the verse,42 “The years of our life number seventy, or, if in great vigor - eighty”; at most,43 “[Man’s] days shall be a hundred and twenty years.” Accordingly, when such a man sins and breaks the law, causing harm to the world (the only world that exists), he is arrested and imprisoned in isolation so that he will not cause the world any further harm.

In this way he is deprived of the freedom that he would need to continue with his tasks. As a result he is automatically deprived of any further connection with the entire pattern of reward and punishment, and with the ultimate purpose of his creation, for the rest of his life. He loses his identity as a human being.44 Nevertheless, this is regarded as unavoidable in order to protect the public against harm, and the individual, weighed against the public interest, is jettisoned.

In contrast, according to the Torah - which is45 “a Torah of life” and46 “a Torah of lovingkindness,” and which is47 “good for heaven and for humanity” - it is out of the question to sacrifice one cause for another, even to sacrifice an individual and to harm him for the sake of protecting the public against harm.

(To express this principle in the language of the nigleh of the Torah:48 כל קבוע כמחצה על מחצה ואינו בטל ברוב.)

The Torah does not cause harm, nor are the punishments of the Torah intended merely to punish, but to rectify the sin involved.49 Punishment by imprisonment is therefore out of the question, because the offender is deprived of the ability to fulfill his role in life.

It is written,50 ימים יוצרו ולו אחד בהם : “The days [of each man] are fashioned” in a number which the Heavenly Court determines is sufficient to enable him to fulfill his role and his mission, and every single moment of his life should be utilized for this purpose. This is what makes punishment by imprisonment unthinkable.

In every possible situation, even if a man has sinned and transgressed, he remains obliged to continue his mission in life. [If this appears to be problematic, note the words of the Gemara:]51 בהדי כבשי דרחמנא למה לך - “What concern of yours are the mysteries of G‑d?” In this spirit the Rebbe Rashab writes52 that today we cannot plumb the depths of the mystic principle of the beirurim. Hence, regardless of one’s current spiritual situation, one should observe every mitzvah that presents itself, without calculating (for example) whether it is proper that he should observe a law stated in Choshen Mishpat when the [earlier, daily] laws in Orach Chayim are still imperfectly observed.

(Capital punishment differs from other forms of punishment: (a) It is not that the existence of one man is being sacrificed for the public good, but that this man, as an individual, is himself deserving of capital punishment, for his own rectification (tikkun); (b) this punishment does not deprive him of an opportunity to pursue a mission in life, because once the Torah (and therefore the Heavenly Court) determines that he should no longer live, he no longer has a role or mission.)

From the above, it is clear that when “one who unintentionally strikes a soul” has to live in one of the Cities of Refuge, this is not punishment by imprisonment. (For even when he is in a state in which the blood avenger can kill him he is still under obligation to continue with his life-work,53 and this in itself rules out imprisonment.) Rather, living in a City of Refuge is punishment by exile. In the words of Sefer HaChinuch,54 “so that he will suffer the pangs of exile… [that are felt] when a man is separated from those who love him and from his native land….” At the same time, however, he must be provided with everything that he needs to carry out his mission like a free man. In fact,55 “if a scholar is exiled, his mentor is to be exiled with him”: even if he is an unworthy scholar, his mentor is nevertheless exiled with him so that he will be able to study Torah from him as in the past.

8. Finding a City of Refuge Today

To speak in terms of every man’s avodah, what is signified by a City of Refuge, “to which one who unintentionally strikes [i.e., kills] a soul can flee”?

“One who strikes a soul” refers to a sinner: by transgressing, he causes a blemish in his soul, in his Divine soul and his animal soul. The difference is that the Divine soul exists eternally and cannot be separated from G‑d, for even when the individual sinned it remained faithful to Him;56 as far as the animal soul is concerned, though, the sinner is “one who strikes a soul.”

Why is he called “one who strikes a soul unintentionally”? This may be explained by considering the teaching of our Sages,57 “No man sins unless a spirit of folly enters him.” Since without this spirit of folly, this ruach shtus, he would not have sinned, he cannot be judged and punished for striking a soul; indeed, even the nations of the world do not punish a man who is out of is mind.

In this spirit one can understand the statement of the Gemara58 that “a Sanhedrin that administers capital punishment once in seventy years is called ‘violent’…. R. Tarfon and R. Akiva say, ‘If we were in the Sanhedrin, no man would ever be put to death.’” At first glance this statement is problematic, for when the Torah prescribes the death penalty one cannot waive the charge and dismiss it; indeed, the Sages teach59 that “whoever says that G‑d waives, his life will be waived.” How, then, are we to understand the above statement regarding the Sanhedrin?

When the Tannaim and Amoraim studied the Torah (together with the luminary within it) as it exists in its Supernal Source,60 there shone within them the light of the Torah in its aspect of Toras Chessed, a Torah of lovingkindness. This enabled them to find a saving grace61 in every single individual (just as R. Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev was accustomed to do) - for a start, giving every man the benefit of the doubt in the most comprehensive way possible, by invoking the above principle: “No man sins unless a spirit of folly enters him.”

Nevertheless, the individual is not completely discharged, because he is guilty insofar as he gave the spirit of folly the opportunity to enter his mind and rule him. He is therefore judged as “one who strikes a soul unintentionally,” at least.

How is he to be rehabilitated?62 - “He shall flee to one of these Cities [of Refuge].”63

The Gemara teaches:64 “From which text do we learn that the words of the Torah afford refuge?65 - It is written,66 ‘[the city of] Betzer in the wilderness [and so on],’ and thereafter it is written,67 ‘And this is the Torah….’” From this we see that the term “City of Refuge” is applied to the Torah.

What does this signify?

The Midrash says:68 “G‑d said to man, ‘My lamp is in your hand and your lamp is in My hand. My lamp in your hand: this is the Torah, of which it is written,69 כי נר מצוה ותורה אור - For a mitzvah is a lamp and the Torah is light. Your lamp in My hand: this is the soul, of which it is written,70 נר ה׳ נשמת אדם - The soul of man is a lamp of G‑d. If you guard My lamp, I shall guard yours.”

From this it is clear that the Torah is the vitality of the soul, even of the animal soul - for with Jews, the vitality of the physical body also derives from the Divine soul. (This is explained in Tanya,71 and at length in Kuntreis U’Maayon.72) Thus, by taking refuge in the words of the Torah (which “afford refuge”), for it is from the Torah that the soul derives its vitality, “one who (unintentionally) strikes a soul” can find rehabilitation and a tikkun.

This, then, is the inner content of the acronym for the name אלול (Elul), אנה לידו ושמתי לך - “[If he did not plan to kill, but G‑d] made it chance upon his hand, then I will provide you [with a place to which he can flee].” Suppose a person makes a spiritual stocktaking for the year and discovers that there are things missing here and there, and that there are undesirable things that relate to “one who unintentionally strikes a soul” (which “G‑d caused to chance upon his hand”). Let him not fall into despair, G‑d forbid - because G‑d promises, “I will provide you with a place to which he can flee.” This “place” is the Torah, whose words afford refuge.

9. An Oasis in the Wilderness

This observation is highlighted by the fact that when the above-quoted Gemara cites its prooftext, it includes the seemingly superfluous word במדבר : “[the city of] Betzer in the wilderness.” The Sages are here reassuring us that the words of the Torah afford refuge even to a person who is spiritually in the wilderness.

When someone approaches an American Jew and tells him of the existence of the Torah, he asks: “How long has this Torah been around?”

And when he is given the answer, about 3300 years, he responds in amazement, “Why, that’s ancient history! But tell me, what is this Torah?”

And he is told: “The Torah teaches a man how to conduct himself. When he gets up in the morning he has to wash his hands, then he has to go to shul so as to be together with ten idle folk in order to pray with a congregation.”

So he asks: “And how long does this prayer take?”

“Not too long,” he is told; “say thirty minutes.”

Nu, and what comes next?”

“Next,” he is told, “the Rebbe says that you should do your daily reading of Tehillim.”

“And after that?”

“After that you’ve got to sit down to your regular daily study session.”

“Terrible! What a waste of time! But anyway, what happens next?”

“Next, you have to eat breakfast, which saves you from all kinds of ailments.”73

“What kind of business is that?” he retorts. “In this modern age all kinds of new things are being discovered, and here you’re telling me things from the Torah that was written 3300 years ago?! But anyway: after all that, am I free?”

“Sure! After that you can go ahead with all your affairs - except that you’ve got to be on the lookout so that you won’t be stealing, or infringing on someone else’s legitimate commercial territory, or saying anything slanderous. Besides, you’ve got to give away a tenth of your profits in tzedakah; on Shabbos and Yom-Tov the business has to be closed; and on weekdays, too, you’ve got to interrupt things in the thick of business and go back to shul as one of the ten idle fellows and daven Minchah; then in the evening there’s Maariv. After Maariv you can eat supper.”

“But tell me,” asks the listener. “After all those troubles that I have to cope with through the day, am I then completely free? Can I watch TV, go see a movie, play bridge or whatever?”

“No,” he is told. “The Gemara74 says that ‘the night was created… only for study.’ That means that at night you have to study Torah.”

“What’s Gemara?” he asks. “And how long has it existed?”

“About [1500] years ago Ravina and Rav Ashi compiled the Gemara, and that’s where it is written that the night should be utilized for studying Torah. After studying you read Kerias Shema before going to sleep and you take stock of the entire day.”

“The bottom line, then,” says the listener, “is that all this is not for me. With a schedule like that, you just can’t do business!”

Surely, one might think, the [chassid] receiving this kind of feedback could justifiably argue: Since he is located alone in a spiritual wilderness, how can he guard himself against its75 “snakes, serpents and scorpions”? Even more difficult: How can he inspire the people around him? The answer to this is that he has received the strength to do so from Avraham Avinu, who is described by the phrase,76 אחד הי-ה אברהם - “Avraham was one.” Moreover, he was called Avraham HaIvri77 because78 “the whole world was on one side (mei’eiver echad) and he was on the other.”

This is why the above-quoted Gemara, when citing its prooftext, includes the seemingly unnecessary word bamidbar - “[the city of] Betzer in the wilderness…” - and then continues, “And this is the Torah….” Even when a person is in the wilderness, the Torah makes him a “Betzer”: the Torah gives him the strength of a city fortified (betzurah) by a stone wall two-doors-and-a-bolt in height, a wall that can protect him against the undesirable influences of the surrounding wilderness. Moreover, from time to time the doors and the bolt are opened, to allow the “Betzer” to influence the wilderness. It is the watchmen of the walls who decide - when and for how long the doors are to be opened, who should be permitted to leave the fortress for the wilderness and who from the wilderness should be permitted to enter the fortress.

In this way, “[the city of] Betzer in the wilderness” attains its goals: not only does the fortified city remain intact, but in addition it makes its presence felt in its barren environment. No longer will it be79 “a land… in which no man has lived.” At long last,80 “He shall turn the desert into a pool of water…; there he shall make the hungry to dwell, and they shall establish a city for habitation, and sow fields and plant vineyards….”

10. The Same Rebbe and the Same Chassidim

True, the words of Torah afford refuge for “one who unintentionally strikes a soul” - but there is a condition attached:81 וזאת התורה אשר שם - “And this is the Torah which Moshe placed….” The Torah that one studies has to be תורת משה - “Moshe’s Torah.”

In order to be saved from the blood-avenger - “He82 is Satan, who is also the Evil Inclination and also the Angel of Death” - a resolve to conduct oneself according to the Torah does not suffice. For the Evil Inclination, who is known as “that clever little fellow,” can deflect a person’s mind (via the will, which steers the mind), so that it will appear to that person that he is conducting himself according to the Torah. As Ramban writes,83 one can be “a scoundrel within the permission of the Torah.”

The solution to this is to be found in the words, וזאת התורה אשר שם משה - “And this is the Torah which Moshe placed….” One’s conduct according to the Torah must follow the directives of Moshe, and84 “an extension of Moshe is to be found in every single generation” - the Moshe in our generation.

This applies in all areas. In the case of one’s Torah study, for example (“this is the Torah which Moshe placed”), one’s study should be imbued with the awe of heaven. The preparation to this is davenen. As our Sages express it,85 one should proceed “from the synagogue to the House of Study”: prayer, then study. Prayer, too, needs preparation:86 אין עומדין להתפלל אלא מתוך כובד ראש - “One should stand up to pray only in an earnest frame of mind.”

And fulfilling the directives of Moshe (Toras Moshe) thus enables one to succeed in passing through the wilderness, unharmed by its “snakes, serpents and scorpions.”

Apropos fulfilling the directives of Moshe: During the [Second World] War a group of Anash in a certain place were unable to contact the Rebbe [Rayatz] in order to ask his advice as to their next move. They decided, therefore, to follow the well-known [chassidic] rule that in such a case one asks the opinion of a sage of the worldly sort, and then does the opposite…. This decision saved the lives of them all.

Fulfilling the directives of the Moshe of our generation, and being bonded to him, continues until the coming of Mashiach, and even after.

Some people daydream that when Mashiach comes there will be some other Rebbe. In fact, however, when Mashiach comes we will have our Rebbe. There will be the same Rebbe and the same chassidim.

The Rebbe [Rayatz] once told me that it was the custom of his father, the Rebbe [Rashab], to place the Afikoman of the members of his family together with his own. When he asked for the reason, the Rebbe [Rashab] told him that the Afikoman commemorates the Korban Pesach that was eaten by all members of the household as a group - and when Mashiach comes, too, this is how it will be eaten. From this it is obvious that when Mashiach comes, too, all those who have a connection with the Rebbe - all the members of his household - will be together with the Rebbe.

11. Ever More Inward

Another point regarding the above-quoted verse, וזאת התורה אשר שם משה לפני בני ישראל - “And this is the Torah which Moshe placed before the Children of Israel.”

In the Holy Tongue, לפני (lifnei - “before”) is related to פנימיות (pnimiyus - “the innermost dimension”), [and also to פנים (panim - “face, countenance”)]. The verse thus intimates that Moshe devoted himself to reach out to the innermost dimension of all Jews (and everyone knows how difficult it is to arrive at that point within himself).

It goes without saying that one’s hiskashrus with Moshe should mirror this endeavor:87 כמים הפנים לפנים - “as in water, face answers to face, [so, too, is the heart of one man to another].” One should attempt to establish a bond with Moshe’s innermost dimension.

It is written:88 לך אמר לבי בקשו פני את פניך הוי-ה אבקש - “Concerning You my heart says, ‘Seek my countenance.’ Your countenance, G‑d, do I seek.” This means that by revealing the pnimiyus (the innermost dimension) of one’s soul (panai - “my countenance”), one arrives at G‑d’s pnimiyus (פניך הוי-ה).89 A parallel dynamic exists with relation to the Rebbe, the Moshe of our generation, who is a connecting intermediary.90

Those who until now have been open to the Rebbe’s chitzoniyus, to externalities, should now endeavor to be open to his pnimiyus, his innermost dimension. And those who have already been open to the Rebbe’s pnimiyus should now endeavor to be open to his pnimiyus dipnimiyus, to his most elemental nucleus.

12. Chai Elul and Hiskashrus

Endeavors in this direction are boosted by today’s date - Chai Elul, the birthday of the Baal Shem Tov and of the Alter Rebbe.

Our Rebbeim, the Nesi’im of their respective generations, are the successors91 of the Baal Shem Tov and the Alter Rebbe. Hence, all those who are connected with the Rebbe [Rayatz] - including those who made their connection with him after their Rebbe passed on and they were unable to remain without a Rebbe92 - are also connected with the Baal Shem Tov and the Alter Rebbe, since the Rebbe [Rayatz] fills their place.

Chai Elul, the day on which the active legacies of the Baal Shem Tov and the Alter Rebbe are infused with new strength, is thus a propitious time for strengthening one’s hiskashrus with the Rebbe, who occupies their place.

13. The Evil Inclination in a Pious Mask

At this point, along comes the Evil Inclination, “that smart little fellow,” disguised in pious humility, and argues: “Chai Elul, the birthday of the Baal Shem Tov, the pillar of light and the pillar of fire, - what’s your connection with Chai Elul?

“It would be different,” continues the Evil Inclination, “if you were one of the worldly kind [and not a chassid]. Even when such a one goes in for yechidus and asks for advice or whatever, he has no idea of what it means to be a Rebbe; besides, he is generously aware of his own worth…. And even though he knows that the Rebbe is at a level higher than his own, he does not hold the difference to be incomparable. He himself, he muses, has a very fine head, and if he would simply have a good sleep and wake up refreshed and then make a bit of an effort, - why, he himself could reach the level of being a Rebbe…. After all, don’t our Sages themselves teach93 that ‘every single Jew is obliged to say, When will my deeds parallel the deeds of my forefathers, Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov?’ And if this is true of every Jew, how much more certainly must it be true of himself, who has such a fine head!…

“But you,” the Evil Inclination continues, “being a chassid, and in fact a Chabad chassid, and you do know what a Rebbe is - and at the same time you know your own sorry state because you make your accounts candidly, since chassidim don’t like deluding themselves….”

(By way of illustration:94 When the disciples of the Maggid of Mezritch once asked him for the source of one of his teachings, he replied that he had heard it from the Prophet Eliyahu. This reply satisfied them all, except for the Alter Rebbe, who asked for proof…. Said the Maggid: “Only a litvak could say that!”95)

Hearing all these arguments, the chassid asks himself: “So what connection do I have with Chai Elul, that would enable this day to boost my Torah study and my awe of heaven by strengthening my hiskashrus?”

The Evil Inclination resumes his case: “As far as the Baal Shem Tov is concerned, it is cited in a certain maamar of Chassidus96 that ‘the soul of the Baal Shem Tov descended to this world in order to arouse the Jewish people from their sleep, for they were in a state of fainting…. A segulah for this is that the person’s name should be whispered in his ear and then he will wake up from his faint…. He whispered their name in their ear - for their name is Yisrael….’”97

(A similar case happened with the Rebbe [Rayatz],98 who advised someone to whisper his own name in the ear of a woman who had fallen into a faint, and through this she was aroused. Now, you might well ask, how is the name of a Rebbe in Brooklyn relevant to a woman who had never seen him in her life? The explanation is that the Rebbe’s soul is the conduit for the vitality of the Jewish people at large.)

The Evil Inclination now winds up his case: “Since the soul of the Baal Shem Tov is the conduit for the vitality of all of Israel, you too have a connection with the Baal Shem Tov. But as far as the Alter Rebbe’s soul is concerned, his was a new soul,99 unlike all other souls in our era which have already lived through an incarnation in this world (as is stated in the writings of the AriZal100). Considering the sublime nature of a new soul,” the Evil Inclination concludes, “what connection can you have (especially since you know your real spiritual condition) with the Alter Rebbe?”

14. A Friendly Countenance for All

There is an answer to this argument: After one has made all the above comparisons between the lofty stature of the Rebbeim and one’s own humble situation, one should not (G‑d forbid) despair - because we are in the month of Elul, the month of compassion.

There is a well-known explanation101 of the meaning of the month of Elul “by the parable of a king. Before he comes to town, the townsfolk go out to meet him and greet him in the fields. At that time, whoever so desires is permitted to go out and greet him, and he receives them all with a friendly countenance and shows a smiling face to them all.”

In the king’s palace there are limitations: “There one can enter only with permission, and even this is reserved for the select few among the people.” When the king goes out to the fields, however, everyone - whatever his spiritual state - can be an honored participant.102

In the analog: Suppose someone is (so to speak) out in the fields. He is not in a place of human habitation, but in a place that produces grass, the food of animals - alluding to the animal soul and even to someone resembling103Eisav…, the man of the fields.” To such a man, too, the Rebbe comes in the month of Elul, when he is out in the fields. And not only is the Rebbe not annoyed at the fact that he was troubled to visit such a lowly place, but he receives him with a friendly countenance and shows him a smiling face: he smiles with a joy that sweetens harsh verdicts. (This recalls the well-known episode during the Alter Rebbe’s imprisonment.104)

When the Rebbe comes to the field, whoever so desires is permitted to greet him. They all stand ready to greet him, and they don’t even have to jostle…, since the Rebbe himself receives them all with a friendly countenance and bestows blessings upon them all.

Only one thing: one should not be a fool [and lose the opportunity]. One should cry out, “Father, save me!” One is not expected to do great and wondrous things, but only to utter a single cry from one’s innermost core: “Father, father, save me! Father, father, have pity on me!”

And this will no doubt be followed by the fulfillment of the verse,105 אני לדודי ועלי תשוקתו - “I am my Beloved’s, and His desire is towards me.” As the Midrash comments,106 “The desire of the Holy One, blessed be He, is directed only towards the Jewish people,” to bestow good things upon them, and especially the overriding good - the complete Redemption, when the Rebbe will soon lead us to greet Mashiach, Amen.