The Chassidic Holiday of 'Chai Elul' (18 Elul)

This weekend Chabad-Lubavitch Chassidim around the world celebrated the holiday of “Chai Elul” – the 18th day in the Hebrew month of Elul.

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Hana Levi Julian,

Chabad-Lubavitch Rabbi Yosef Friedman of Kiry
Chabad-Lubavitch Rabbi Yosef Friedman of Kiry
Israel news photo: Hana Levi Julian

While many Jews around the world this weekend obsessed about how the United Nations will deal with the Arab world's latest attempt to destroy the Jewish nation, Chabad-Lubavitcher Chassidim spent the Sabbath joyously celebrating the Chassidic holiday of “Chai Elul” – the 18th day of the Hebrew month of Elul.

It is during this month that harvests reach their final ripening, the vineyards grow heavy with their darkening, fragrant fruit. In the Hevron area especially, famous for its grapes and olives, this is the beginning of one of the busiest times of the year, as farmers prepare to harvest fruit for juice, wine and just plain eating -- and in another month or so, olives for pickling and oil.

But this weekend was an especially important date, which marks the birthday in 1648 of Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov, founder of the Chassidic movement. It is also the day on which he began to publicly disseminate his teachings, 36 years later, after having quietly participated as a member of a hidden society of Torah sages.

The date also marks the birthday in 1745 of Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, the original “Alter Rebbe” of the Chabad Lubavitch movement and who considered himself the Baal Shem Tov's “spiritual grandson.” Rabbi Schneur Zalman was a disciple of Rabbi Dov Ber of Mezeritch, who learned from the founder of the Chassidic movement himself. as one of the Besht (Baal Shem Tov)'s six favorite students.

It was Rabbi Schneur Zalman who established the Chabad Chassidic branch, which emphasizes “Chochma” – wisdom – “Bina” – instinctive understanding – and “Da'at” – knowledge (ChaBaD).

The philosophy integrates the masculine and feminine aspects of intellectual faculty (wisdom and comprehension) together with the third dimension, knowledge, to guide a person to refine and govern his or her life, and appreciation of the Creator, His Torah and the role and purpose of His Creation.

The holiday is mentioned in many non-Chabad synagogues as well, as many Orthodox Jews have studied the Tanya, the seminal text by Rabbi Schneur Zalman which explains the deep, basic concepts of Chassidic thought and philosophy.

The Chabad community in the northern Negev community of Arad celebrated the holiday with “farbrengens” (Chassidic celebrations) over the Sabbath and into the night.

The Arad N'Shei Chabad women's organization held a special gathering Saturday night at the Central Ashkenazi Synagogue in the city to hear Rabbi Yosef Friedman of Kiryat Malachi speak on the subject. Among the many points Rabbi Friedman raised was the emphasis on the fact that Jews should allow nothing to get in the way of maintaining strong, positive relationships and a peaceful, optimistic attitude. Only with positive energy can one combat the forces of darkness – a Chassidic concept – the rabbi reminded.

One of the first things a Jewish community builds is the ritual pool known as the “mikveh” –  but sometimes it gets delayed, and in Cambridge, England, this month,  Chabad established for the first time a beautiful new facility for the community.  The opening ceremony for the new mikveh – planned for nearly 30 years – was held at the Rorh Chabad Centre about a week ago, according to a report published on the website. Lord Jonathan Sacks, Chief Rabbi of England, was at the dedication.