Compassion and Light
translation of a discourse by
the Lubavitcher Rebbe,
Shabbat Re'eh 5739-1979
Rabbi David Rothschild
I. Awe and Love
II. Seek Out
Lost in Place
III. Elul Effort
I. Awe and Love
how the name Elul is an acronym for Solomon's verse, "I am my Beloved's and
my Beloved is mine" (Song of Songs 6:3). The first part of the phrase, "I
am my Beloved's," relates to our Divine service from below. Its second section,
"my Beloved is mine," alludes to G-d's illumination from above. This
latter revelation occurs mainly in the Ten Days of Awe -- from Rosh Hashanah until
Yom Kipur. For then G-d's illumination descends below in a revealed manner.
King Solomon hinted to this, "His left hand is under my head, His right hand
envelops me" (Song of Songs 2:6). The period from Rosh Hashanah until Yom
Kipur is allegorized as "His left hand." The left side represents the
attribute of Severity (gevura), which engenders fear of G-d. We fear G-d during
these ten days because His attribute of Kingship (malchut) is revealed. That's
why this period is called the Days of Awe, for when G-d's Kingship is exposed,
fear and awe of the king fall upon the entire system of worlds.
When a kingdom's subjects view their king, they are overcome with awe of the intense
splendor. Similarly, between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kipur G-dliness is exposed
to every Jew, a revelation termed by Solomon as "my Beloved is mine."
To experience the awe of this Divine consciousness, however, a precondition of
our Divine service is first necessary. That is alluded to by the verse's first
phrase, "I am my Beloved's."
Divine assistance is required to enable our love and fear to be complete. Throughout
Elul, G-d empowers us to beseech Him. He does so by illuminating His Thirteen
Attributes of Compassion, which affects virtually every Jew to perfect his service
of "I am my Beloved's."
The infinite light of the
Thirteen Attributes of Compassion is truly exalted -- beyond the entire system
of worlds, exceeding any form of measure and limitation. Indeed, their consummate
revelation occurs on Yom Kipur, called, "Shabbat of complete rest" (Lev.
16:31). If this is so, however, why are Elul's days ordinary and not holy? Why
aren't all the days of Elul designated as holidays, similar to Shabbat and Festivals?
A parable will explain the difference. Before a king enters
a given city, its inhabitants go out to the fields where they greet him. There
the king happily receives them all with a beaming countenance. Afterwards, the
throng follows the king to his palace. But there, entrance is forbidden and only
a select few have permission to enter.
A similar distinction applies to how
the Thirteen Attributes of Compassion shine on Yom Kipur in contrast to their
illumination during Elul. On Yom Kipur the Thirteen Attributes of Compassion shine
in full revelation. This resembles the condition of a king within his palace.
Since he is in his palace, his essential being is overtly revealed. Conversely,
in Elul, while the Thirteen Attributes of Compassion illume inside the soul of
every Jew, they are nevertheless not manifest overtly. This limited revelation
parallels the condition of the king while out in a field. There, he is cloaked
in outdoors wear that is suitable for fields.
In this case,
the garments' purpose, however, is not to protect the King. Rather, they safeguard
the field. For, bereft of such garments, the full splendor of the King would shine
forth, and that would nullify the field's self-existence. To help the field maintain
its identity, the King must don sets of attire.
Elul, when the King is in the field, His Thirteen Attributes of Compassion radiate
in a lesser manner. In contrast, on Yom Kipur, we merit to join the King revealed
inside His palace. Then the essence of the Thirteen Attributes of Compassion is
A remarkable phenomenon
exists in regards to the Thirteen Attributes of Compassion. While throughout Elul
only their light shines forth, nonetheless, that light contains within it the
essence of its source. Since they are the Light of the Infinite One (Ein Sof),
they consequently illume His Absolute Being.
Support for this
rule is found in the verse, "For G-d your G-d -- He is a consuming fire"
(Deut. 4:24). By allegorizing G-d to fire, we discern the nature of His Light.
Generally speaking, it is impossible to differentiate between fire and the light
it emits: both are of the fire. In a similar manner, the radiation of the Thirteen
Attributes of Compassion during Elul itself is Light of the Infinite One Himself.
Elul's radiated Thirteen Attributes of Compassion are a preparation
for their full revelation on Yom Kipur. One might ask, how can a mere radiation
be related to intense Absolute Light? But it certainly can, for although their
state during Elul is external -- as a king in a field -- nevertheless, they are
the Infinite One's Light, and we can't distinguish between them.
II. Seek Out
All of this is fine
for Jews who are seeking G-d out in the field. But what can be said of those who
find themselves in a lowly spiritual state -- beneath the aspect of fields, whom
Isaiah describes as "lost in the land of Assyria" (Isaiah 27:13)? These
individuals sank to such depths as a result of an impure "spirit of insanity"
that adhered itself to their consciousness and lead them down the primrose path
of doom. The Talmud codifies the criteria of insanity, "Who is insane? He
who loses everything which is given to him." All that G-d bestows from Above
is lost to him. How can one overcome this hapless situation?
Lost in Place
Torah offers advice, "From there you will seek G-d
your L-rd (Elokim), and you will find Him, if you search for Him with all your
heart and all your soul" (Deut. 4:29). Legal authorities in Jewish law interpret
"L-rd" as power. They say, "G-d your L-rd is your power and your
life force." But since that sensation is missing, rendering one "lost
in the land of Assyria," the verse counsels a search. And where should one
search? He must seek G-d precisely in the place He went missing.
But what is the actual state of a lost object? It's only hidden from its owner;
relative to itself, it is not hidden at all. The former owner can discover his
misplaced article if only he'd search.
An analogy can be drawn to spiritual
searching, which the Torah calls repentance. Though a person finds himself in
such a low state, nonetheless, all of Elul's qualities remain operative. The king
stands in the field. He receives everyone with smiling countenance.
Elul has the power to correct and perfect all of the pervious
year's months. In his repentance, an individual capitalizes on this property of
Elul. Starting on the first day of Elul and carrying on through Yom Kipur are
what are termed the Final Forty Days, which follow two prior sets of forty days.
Moses ascended Mount Sinai on the eighth of Sivan -- after
the Giving of the Torah. Forty days later he came down, Tablets in hand. These
are called the Initial Forty Days.
Upon his descent, Moses
encountered the Golden Calf and promptly smashed the Tablets. That ill-fortuned
day was the seventeenth of Tammuz -- now a public fast day commemorating the breach
of Jerusalem's walls (as well as the aforementioned catastrophe). Moses soon ascended
the mountain again, returning forty days later. This period is termed the Intermediate
Moses then resumed his audience with G-d on Sinai
on the first of Elul and received the Oral Law from G-d. He remained there until
the tenth of Tishrei, Yom Kipur, at which time he reappeared, this time holding
the Second Tablets. This phase is called the Last Forty Days.
Why is Elul an auspicious time to repent? On its first day commences the Last
Forty Days. Yet, this final set of forty comes on the heels of the intermediate
and initial periods. Why, then, is it so significant? The Midrash supplies the
answer, "Just as the Initial Forty Days were desirable to G-d, so, too, the
Last Forty Days. This was not the case, though, with the Intermediate Forty Days."
Hence, the Last Forty Days, beginning on the first of Elul, manifest repentance.
Repentance distinguishes the
advantage of the Last Forty Days, for, as Maimonides tells us, "Repentance
makes an individual more desirable before G-d than he was prior to his transgressions."
Maimonides' assertion finds support from a second opinion in the above-quoted
Midrash. The Sages posited, "Just as the Initial Forty Days were desirable
to G-d, even the Last forty Days were." The Last Forty Days are higher than
the Initial Forty Days because they highlight repentance.
Returnees to Judaism (baalei teshuva) illustrate this concept. When they return
to G-d, His Will is aroused in a more exalted degree than it is by even the Divine
service of the righteous (tzadikim). Of this Maimonides says, "The righteous
are unable to stand where baalei teshuva stand." Repentance, then, is the
spiritual content of Elul.