Sichos in English
Chai Elul is connected with the birthdays of the two great luminaries, the Baal Shem Tov and the Alter Rebbe.
The Baal Shem Tov’s connection to Torah study began even before he revealed himself as a teacher. In his youth he served as an aid in a Cheder, helping young children learn Alef-Bais, etc. The Alter Rebbe, as well, began making a contribution to Torah study before he assumed leadership of the Chassidic community. He established Chedarim with classes for scholars who were on different levels. He did not seek out only the select few, the most highly developed; rather, he accepted students whose levels not only did not approach his own but were lower than the full measure he would expect from a student.
This variety of levels in his Chedarim emphasized a basic principle: that Torah study must be adapted to the individual’s level of understanding. For example, the study of younger children should not consist of understanding the Talmud and its commentaries; rather, their goal is to study the Chumash and appreciate its simple meaning. This is the level they are capable of understanding and is best for them at that time in their lives. It represents their ultimate goal and complete fulfillment.
This principle gives us the strength and the incentive to carry on in our own service of Torah and Mitzvos. Without it, we might become disillusioned. After all, Torah teaches us that no matter how much effort we put into the study of Torah, and no matter how much we achieve, whatever we learn will be “nothing compared to the Torah of Moshiach.”
However, regardless of the level of our study, when it is weighed on the ultimate scale of perfection, for each person at each moment in time, in every place, his Torah study constitutes his complete fulfillment. On the surface it is difficult to understand how we can study Torah, make a Brocha before our study, and even render decisions in Torah laws — and do all this with joy — when we know that compared to Moshiach’s Torah, our study is of no importance. How can Torah itself teach that “every decision of a trained scholar was given to Moshe at Mt. Sinai,” when Moshiach’s coming will completely override the importance of that decision?
The answer is that G-d only asks according to our own abilities. He demands service that is relative to the powers He has given. He asks us to serve Him “Bechal Me’odecha” — with all your might — i.e. we must surpass and transcend our nature. But He specifies, “Your might” — a service that transcends your own nature. There is no arbitrary scale. Each one of us is judged individually. What is transcendent for one of us may lie within the normal confines of the service of another. Through transcending our own nature, each one according to his own individual level, we bring about a revelation of G-d’s transcendent energies.
The same principle applies to the present occasion. Chai Elul is the birthday of the Alter Rebbe and the Baal Shem Tov. The AriZal explains that the spiritual influences of every past event can recur every year. On the verse, “These days were remembered and carried out,” he commented that if a holiday or occasion is commemorated properly, all the G-dly energies generated the first time will be brought into effect again. However, even when we commemorate an event properly, we must be a vessel to receive these revelations. How can we do so when the rungs of the Baal Shem Tov and the Alter Rebbe far surpass our own? Again, “G-d only asks according to our strength.” When we gather together and repeat their Torah (and that of their successors) “these days are remembered.” The spiritual energies are regenerated and we are able to receive them. Not only do we have a general feeling for the event, but we are able to internalize our experience and learn lessons applicable on the intellectual and emotional planes and more important, on the levels of thought, speech, and practical actions.
This, in turn, will prepare us for the new year and the service of the month of Tishrei. The Rebbeim have taught that the last twelve days of Elul are “a day for a month” (the 18th corresponds to Tishrei, the 19th to Cheshvan, etc.) such that on each day, we can do Teshuvah and thereby compensate for anything that was lacking in the corresponding month of the past year. This service prepares us for the coming year. Then, in the near future, we will merit the fulfillment of the prophecy, “The departed will arise and sing,” with the Baal Shem Tov and the Alter Rebbe among them. At that time we will learn Torah from them, as well as the Torah of Moshiach, speedily in our days.