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The Life of Elul

Friday, 13 September, 2019 - 2:19 pm


This coming Wednesday, the 18th of Elul, is the birthday of The Baal Shemtov, founder of the Chassidic movement and of the Alter Rebbe, Rabbi Schneur Zalman, founder of Chabad Chassidism. These two giants and historic figures have changed the landscape of the Jewish People forever.

The Chassidic movement, and especially Chabad Chassidism, has revolutionized the way we understand G-d, Torah, the Jewish people and the world at large. Chassidic philosophy as taught by Rabbi Shneur Zalman and the subsequent Chabad Rebbes, has uncovered the inner dimension and soul of the Torah.

Everything is made up of a ‘body’ and a ‘soul’.  The body is the part that we see, observe with our flesh eyes and other senses. The ‘soul’ is that which lies beneath the surface concealed, but at the same time, is the life source and energy of the said being. The same is with G-d, Torah, Jews and the world. There is the part that we see or understand readily, which is the ‘body’, and then there is the inner dimension, the underlying truth and energy that animates and serves as the quintessence of things, the ‘soul’.

Let’s take Torah and its Mitzvot as an example. We have the mitzvah to blow the Shofar on Rosh Hashanah. The ‘body’ of this mitzvah would be the actual performance with all its details. What a shofar can be made of, how long it has to be, what kind of sounds must be heard etc. etc. The ‘soul’ of this mitzvah is the underlying spiritual energy that is accomplished by the blowing of the Shofar. We are told that when Jews blow the shofar G-d’s attribute of Malchut (kingship) of the highest world of Atzilut and even higher is being built. In simple words G-d’s kingdom and royalty is being established. (The details of this esoteric idea are beyond the scope of this article). And so it is with every mitzvah and word in the Torah. There is the body and the soul. Chassidus and Chabad Chassidus particularly elaborate in lengthy discourses on the soul of the world, Torah, Jews and G-d himself.

Judaism can be observed and studied without appreciating the soul behind it all but then it’s like a body without a soul. That would be lifeless.  The Baal Shemtov and the Alter Rebbe gave us the soul of the Torah, and in so doing breathed a new life into Torah, Judaism and the Jewish People. It is safe to say that the Chassidic revolution was so successful that all of Jewish thought and observance is influenced by its teachings.

There is a Chassidic saying that Chai (18) Elul brought chai, life, into Elul. Elul, the last month of the year, is the time to return to G-d and better our ways in preparation for the High Holidays. Before Chassidism, Elul was observed with dread, fear and anxiety as Jews trembled in anticipation for the Day of Judgment when G-d will sit on his throne and judge each of us to see whether or not we are deserving of a year of life and sustenance. Preachers would go around during this month and deliver speeches of fire and brimstone and warn simple Jews of the dreadfulness of the days of awe. The Chassidic Elul is a very different experience. Elul is in fact a time of grace. A time when G-d is much closer and more accessible. G-d accepts each of us with a smile helping us turn to him and become even closer. Elul is actually a happy month. It’s a time when our souls feel its natural connection with G-d as a child feels his or her parent. G-d too feels a deep connection to His children and looks for ways to inspire us to enhance the relationship so that he can grant us what we need on Rosh Hashanah. Why would one feel scared in a month like that? Yes, there is awe and humility because of the distance we caused by our negative behavior throughout the year, but great optimism that on Rosh Hashanah our father will bring us back in to his loving embrace and grant us all everything we need. But this positive twist is due to a deeper ‘soul’ understanding of Elul and Rosh Hashanah, hence Chai Elul (the birthdays of the Baal Shemtov and Alter Rebbe) brought ‘life’ into Elul.

May we all be inspired and be blessed with a life filled Elul which will lead to a life filled High Holidays and to a year filled with life, sustenance and blessings for all.

Shabbat Shalom

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