Compassion and Light
III. Elul Effort
Last Letter Lesson
III. Elul Effort
one must counsel himself with Solomon's advice. He said, "I resolved to arise
then and roam through the city in the streets and marketplaces; that through Moses
I would seek Him Whom my soul loved. I sought Him, but I found Him not. They,
Moses and Aaron, the watchmen patrolling the city, found me, 'You have seen Him
Whom my soul loves, what has He said?' Scarcely had I departed from them, when,
in the days of Joshua, I found Him Whom my soul loves. I grasped Him, determined
that my deeds would never again cause me to lose hold of Him, until I brought
His Presence to the tabernacle of my mother and to the chamber of the One Who
conceived me" (Song of Songs 3:2-4).
of the Thirteen Attributes of Compassion brings about, "I am my Beloved's."
That in turn arouses G-d's revelation, allegorized as, "my Beloved is mine."
While this seems laudable, it is nevertheless insufficient.
The light of the Thirteen Attributes of Compassion is expressed
as "a consuming fire." We know that the nature of fire is to ascend
upwards toward its spiritual source above. How, then, is fire found down here
on earth? Something must serve as a tether that will grasp and retain the fire.
For this reason, a defective wick won't hold a candle's flame.
A similar condition is required for the Thirteen Attributes of Compassion. There
must be a vessel for the Light of G-d. And that container is the Torah, as the
Talmud teaches, "Great is learning because it causes action." That's
what Solomon meant when he said, "I grasped Him, determined that my deeds
would never again cause me to lose hold of Him, until I brought His Presence to
the tabernacle of my mother and to the chamber of the One Who conceived me."
"The tabernacle of my mother"
refers to the Written Torah. And "the chamber of the One Who conceived me"
alludes to the Oral Torah. An identical message is delivered by Elul's acronym
verse, which concludes, "[I am my Beloved's and my Beloved is mine;] He who
feeds among the lilies" (Song of Songs 6:3). Zohar informs that the Hebrew
spelling of "lilies" is similar to the word for "learning."
The verse's opening section is attained, Zohar tells us, "by learning the
laws of the Torah."
Solomon's phrase "in the streets
and marketplaces" hints to the mitzvot. For mitzvot entail worldly matters,
and their performance is delineated by exacting criteria. Expressively there,
within the bounds of material finitude, we fashion a dwelling place for G-d.
The underlying theme of all the mitzvot is charity, as Solomon informs, "He
that runs after charity and acts of kindness finds life" (Proverbs 21:3).
Correspondingly, Zohar calls charity by the generic term "mitzva." Torah
and acts of kindness serve as vessels which hold "He is a consuming fire."
By studying Torah and performing acts of kindness in complete
perfection during Elul, our service of "I am my Beloved's" elicits a
revelation of G-d's "my Beloved is mine," also in Elul. After all, Elul's
acronym verse also contains "my Beloved is mine." True, that section
of the verse refers to the illumination of the Ten Days of Awe; nonetheless, the
complete verse hints that both its components apply to Elul.
Last Letter Lesson
The last letter of each of the words, "I am
my Beloved's and my Beloved is mine" is the letter yud. The numerical value
of yud is ten. When added together, their sum equals forty. This proves that the
Last Forty Days is one comprehensive unit and that throughout Elul is also manifest
"my Beloved is mine."
In fact, during Elul are
illuminated two levels of the Thirteen Attributes of Compassion. At first, G-d
shines a covert reflection of their light, which inspires Jews to repent -- "I
am my Beloved's." Then, our repentance educes from Above an arousal of "my
Beloved is mine" -- in Elul! Subsequently, a third, more intense expression
of the Thirteen Attributes of Compassion shines forth on Rosh Hashanah, culminating
on Yom Kipur.
Elul's spirituality ensures
that we should be inscribed and sealed favorably, for a good and sweet year, regarding
all our physical and spiritual needs. That's why it is customary for Jews to bless
one another with this blessing during Elul.
All through the
year the Thirteen Attributes of Compassion function. But their impact is limited
to our physical wellbeing. In Elul, though, they also influence our spiritual
success -- what Chassidut terms soul life -- for on Rosh Hashanah we are judged
and given an allocation of spiritual and physical life for the duration of the
On the very first day of Elul, all the blessings
for the ensuing year have already been written and sealed. These blessings include,
"It should be a year of light" and "It should be a year of prayer,
repentance and Torah." Every imaginable blessing is included.
What's more, all of these blessings are expressed
in a manner of "those who savor it will inherit eternal life." Commencing
on the Shabbat preceding Elul, they operate visibly. We receive the countenance
of the King, G-d -- King of Kings. This occurs as we stand in the field. And by
learning these concepts, they become actualized. Then, the King graciously accepts
everyone with a happy face, and we accompany him to His capital, and afterwards
to His royal palace.
Until we travel, in real life, to Jerusalem,
the Holy City. We ascend to the rebuilt Temple and into the Holy of Holies, where
only the select gain entrance. This refers to the High Priest as he is on Yom
Kipur, the exalted state which virtually every Jew has the latent power to obtain.
And just as the High Priest is the choice of Jewish souls,
so is Yom Kipur select in time. The verse informs us, "This shall be to you
an eternal decree to bring atonement upon the Children of Israel for all their
sins once a year" (Lev. 16:34). We experience this state of being as it is
expressed within the Holy of Holies - the most exclusive space in the physical
world and the entire system of spiritual realms.
can attain this condition by means of their personal conduct, Torah and mitzvot.
It is accessible at every moment and in every place. And it is up to us. For only
by our will can this be actualized in real terms. Then, instantaneously, we are
redeemed -- with the true and complete Redemption by our Righteous Messiah.
David Rothschild, a resident of Safed, is the founder and editor of Nefesh Magazine.]