A Foundation Below

 Sichos In English


Shabbos Parshas Eikev; 23rd Day of Menachem Av, 5751

This Shabbos is the Shabbos on which the month of Elul is blessed. Elul is the last month of the year, set aside as the month to review our service of the previous year. The connection to our service is alluded to in the name Elul, for its Hebrew letters –Alef, Lamed, Vav, Lamed – are interpreted as an acronym for the words of the Hebrew phrase, “Ani L’Dodi V’Dodi Li, meaning “I am my Beloved’s and my Beloved is mine,” emphasizing the connection between a Jew (“I”) and G-d (“my Beloved”).


This connection is twofold in nature. 1) It involves the arousal of the Jewish people in establishing a connection to G-d through the service of Torah and mitzvos, thereby elevating the earthly plane. This is alluded to in the phrase, “I am my Beloved’s.” 2) It also involves drawing down influence and assistance from Above, as reflected in the phrase, “my Beloved is mine.”


Although the acronym mentions both services, it begins with “I am my Beloved’s,” the arousal of the Jewish people. This is the foundation of all service – even before there is a revelation from Above, a Jew should begin serving G-d on his own initiative.


The ultimate purpose of man’s creation and the descent of his soul into this world is to serve G-d through his own initiative. In this way, man derives his most satisfying pleasure. It is human nature (even of gentiles) to appreciate something that one has worked for and earned. To receive what one has not worked for is regarded as “bread of shame.”


There is also an arousal from Above that makes the service of Elul possible. In this vein, Elul is described as the month when G-d’s Thirteen Attributes of Mercy are revealed, and the month when “the King is in the field.”


These influences, however, are merely preparatory. The essence of Elul is the arousal of love by the Jewish people, and it is this awakening that calls forth the revelation from Above (“my Beloved is mine”).


Since serving G-d through one’s own initiative is the primary element of service throughout the entire year, it is the service emphasized in the month of Elul, the month of reviewing one’s service as a whole. Through this service, we call forth a higher level of Divine influence, which is reflected in the blessings of the new year.


Despite the emphasis on the service through one’s own initiative, (since both thrusts, i.e., the revelation from Above and the initiative from Below, are alluded to in the name Elul), the spiritual stocktaking carried out on this month must focus on both aspects. This is because when the Jewish people perform service reflecting the revelation from Above, the ultimate aspect of that revelation from Above (“my Beloved is mine”), i.e., G-d’s manifestation of love for the Jews, will be revealed.


The importance of taking stock of both of these services is reflected in the fact that there are always two days of Rosh Chodesh in Elul. In particular, this year when these two days fall on Shabbos and Sunday, the connection to these two services is highlighted. Sunday reflects the service of elevating the earthly plane, whereas Shabbos represents the revelation of holiness from Above. This is reflected in the act of Creation, (an act that, in the spiritual sense, repeats itself every week). Sunday was the first day of Creation, the beginning of the existence of the physical plane. Each subsequent day progressed in a process of elevation and refinement, preparing for Shabbos, as our Sages said, “Whoever toils on Erev Shabbos (which alludes to all the days of the week), will eat on Shabbos.”


Shabbos, by contrast, is a day of spiritual pleasure, which is revealed and drawn down even into the material aspects of the world. “All the days of the coming week are blessed” by Shabbos, i.e., the influence of Shabbos contains the positive influences that will be manifest in the week to come.


Since everything in the world – even the most fundamental elements of existence – was brought into being “for the sake of the Jewish people” and “for the sake of the Torah,” a parallel to both approaches (i.e., the Shabbos approach and the Sunday approach) exists in a Jew’s Divine service.


A Jew is made-up of a soul, “an actual part of G-d Above,” and a physical body created from dust. From the body’s perspective, there has to be the service of elevating the physical plane. This service must be step-by-step, progressing daily in the task of refinement. From the perspective of the soul, on the other hand, the service is one of revelation from Above, beginning on the highest spiritual levels, and drawing them down into this world. Each individual is capable of this service and should demand it of himself.


The two services are interrelated. Even on days characterized by holiness and service beyond limitations, one must not lose total sight of the material environment. That’s why such days are also counted as days of the week, i.e., as a Sunday or a Monday. Similarly, when the Beis HaMikdash was standing, in addition to the special sacrifices offered on these special days, the usual daily offerings were also presented.


Conversely, a Jew begins his service each day, even on a weekday, with the declaration of “Modeh Ani,” in which he thanks G-d for returning his soul (i.e., emphasizing revelation from Above) to him.


The connection between Shabbos, (revelation from Above), and the days of the week, is reflected in our Sages’ statement that Shamai the Elder would always eat “in honor of the Shabbos.” If he saw a choice animal on the first day of the week, he would purchase it for Shabbos. If afterwards  he would find an even better one, he would purchase that one for Shabbos and use the first for the weekday meals. Every moment of his existence was thus associated with the Shabbos.


These two paths can be identified with the two general categories of Yisachar and Z’vulun. Yisachar, the students of the Torah, are associated with the service of revelation from Above. By contrast, the lifework of Z’vulun, those involved in commerce and financial activity, is one of elevating the world and the natural environment.


Of these two services, the service of elevating the earthly plane (and thereby serving G-d on one’s own initiative) is of fundamental importance. This is reflected in the observance of the two days of Rosh Chodesh Elul. The first day of Rosh Chodesh Elul is the thirtieth day of the month of Av. The month of Elul begins on the second day of Rosh Chodesh, when we begin to blow the shofar and to practice other customs associated with Elul. That’s why it is significant that the second day of Rosh Chodesh Elul falls out on Sunday, the day associated with beginning the service of elevating the material plane.


To explain this concept in greater depth: Since “G-d desired a dwelling-place in the lower worlds,” the fundamental service of G-d must be one that is carried out within the context of these worlds, following the natural order established within Creation. This service is characterized by gradual progression, going from one level to the next, beginning with Sunday, the first day of the week.


Because a Jew possesses a soul that is “an actual part of G-d,” which can carry out this service of elevating the earthly realm, the soul has been clothed in a physical body. It is limited by the body and by the natural limitations of the world. Its service must begin on this plane. Through the service of “I am my Beloved’s,” affirming his commitment to G-d and elevating his material environment, the Jew fulfills the ultimate intent of Creation – to establish a dwelling for G-d in this material world.


Based on the above, we can resolve a related question: Since man was created on the sixth day of Creation, seemingly he should begin his reckoning of the week from that day. Why do we begin counting the week from Sunday? The answer is – in order to emphasize how the essential goal of our service is to transform the world into a dwelling for G-d. When we begin our weekly counting – not from Friday (when the creation of the world reaches a state of completion) – but from Sunday (the beginning stage of service), we are focusing on this goal.


This service transforms the world into a dwelling place for G-d’s essence, i.e., a place where His very essence is revealed. Just as in the creation of the world it is only G-d’s essence that brings the material reality into existence, so too, it is G-d’s essence that will come into expression in the dwelling-place that will be established in this world. This service brings about a greater revelation in the spiritual realms.


A Jew taps the essence of his soul through this service. When the soul is clothed in the body and works to elevate the material environment, the essence of the soul is revealed. This service also elevates all the higher levels of the soul. By way of illustration: When a building is raised from below, the entire building becomes elevated.


We should do a three-fold stocktaking of our service in the month of Elul: focus on one’s service on his own initiative, elevate the worldly realm (the service involved with revelation from Above), and fuse the two.


Each of the services possesses an advantage over the other. The service carried out by man on his own initiative is internalized and becomes part of his own thinking processes. It is restricted, however, by human limitations; even the revelation from Above that this service evokes is limited. The revelation from Above, by contrast, reveals an aspect of the soul that is above worldly limitations. It is a level, however, that is not internalized into our thinking processes. The ultimate level is to fuse the two. This results from a revelation of G-d’s essence, which, in turn, is brought about by the arousal of the essential potential in man, the awakening of “I am my Beloved’s.” This allows the revelations transcending our frame of reference to be expressed and to be internalized within our framework.


Thus, a Jew must make an accounting to see if he really has turned to G-d on his own initiative, and determine to what extent he has elevated his surroundings. He must review how he used the revelations from Above that stem from the essential G-dliness of his soul. He must see whether he has been able to fuse the two modes of service, combining “I am my Beloved’s” with “my Beloved is mine.”


The world is affected by this stocktaking. As the Rambam writes, a single mitzva performed by a single individual has the power to tip the balance of the entire world and bring salvation and deliverance.


2. Our service of stocktaking relates to the future Redemption, because it is the responsibility of the Jewish people to bring about the Redemption. According to all the signs mentioned by our Sages, the Redemption should have come already. Our energies, therefore, are focused on this goal.


This idea is connected to this week’s Torah reading, Parshas Eikev, which relates to the present time period described as Ikvesa D’Meshicha. There are two interpretations of this term:


a) The first focuses on the more common meaning of the word “eikev” (heel), the least sensitive portion of the body. Thus, Ikvesa D’Meshicha refers to the lowest of all spiritual levels in the history of the Jewish people, i.e., a generation characterized by a redoubled spiritual darkness, in which all the undesirable omens which our Sages said would precede the era of the Redemption have taken place.


b) “Eikev” also means after. This is a reference to the end of the exile directly before Moshiach’s coming. This surely refers to our generation, for to borrow an expression used by the Rebbe Rayatz, we have already “polished the buttons,” i.e., all the service demanded of us has been completed, and we are on the threshold of the Redemption. That is why, in anxious expectation of the time when G-d will take the Jewish people out of exile and bring them to Eretz Yisroel, we cry “Ad Masai?!” (Until when will we be forced to remain in exile?!)


The two interpretations of Ikvesa D’Meshicha are related. Precisely when the Jews have reached the lower levels – those implied by the first interpretation – the ultimate fulfillment promised by the second interpretation will be realized. That is why the stocktaking we carry out in the month of Elul must also focus on the imminence of the Redemption. A Jew has the potential to arouse himself, to arouse others, and to arouse G-d Himself, as it were.


According to all the signs given by our Sages, and especially in light of the miracles we have witnessed recently, the ultimate Redemption should have come already this year. For the miracles described in the Yalkut Shimoni take place in “the year that the King Moshiach will be revealed.”


We will hasten Moshiach’s coming through the positive influence of studying Hilchos Beis HaBechira, the laws of the construction of the Beis HaMikdash. G-d promised that studying these laws would be considered equivalent to actually building the Beis HaMikdash. Indeed, in the spiritual realms, the Beis HaMikdash is completely built – all that is necessary is for us to cause it to descend to the physical realm.


It is now after the fifteenth of Av, which is a day associated with an increase in Torah study. And it is the Shabbos when Elul is blessed. Elul is when “the King is in the field,” a place where He receives all His subjects happily, and grants all their requests. We thus have the potential and responsibility to call out to G-d and demand “ad masai?!” (Until when must we remain in exile?!)


This is the foundation of all service – even before there is a revelation from Above, a Jew should begin serving G-d on his own initiative.




The stock-taking we carry out in the month of Elul must also focus on the imminence of the Redemption.






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