Translation by Sichos in English
1. It is customary to “Open with blessing.” This principle applies throughout the year and particularly so in the month of Elul when it is customary to exchange blessings. It applies to a greater extent in the final twelve days of the month of Elul when each of these days corresponds to one of the months of the year and has the potential to elevate our conduct of that month. Similarly, these twelve days serve as a preparation for the twelve months of the coming year.1
We have, moreover, already past the first Shabbos after which Selichos is recited and we are approaching the second Shabbos. For this year is unique in that Selichos are recited in two weeks. This reflects the uniquely positive nature of the present year, a year when “I will show you wonders,”2 i.e., not only did wonders take place, but they were openly perceived.
There is also a unique significance to the present day, the sixth day of Selichos.3 Six is two times three. As mentioned our atonement is threefold including “pardon, forgiveness, and atonement.” Six represents a twofold portion of this threefold atonement. Furthermore, the sixth day of the week is significant for it commemorates the creation of man.
This comes in addition to the uniqueness of our present period within the scope of Jewish history. It is after the time when the AriZal stated that “it is a mitzvah to reveal this wisdom” and after the time when the Alter Rebbe brought these teachings down into a form in which they could be understood by an ordinary person. In particular, we are fortunate to have been born in the era of the Previous Rebbe, an era which began from the moment of his birth. Even those individuals who were born previously can consider themselves to have been born in his era, for it is customary among Chassidim to consider the day when they came to Lubavitch as their birthday.
There is a connection between the above and the portion of this week’s Torah reading connected with the present day, the sixth aliyah of Parshas Nitzavim.4 This reading contains the verse “For this mitzvah which I am commanding you today… is not in the heavens… nor is it across the sea.”
This verse is problematic. Seemingly, the concept it is communicating is self-evident.5 At the time Moshe made this statement, the Jews had been observing the Torah for almost forty years. Moshe himself stated that it was not until the present time that they had acquired “eyes that see, ears that hear, and a knowing heart,”6 i.e., only then was their sensitivity to the Torah fully developed. Nevertheless, their previous experience should have been sufficient to show them that the Torah was not merely a spiritual service reserved for the “heavens,” or deeds only to be observed in a far-off place in the world — “across the sea.” Instead, their forty years of Torah observance in the desert7 should have shown them that the Torah is meant to be lived and applied in our lives in this material world.
This difficulty can be explained as follows: Indeed, the Torah is “in the heavens” and indeed, the Torah is “across the sea,” a reference to the ultimate state of fulfillment when “the knowledge of G‑d will fill up the world as the water covers up the ocean bed.” And indeed, the true state of Torah is above even the heavens and the sea. Nevertheless, the Torah — as it includes these spiritual peaks — has descended into our material world. And, as the portion from the Torah reading concludes, “The matter is very close to you, in your hands and in your mouth, so that you may perform it.”
And this lesson is amplified by the message of the present day which is associated with the service of teshuvah.8 Teshuvah has the potential to atone for all matters, even deficiencies in Torah, for Teshuvah establishes an internal bond with G‑d. And therefore, when G‑d was asked what should a person whose conduct has been lacking do, He replied, “He should turn in teshuvah and he will be granted atonement.”
In this context, the intent is the higher rung of teshuvah and therefore, the atonement is also on a more complete level. Not only are no traces of one’s sin mentioned in judgment — at this time, after much of the month of Elul and five days of Selichos have passed, this is self-understood, but also one’s sins are transformed into merits.
This is particularly true in the present age, when we have completed all the service required of us, and all our efforts should be concentrated on the study of Pnimiyus HaTorah.Needless to say, at this time, a Jew stands above judgment entirely and his connection to teshuvah is only to the higher rung of teshuvah, the teshuvah directly related to G‑d.
A Jew need not be concerned about his judgment for the coming year. From Rosh ChodeshElul on, and even previously, from the Fifteenth of Av,9 he was assured for a kesivah vachasimah tovah, that he be inscribed for a good and sweet year. And thus our service in the present days involves atonement and the higher rung of teshuvah. This causes the service to be permeated by happiness, and indeed, unbounded happiness, ad d’lo yoda.This happiness should be even greater than the celebrations of Purim, even the Purim of this year, whose celebrations were greater than those of Purim of the previous year.10
A Jew is a master of time. And he has the power to bring about a good inscription (chasimah tovah), a good final inscription (gmar chasimah tovah) and a good note (a guten kvitel) in the present days. And thus he can immediately proceed to the unbounded celebrations of Simchas Beis HaShoeivah and Simchas Torah.
And through the above, we will merit a fusion of the material and the spiritual. All the spiritual peaks of the Torah which are “in the heavens” and “across the sea,” will be revealed in our thought, speech, and action. For “The matter is very close to you, in your hands and in your mouth, so that you may perform it.”11
Preparation is significant for as the Previous Rebbe explained, before a Jew does anything (or even thinks or speaks anything), he should prepare himself.
As explained on a number of occasions, niflaos, “wonders,” represent a higher revelation of G‑dliness than “nissim,” miracles.
Although we have just recited the evening service, the preparations for the recitation of Selichos should start at this time. Indeed, despite the fact that Selichos should be recited in the early morning, we find certain communities who followed the custom of reciting Selichos at night, after midnight.
This portion shares an intrinsic connection to Rosh HaShanah as explained in many sources.
Although the hypothesis that the Torah is “in the heavens…” is immediately negated by the verse, the fact that they are mentioned at all is also significant. To explain this by referring to concepts in the Oral Law: Even ideas which the Talmud later rejects are still part of the Torah and were given to Moshe on Mount Sinai.
Here we see a sequence of three. However, these three qualities should be fused in a single approach.
The desert was an intermediary between Eretz Yisrael, the Jews’ destination, and Egypt, the place in which their journey originated. This process of transition is repeated every day in a Jew’s life. He begins his day in Egypt, in the boundaries and limitations of this world. And he must leave Egypt, experience the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai and proceed to Eretz Yisrael.
Teshuvah brings an unlimited dimension to the service of Torah which is otherwise, characterized by limitation. And yet this unlimited dimension should be drawn down into our observance of the Torah and mitzvos as they exist within our limitations.
There is, however, an aspect of service with mesirus nefesh which surpasses the service of observing Torah within the limits of this world. Thus Rav Yosef Karo was informed that he was to die Al Kiddush Hashem, in Sanctification of G‑d’s Name. Afterwards, he was punished — and he himself writes that it was a punishment — and he was not privileged to carry out that elevated service. In his subsequent years, he authored his classic Torah texts, the Beis Yosef and the Shulchan Aruch. Nevertheless, it would have been considered a higher personal level of personal service to die Al Kiddush Hashem.
Our Sages associate this date with Yom Kippur, the day associated with the highest and most innerfelt experience of teshuvah. We recite five different prayer services on Yom Kippur and each represents teshuvah for one of the five different levels of the soul.
There is a unique dimension of eternality associated with the celebrations of Purim as reflected in our Sages’ interpretation of the verse, “And the memory [of these days of Purim] will never cease from among their descendants.”
Significantly, the Alter Rebbe cites this verse as the basis for the entire Tanya and quotes it on the title page.