The Eighteenth of the month of Elul is "the birthday of the two
great luminaries"  - the Baal Shem Tov (R. Yisrael ben R.
Eliezer, born 1698), founder of the chassidic movement, and the
Alter Rebbe (R. Shneur Zalman of Liadi, born 1745), founder of
the trend within Chassidism known as Chabad.
Eighteen is the numerical equivalent of the letters yud and ches,
which when inverted form the Hebrew word chai ("alive"). Thus the
Eighteenth of Elul is commonly referred to as Chai Elul.
The Rebbe Rayatz relates  that there are two versions of a
traditional chassidic aphorism: "Chai Elul breathes vitality into
Elul," and "Chai Elul breathes vitality into the service of 'I am
my Beloved's and my Beloved is mine.' " 
The two versions of this aphorism parallel the two dimensions of
The first version reflects the contribution of the Baal Shem Tov,
and the second version, the contribution of the Alter Rebbe.
With the advent of the month of Elul, our divine service as
a whole is intensified. "I am my Beloved's..." represents one
dimension of this intensification. 
By revealing the formerly hidden teachings of Chassidism, the
Baal Shem Tov introduced new vitality into every aspect of Jewish
life. With the teachings of Chabad Chassidism, the Alter Rebbe
(as will presently be explained) gave expression to a particular
thrust of divine service.
Life - A Quality that Defies Definition
Injecting vitality does not involve a simple quantitative
The difference between a living organism and a dead one cannot be
measured in the number of limbs in the living organism or by any
other material measure.
Life is not a tangible ingredient that can be added to an
entity's mass: it is an expression of the being's soul, a
spiritual dimension that cannot be calculated in material terms.
This spiritual quality, however, transforms the nature of the
organism in which it is enclothed.
A living body is identified with its soul so entirely that it
takes on the soul's qualities. Every aspect of the body becomes
infused with the vitality of the soul. 
Vitality can, however, be described at different levels.
When we speak about feeling more alive, for example, we mean that
a greater dimension of the soul is manifest in the body. And
since the soul is "truly a part of G-d,"  its life-force is
infinite. There is thus an unbounded potential for an individual
to increase the intensity of his life experience.
Living By Faith
The infinite potential of the soul is mirrored by the infinite
nature of faith.
Although our souls find expression in our thoughts and feelings,
this revelation is checked by the limitations of both intellect
The power of intellect is limited by one's range of ideas, and
the power of emotion, by one's range of feelings.
Faith, by contrast, is undefinable and infinite, just as the soul
is. It therefore has the power to give unlimited expression to
the potential of the soul, thereby infusing our lives with an
The Hebrew word for faith, emunah, is semantically related to
the Hebrew word imun meaning "developing a skill." I.e., faith
requires practice in training one's thinking habits, until it
reflects the limitless divine potential at the core of every
person's being. 
The Baal Shem Tov imparted the vitality of emunah ("faith")
to every dimension of our lives, revealing every individual's
potential for an ongoing dynamic bond with G-d. He taught a way
of life that enables us to express the infinite spiritual power
of our beings in our observance of the Torah and in every aspect
of our experience. 
His teachings gave tangible expression to the verse, "A righteous
man shall live by his faith,"  because these teachings make
faith a vibrant force which encompasses every dimension of our
conduct, infusing it with the vitality that stems from the soul's
Understanding That Which Transcends Comprehension
The unique quality of faith is that it permits a connection with
G-d which transcends the bounds of intellect.
This advantage is, however, potentially problematic, because the
spiritual plane on which a person operates through faith is far
higher than his level of personal awareness.
Since faith taps into a dimension of soul which transcends the
limits of the individual's identity, a gap is created between the
infinite potential made possible by faith and one's finite mind.
The teachings of the Alter Rebbe enable us to bridge this gap,
because the Alter Rebbe explained how to bring our spiritual
potentials that transcend intellect into the realm of
To borrow from chassidic terminology, the Alter Rebbe showed
us how to introduce emunah (which transcends intellectual
categories) into the intellectual process called Chabad.
(This word is an acronym formed by the initials of the Hebrew
words, Chochmah, Binah, and Daas; lit., "wisdom, understanding,
and knowledge.") Through the teachings of Chabad [Chassidic
Philosophy], the functioning of our minds is shaped by the
essential G-dly power of our soul.
Ability to Take the Initiative
When a person develops a conscious relationship with G-d, he
gains mastery of his spiritual experience.
As long as his divine service is centered on faith alone, it
is dependent upon inspiration, a state in which the soul is
aroused.  If inspiration is lacking, the fervor of commitment
However, because we have control over our thought processes and
can use our minds as we desire,  when faith is internalized
and drawn into the realm of intellect, a person can take the
initiative in his/her spiritual growth.
The Previous Rebbe expressed these ideas succinctly: 
"The Baal Shem Tov revealed that we must serve G-d, and the
Alter Rebbe revealed how we can serve G-d."
This statement was obviously not intended to disparage the divine
service of those who do not follow the Chabad approach, but
rather to emphasize the distinctive potential generated by
Chabad, namely, the potential to equip every individual with the
inner life-energy revealed by the Baal Shem Tov.
Although this spiritual potential is fundamentally beyond human
reach, the Chabad approach enables every individual to be in
control of it, by internalizing it and making it part of his
Adding Vigor to Our Divine Service in Elul
In light of this, we can appreciate the connection between the
birthdays of these chassidic masters and the month of Elul.
Because the heavenly source of a person's soul radiates
powerfully on his birthday,  the contributions of the Baal
Shem Tov and the Alter Rebbe to our divine service are especially
potent on Chai Elul.
The vitality generated by the Baal Shem Tov's teachings energizes
the intensified divine service which characterizes the whole of
Now unique to Elul is the concept reflected in the verse,
"I am my Beloved's" - that the human, rather than G-d, takes
the initiative in heightening the love relationship we share
with Him. 
This aspect of Elul requires that man be capable of proceeding
in his divine service on his own initiative. And this ability was
granted us by the Alter Rebbe's teachings.
The vitality which Chai Elul imparts to our divine service
increases the blessings we will receive in the coming new year,
assuring us all of a kesivah vachasimah tovah, with every Jew
inscribed for a good and sweet year.
May this include the greatest blessing - the coming of Mashiach,
 and may this take place in the immediate future.
- The Previous Rebbe (Sefer HaSichos 5703, p. 142), quoting
his father, the Rebbe Rashab.
- Likkutei Dibburim, Vol. III, p. 946 (and in English
translation: Vol. III, p. 235).
- Shir HaShirim 6:3. As explained above (see the essays
"A Time to Take Stock" and "The King in the Field"),
the initial letters of the Hebrew words of this phrase,
spell out the name Elul.
- See the essay above entitled, "The King in the Field."
- See the maamar entitled Ki Imcha 5700, ch. 2, where this
concept is explained at length.
- Cf. Tanya, beginning of ch. 2, based on Iyov 31:2.
- See Tanya, conclusion of ch. 42.
- The Baal Shem Tov (see Tzavaas HaRivash, sec. 2)
expresses this principle through a non-literal
interpretation of the verse (Tehillim 16:8), "I have
placed G-d before me at all times." Noting that the word
shivisi, which literally means "I have placed," is
related semantically to the word shaveh meaning "equal",
the Baal Shem Tov explained: "When G-d is before me,
everything is equal; it is possible to maintain a
connection with Him in all circumstances."
- Chavakuk 2:4. In Makkos 24b, our Sages state that the
prophet Chavakuk understood this verse as the motivating
principle of the entire Torah.
- In this context, note the well-known non-literal
interpretation of the above phrase of Chavakuk, by
chassidic masters other than those of the Chabad school.
A homiletic change in vocalization transforms the Hebrew
verb into causative mood, so that it reads not yichyeh
("A righteous man lives by his faith"), but yechayeh
("A righteous man imparts life by his faith"): through
his own spiritual attainments, a tzaddik inspires the
divine service of those who cleave to him.
The Alter Rebbe, however, opposed this approach.
He required that the divine service of each of his
chassidim be generated by his own hardwon efforts. See
Likkutei Dibburim (English translation), Vol. I, p. 311.
- See Tanya, ch. 12.
- Sefer HaMaamarim 5708, p. 292.
- Jerusalem Talmud, Rosh HaShanah 3:8.
- The vitality imparted by Chai Elul and its total effect
on our divine service is also reflected by the fact that
this date is the first of the final twelve days of the
year. The Rebbe Rayatz explains (in Sefer HaSichos 5703,
pp. 177, 179) that these days are uniquely significant
because on each of these twelve days, we are able to
compensate for any deficiency in our divine service
during the corresponding month of the year.
Chai Elul enables us to compensate for deficiencies in
the divine service of Tishrei, a month of comprehensive
importance, as is seen from its various holidays.
- See the above essay entitled, "A King in the Field."
- The coming of Mashiach is a direct outgrowth of the
spiritual import of Chai Elul, for it is the spreading of
the wellsprings of the Baal Shem Tov's teachings that
will hasten the coming of Mashiach. See the Baal Shem
Tov's letter to his brother-in-law, R. Gershon Kitover
(Keser Shem Tov, sec. 1).