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“I” FOR 
AN “I”

ELUL AND MITZVOS

There is a well-known teaching of the Sh’lah (16th century Halachic authority and Kabbalist) that the themes of the weekly Torah portion are connected to the Holidays and other seasonal events which occur in that particular week. We are now situated in the month of Elul, the month that is dedicated to stock-taking for all of our actions of the past year. It is no coincidence, then, that this week’s parsha contains the largest number of commandments in the Torah, highlighting the emphasis on Mitzvah conscientiousness during this auspicious month.

More specifically, one of the commandments in this week’s parsha involves a person who chances upon a nest with the mother bird crouching on her chicks or eggs. The Torah tells us what one should do if he decides to take the birds:

“If you encounter a bird’s nest on the way—on any tree, or on the ground—containing chicks or eggs, and the mother is sitting upon the chicks or upon the eggs: You should not take the mother from upon the young. You should always send away the mother, and then you may take the young for yourself. This will be for your own benefit and you will live a long time.”

The Midrash introduces its comments on this verse with an enigmatic discussion concerning the laws of circumcision. It poses the rhetorical question: “If a child is born circumcised do we still have to circumcise the child?” The Midrash furnishes the answer: “Our Sages taught: One who was born circumcised must undergo a letting of a drop of blood.”

What connection is there between these two seemingly unrelated commandments—of sending away the mother bird and re-circumcision? And how does this Mitzvah relate to the month of Elul?

SEND AWAY 
THE MORNING LIGHT!

To answer these two questions we must preface the novel, allegorical interpretation of Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev of this verse. The word tzippor-bird can also be translated as the morning light, as in the Aramaic word tzafra. Morning light is a metaphor for the spiritual inspiration that comes from above. Thus the Torah commands us: If we would experience a spontaneous inspiration—the mother bird-tzippor—we should send it away; we cannot and should not rely on the inspiration from above. It is imperative that we do things with our own initiative. When we rely on the inspiration from above, it will only last as long as we feel that inspiration. It can easily dissipate. If one wants his or her inspiration to last, it must be internalized and reciprocated. This reciprocated inspiration can be attributed to the person and not solely to the “mother-bird” inspiration. Once the person “owns” the inspiration, it has lasting power.

We can now understand the connection between the Mitzvah of sending away the mother bird and the child that was born circumcised. Of all actions that represent our efforts at self-improvement and spiritual growth, circumcision stands out as the most dramatic. It literally and figuratively enables us to remove the obstacles that stand in the way of our connecting to G-d.

However, when a child is born circumcised, it suggests the person’s reliance on a process that comes from above, analogous to the “mother bird” phenomenon. To ensure that the person does not rely on the short-lived inspiration from Above, the Midrash cites the law that the child must undergo the ritual of letting some blood. There must be some act on our part to ascribe the natural circumcision and its effects to our own efforts.

THE KING IS IN THE FIELD, BUT THE BALL IS IN OUR COURT

We can now also understand the connection to the month of Elul. Elul, our Sages tell us, is an acronym for the four words in the Song of Songs: “Ani l’dodi v’dodi li—I am to my beloved and my beloved is to me.” Unlike the Passover season which marked the liberation of the Jewish people that came solely as a Divine effort, the month of Elul is predicated on personal initiative.

Elul is a paradoxical month. On the one hand, it is a month that demands us to generate our own spiritual movement towards “our Beloved.” On the other hand, it is the month in which, as the Alter Rebbe coined the expression, “The King is in the field.” He explains that the king on the way to his palace goes through the countryside and allows anyone to approach him with requests and “greets them with a cheerful countenance and a smiling face.” Each and every person has the opportunity and right to approach the king.

How do we reconcile the two apparently disparate descriptions of Elul? On the one hand, we are expected to invest our own effort in drawing close to G-d without the support of the Divine inspiration that characterizes the Holiday of Passover. And, on the other hand, we are told that Elul is unique and that G-d is more accessible this month than any other.

In one of his published talks, the Rebbe elaborates on this parable, focusing on why, notwithstanding G-d’s accessibility to us in the month of Elul, there are no Holidays (except for Shabbos) in the entire month. The Rebbe explains that while G-d is fully available to us in the month of Elul—as in no other time—He does not make overtures to us. He simply provides us with an unparalleled opportunity to get close to Him. G-d, however, wants to see us in the context of our most ordinary existence to see who we really are absent the trappings of holy days and experiences. G-d wants to see that even when there is no external impetus for us to approach Him—such as that which we experience on Holidays when G-d’s powerful energies dominate the atmosphere—we, nevertheless, take the initiative ourselves and approach the King.

The word “Elul”, as stated, is alluded to in the words “I am to my beloved…” It suggests that in this month we identify the true “I.” In formal settings, such as the Holidays and other inspirational times and places, the true “I” may be concealed by the spiritual veneer supplied by the holy atmosphere. In Elul, we discover the true unadulterated, unadorned “I.”

MOSHIACH AND THE BIRD

The word tzippor-bird is also an allusion to Moshiach. Numerically, the word (when spelled without the vowel, Vav) adds up to the words “zeh Moshiach-this is Moshiach.”

The simple connection between the bird and Moshiach is based on the Talmudic statement that dreaming of a bird is an omen that peace is to follow. (Again, numerically, the word tzippor—this time spelled with the vowel, Vav—adds up to the word Shalom-peace.) And Moshiach’s role is to bring peace to the world.

However, in light of Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev’s exposition, a deeper connection between the sending away of the mother bird and Moshiach can be discovered.

In some people’s minds, there is an erroneous view that Moshiach and the ensuing Redemption is entirely in G-d’s hands. Many people harbor the thought that the what, when, who, where and how of Moshiach is G-d’s province, determined solely by Him. Nothing can be further from the truth. Moshiach and the final Redemption—unlike the first liberation of the Jews from Egypt—is primarily a consequence of our efforts. The Mitzvos that we perform in exile and especially those that we perform in the most sterile, non-spiritual times of exile—akin to the ordinary days of Elul—will bring the Redemption.

This is not to suggest that G-d and Moshiach have no role in all of the above. To be sure, the King is in the field. G-d—and His chosen human redeemer, Moshiach—is here and is waiting for us to seize the opportunity to do our part in making the Redemption a tangible reality. Moshiach is waiting for us to say, “We are ready for Moshiach!” And we express that readiness by accepting Moshiach as our leader, following his directives for an enhanced commitment to Torah and its commandments, permeated with a passionate desire to usher in the Era of Redemption.

Sending away the mother bird in this context means that to bring Moshiach, who will usher in the age of true G-dly light, we should not rely on G-d’s initiative. Rather, it is our responsibility to do our part and justifiably demand that G-d crown our efforts with success.

 

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