Today is: Wednesday, Elul 18, 5772 · September 5, 2012 Chai Elul
Today's Laws & Customs
• Chassidic Holiday
"Chai Elul" (Hebrew for "the 18th of Elul," also meaning "the life of Elul") is celebrated by the Chassidic community as the birthday of the "two great luminaries" -- Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov, the founder of Chassidism; and Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, the founder of Chabad. Chassidim wish each other "Gut Yom Tov!" and conduct joyous gatherings called farbrengens.
• 12 Days of Reflection
Elul, the last month of the Jewish year, is a month devoted to stocktaking and introspection. A Chassidic tradition holds that the last twelve days of the year -- Elul 18 to 29 -- are specifically devoted to the twelve months of the closing year: on each of these twelve days, one should review the deeds and achievements of its corresponding month.
As the last month of the Jewish year, Elul is traditionaly a time of introspection and stocktaking -- a time to review one's deeds and spiritual progress over the past year and prepare for the upcoming "Days of Awe" of Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur.
As the month of Divine Mercy and Forgiveness (see "Today in Jewish History" for Elul 1) it is a most opportune time for teshuvah ("return" to G-d), prayer, charity, and increased Ahavat Yisrael (love for a fellow Jew) in the quest for self-improvement and coming closer to G-d. Chassidic master Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi likens the month of Elul to a time when "the king is in the field" and, in contrast to when he is in the royal palace, "everyone who so desires is permitted to meet him, and he receives them all with a cheerful countenance and shows a smiling face to them all."
Specific Elul customs include the daily sounding of the shofar (ram's horn) as a call to repentance. The Baal Shem Tov instituted the custom of reciting three additional chapters of Psalms each day, from the 1st of Elul until Yom Kippur (on Yom Kippur the remaining 36 chapters are recited, thereby completing the entire book of Psalms). Click below to view today's Psalms.
Elul 18 is the yahrtzeit of Rabbi Yehudah Loewe, the "Maharal" of Prague (1525-1609), outstanding Torah scholar, philosopher, Kabbalist and Jewish leader. Popularly known for creating a "golem" (clay man) to protect the Jewish community of Prague from the frequent threat of blood libels.
Rabbi Israel was born in a small town in Ukraine in 1698. His father, Rabbi Eliezer, who was a member of the secret society of "hidden tzaddikim," passed away when young Israel was only five years old; his last words to his son were, "Fear nothing but G-d alone. Love every Jew with all your heart and all your soul."
The young orphan would spend much of his time wandering and meditating in the forests that surrounded his hometown; there, he one day met with one of his father's compatriots, and eventually joined their society. For many years, he lived disguised as a simple innkeeper and clay-digger, his greatness known only to a very small circle of fellow mystics and disciples. But on his 36th birthday, he was instructed by his master to "reveal" himself and publicly disseminate his teachings.
Drawing from the mystical "soul of Torah," the Baal Shem Tov ("Master of the Good Name," as he came to be known) taught about the spark of G-dliness that is to be found in every creation, and about the great love that G-d has for each and every one of His children, scholars and simple folk alike. He emphasized the importance of joy and simple faith in serving G-d, rather than ascetism. Initially, his teachings encountered fierce opposition from the scholarly elite and established leadership of the Jewish community; but many of those very scholars and communal leaders ended up becoming his devoted disciples. When Rabbi Israel passed at age 62 on Shavuot of 1760, the movement he founded was well on the way of becoming the most vital force in Jewish life.
After many years as a member of the society of "hidden tzaddikim", living under the guise of an ignorant clay-digger, Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov was instructed by his masters to reveal himself and begin to publicly disseminate his teachings. This he did on his 36th birthday, Elul 18, 5494 (1734).
• 1st Chabad Rebbe Born (1745)
Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi (1745-1812), founder of the "Chabad" branch of Chassidism, was born on Elul 18 of the year 5505 from creation -- the 47th birthday of his "spiritual grandfather", Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov (Rabbi Schneur Zalman was the disciple of the Baal Shem Tov's disciple and successor, Rabbi DovBer of Mezeritch).
As Jewish communities worldwide mark thirty days ("shloshim") since his passing, this Torah email is dedicated in loving memory of the legendary Mr. Sami Rohr whose wisdom and philanthropy catalyzed Jewish communal transformation worldwide.
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