In his Song of Songs, King Solomon writes a most eloquent and deep passage representing a multitude of relationships. The verse “I am my Beloved’s and my Beloved is mine” (Song of Songs 6:3) is an immediate allusion to the month of Elul, for in its original Hebrew, “Ani ledodi v’dodi li,” the letters beginning each word serve as an acronym for this month.
Elul is the month preceding Tishrei, the beginning of the Jewish year, starting with the holiday of Rosh Hashanah and culminating with the festival of Hoshana Rabbah. It is during the month of Elul that we try and focus on our past year, reflecting on our deeds, atoning for our mistakes and contemplating our actions and changes for the new year to come. Therefore, as we will see, this statement of King Solomon’s is not only a statement between two lovers but, more importantly, represents our relationship with our Creator. During this month . . . G‑d actually empowers us to ask for His forgiveness . . .
The first Lubavitcher Rebbe (the Alter Rebbe) expounds this verse in his work Likkutei Torah. He teaches that it consists of two parts, each representing a different aspect of our relationship with G‑d. The first section, “I am my Beloved’s,” alludes to Jews’ divine service during Elul. Jews cry out to G‑d in what Kabbalah calls “an arousal from below”; the verse’s second component, “and my Beloved is mine,” hints to G‑d’s activity, in which a divine revelation descends from above. It commences on Rosh Hashanah and carries on through the Ten Days of Repentance, until culminating on Yom Kippur.
The month of Elul is considered an extremely auspicious time to atone and work on ourselves. This is not simply because we are about to begin a new year, but because during this month G‑d actually empowers us to ask for His forgiveness. He inspires us from above, for during Elul, G‑d shines forth His Thirteen Attributes of Mercy. This arousal from above in turn induces our awakening from below.
The Alter Rebbe employs a parable to illustrate this concept: A king returns to his city following a long absence. The city’s inhabitants stream out to the countryside to greet him. When the king enters the field, a new phenomenon occurs. The field equalizes everyone who is found there. Now, for the first time, virtually everyone is empowered and permitted to greet the king. All partitions which usually separate him from the populace are nullified. The king, in turn, graciously receives each and every one. This phenomenon does not take place outside the field. For within the capital, and surely within the palace, only select dignitaries can access the king.
The Alter Rebbe explains that throughout Elul, Jews go out to the spiritual fields to encounter the light of G‑d’s countenance. The shining of the Thirteen Attributes of Mercy is recorded in the verse “May G‑d illuminate His countenance for you and be gracious to you” (Numbers 6:25). This arousal from above displays G‑d’s gracious reception, with a pleasing expression, of every single Jew. What’s more, it is a most propitious time for one to approach G‑d with his or her personal requests. Each one is the other’s heart . . .
Elul’s acronym, “I am my Beloved’s and my Beloved is mine,” illustrates this concept. Its first letter, alef, stands for “I” (in Hebrew, ani)—the Jewish people. The second letter, lamed, represents “my Beloved’s” (in Hebrew, ledodi)—G‑d. The structure of this verse is that of being face-to-face in expressing one’s love for another. This is the idea that the heart of the giver is enwedged in the heart of the receiver and vice versa. There is a reciprocal relationship of this love. Each one is the other’s heart.
How do we become the heart of G‑d? This is achieved through Jewish unity. And who unifies us? When the king enters the field, all Jews become equal to one another. Therefore, we learn through this example that when the king (i.e., G‑d) enters the field, we become equal before Him and therefore are unified. Our being unified causes His love to increase, and we become His heart. This example thus illustrates the divine service of the month of Elul, with us arousing His love from below while He bestows unto us His love from above.
It is not coincidental that for this parable the Alter Rebbe chose a field. Furthermore, the Rebbe distinguishes a field from other places, such as a desert or a city. In the book of Jeremiah, Jeremiah speaks of deserts: “You followed Me into the wilderness, into an unsown land” (Jeremiah 2:1) and “In a land of desert and pits, in a land of waste and the shadow of death, in a land through which no man passed and where no man settled” (Jeremiah 2:6). A field naturally is more spiritually and physically elevated than a desert . . .
Contrary to the qualities of a desert, a field can be cultivated; it is a place where things can grow, develop and flourish. As stated in Job, “There is a land where food once grew” (Job 28:5). Therefore, a field naturally is more spiritually and physically elevated than a desert.
However, why did the Alter Rebbe choose to employ the example of a field rather than a city?
Cities symbolize physicality which is already inside the domain of the holy, for a city is surrounded by a wall, which separates the houses within from the outside world. Conversely, deserts are found beyond a city’s boundary. They represent objects which are removed from the purview of divinity. Fields, though, allegorize an intermediate state. Although they too lie outside cities, nonetheless, foodstuffs cultivated there are purified by human consumption. As a result, they too are elevated into the realm of divinity—the city.
Fields, then, symbolize humankind’s raison d’etre: the divine service of purifying worldly objects and effecting their ascent into the realm of the holy. For this reason, all the Temple sacrifices are called “food,” as the verse states, “My offering, the bread of my sacrifices made by fire” (Numbers 28:2). Sacrifices purify and elevate animate and inanimate things.
Although we currently cannot perform sacrifices since we are, unfortunately, in a state of exile, the perfection of sacrifices will occur in the Future Era. An aspect of their completeness, though, is also evident today. How do Jews offer sacrifices in exile? The Talmud teaches, “By studying the laws of sacrifices, we are credited as if they were actually brought.” This is why we recite their laws before the morning and afternoon prayers, corresponding to the times when sacrifices were made in the Holy Temple.
Hosea the prophet tells us, “Let our lips substitute [complete the obligation] for bulls” (Hosea 14:3). The Hebrew word for “substitute,” neshalem, shares the same spelling as the word for “completeness.” Hosea, then, indicates that the manner of our sacrifices—effected through prayer—is comprehensive. In this time of exile, we can experience the sacrifices only on a spiritual level. Their absolute perfection will only be realized in the Future Era, when they can be physically performed as well. In the Future . . . we will be able to observe all 613 commandments—including those pertaining to sacrifice . . .
We recite this principle in our Shabbat Musaf prayers: “There we will offer to You our obligatory sacrifices . . . according to their rule.” For it is only in the Future that we will be able to observe all six hundred and thirteen commandments—including those pertaining to sacrifice. In fact, Rashi teaches that sacrifices represent the primary divine service.
In the Future Era, we will witness the elimination of contemporary barriers which separate the city from the field. Then, G‑d’s revelation, extant within the Temple (city), will spread out and envelop Jerusalem (field) and its neighboring fields. This parallels the Midrash’s assertion, “In the Future, Jerusalem will spread over all of the Land of Israel, and the Land of Israel will expand over the entire world.” Isaiah likewise prophesied, “The glory of G‑d will be revealed, and all flesh together will see that the mouth of G‑d has spoken” (Isaiah 40:5).
How is this manifest? Our proper conduct today assures that in the Future, “When G‑d will broaden your boundary, as He swore to your forefathers, He will give you the entire Land” (Deuteronomy 19:8). The verse intimates the Midrashic promise, “In the Future, the Land of Israel will expand over the entire world.” When the . . .
inner dimensions of the Torah are disseminated throughout the world, the Redemption will occur . . .
The aforementioned verse continues, “Then you shall add three more cites” (Deuteronomy 19:9). Rashi informs us that they refer to the three unconquered lands of the Keini, Kenizi and Kadmoni nations, which are located in the east of biblical Israel. Chassidut reveals that they correspond to the three intellectual attributes of chochmah, binah and daat.
Today, all divine influence descends from the bottom seven emotive sefirot. Only in the Future will the top three—chochmah, binah and daat—illuminate infinite light down into the world. How do we actualize that revelation?
First, we must fashion a vessel to receive their illumination. This is accomplished by spreading forth the wellsprings of the inner Torah. For Moshiach promised the Baal Shem Tov, the founder of the chassidic movement, that G‑d would respond in kind: “When the wellsprings and inner dimensions of the Torah are disseminated throughout the world, the Redemption will occur.”
The manner of disseminating this knowledge must be consistent with the supernal lights to which it corresponds. It must be fully comprehended and understood. It is stated in the fundamental work of Kabbalah, the Zohar, “A person must live by them.” Even more so, we must spiritually conquer the three lands (the three intellectual faculties, i.e., sefirot). The insights contained therein must become our personal property. Ideally, this esoteric knowledge must become the individual’s namesake.
By means of teaching the inner Torah, we conquer our own soul’s intellectual faculties. Then, on its heels, the entire worldly chochmah, binah and daat will be vanquished. Their overthrow will be so comprehensive that all worldy wisdom will be understood in light of Torah concepts.
Maimonides declares that the redemption will happen quickly. Then we will utterly defeat the seven nations originally promised to Moses. Immediately afterward, we will vanquish the additional three lands sworn to Abraham. Together, they will number ten conquered lands.
Ten alludes to the perfection of wholeness which will prevail in the Future Era. The sages of the Talmud taught that unlike the seven-stringed Temple harp, “The Future Era’s harp will have ten strings.” Then, we will sing the “tenth song,” which is inaccessible to us in a state of exile.
Another allusion to the number ten in relationship to the perfection of the Redemption is discussed by Maimonides. Maimonides reveals that throughout history, only nine red cows were used for ritual purification. The tenth, he promises, will be used in the Future. At that time, G‑d will count the Jewish people for the tenth time. And we know that G‑d tallies His children because He loves them. May all of this immediately occur in our very days.
Adapted from a discourse of the eve of Rosh Chodesh Elul 5746/1986.
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