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Chai Elul (the 18th of Elul)

by Rabbi Naftali Silberberg

On the 18th of Elul, we celebrate the birthdays of Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov and Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi.

The Baal Shem Tov, founder of the Chassidic movement, was born in 1698 in Okup, a small town in the Carpathian Mountains of Poland. In the early 1700s he formulated the approach of Chassidut, stressing the importance of serving G-d with joy and warmth, humility and love of your fellow, and the necessity of having a Rebbe – a holy person who guides his followers in their spiritual journeys. After his passing in 1760, many of his disciples established their own Chassidic courts. They all followed the Chassidic tradition, but each Rebbe developed a unique approach to Chassidut, emphasizing a different aspect of the Baal Shem Tov’s teachings.

Rabbi Schneur Zalman (affectionately known as the “Alter Rebbe”, "The Old Rebbe"), creator of the Chabad branch of Chassidut, was born in Liozna, Belarus, in 1745. He was a student of Rabbi DovBer of Mezritch, the primary successor of the Baal Shem Tov, and after Rabbi DovBer’s death in 1773, Rabbi Schneur Zalman established the Chabad movement. Chabad is an acronym for three Hebrew words (Chochmoh, Binah, and Daat) which mean intellect, understanding, and knowledge. Chabad Chassidut emphasizes the importance of studying and understanding the esoteric parts of Torah –which include concepts such as G-d, the purpose of Torah, and the uniqueness of the Jewish soul.

Rabbi Schneur Zalman’s magnum opus, the Tanya, serves as the basic text of Chabad Chassidut. He also authored the Shulchan Aruch HaRav, a universally accepted codification of Jewish Law.

These two luminaries were both born on the same date, the 18th of Elul. Elul is a month of Teshuvah, a month of “renewing our marriage vows,”as a nation with G-d. It is a time to reignite the spark in our relationship with G-d. The number 18, has the numerical value of “Chai,” the Hebrew word for life. Studying Chassidut, and living a life of Chassidut, breathes new “life” into Elul, and into our relationship with G-d.

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