ESSAY: The Difficult Lamb
In the barnyard of the soul
A Haven In Time
The month of Elul is the last of the Jewish year and the
month that leads into the Days of Awe that commence
the new year. It is also a sanatorium for accidental suicides
Confronted with absolute truth, the cynic responds with what
is both the most sterile and noxious of attacks: doubt
One hundred and twenty years of the greatest life ever lived
might not be much, but it's a beginning
CALL: The Rebbe on the 60's
In an urgent call he issued to his followers in March of 1963,
the Rebbe anticipated the upheavals and opportunities of the
next ten years
You shall not see your brothers ox or his sheep
go astray and ignore them; return them to your brother...
So shall you do with his ass, so shall you do with his garment,
and so shall you do with every lost thing of your brother...
Obviously, the duty to return a lost object to its owner
is not limited to oxen, sheep, asses and garments, but appliesas
the verse concludesto every lost thing of your
brother. The Talmud explains that the Torah cites these
examples because each of them teaches us another of the laws
regarding lost objects.
However, while it deciphers the laws to be derived from ox,
ass and garment, it does not succeed
to do so in the case of the sheep. The lost
sheep is a difficulty, it concludes the Talmud, meaning
that the legal significance of the word sheep
in the verse proved difficult for the sages.
The Zohar tells us that the Torah has both a body and a soul.
The body of the Torah is its physical
partthe historical events it recounts and the laws it
legislates. But implicit in this body is a soul,
a mystic dimension in which every story has its sublime analogy
and every legal nuance its spiritual counterpart.
Accordingly, the mitzvah of returning a lost object applies
not only to the physical property of ones fellow but
to his spiritual possessions as well. If you encounter a life
gone astraya confused mind, a dysfunctional heart, a
soul that has lost its moral compass or spiritual sensitivityrestore
it to its owner. You may not remain indifferent to the spiritual
plight of a brother any more than you may ignore his wayward
Specifically, the four examples of lost objects
enumerated by Torah correspond to four prototypical maladies
of the human soul.
The ox is a powerful and volatile beast. When provoked, it
is virtually unstoppable. One moment it is grazing quietly;
the next, it is a thousand pounds of charging flesh and brawn,
crashing through everything in its path. We all know its spiritual
cousin: the contrary, opinionated brute who lashes out at
anything that is disagreeable to him or challenges the tranquillity
of his mastication.
When the ass rebels against its master, it doesnt rage
and goreit digs in its heels and coldly disregards its
masters commands, pleas, even the blows raining down
on its back. Spiritually, the obstinate ass is worse than
the raging bull. The ox at least responds; the
fact that he is provoked means that he has been challenged.
On the other hand, coldness and indifference signify a greater
distance from holiness and truth.
The garment represents an even more noxious spiritual
malady. The Hebrew word for garment, beged, is related
to begidah, treachery. The antagonistic
ox and the indifferent ass might resist or ignore their master,
but they do not hide behind a contrived identity. The beged
personality is one who misleads othersand worse yet,
himselfas to where his loyalty lies, making it far more
difficult for him to own up to his behavior and rectify it.
And then there is the sheepa creature characterized
by meekness and docility. While this might seem a lesser ill
than the previous three, it is the most difficult to overcome.
A person who fights, ignores or even betrays his G-d can come
to recognize the truth and rectify his behavior. But you cannot
convince the sheep of the error of his wayshe
fully agrees with you. You cannot fan the flames of his hearthe
is already fired with inspiration. He knows the truth, he
cares about the truth, he desires to do what is rightbut
he is too timid to do anything about it.
This is the deeper significance of the Talmuds words,
The lost sheep is a difficulty. Regarding the
ox, ass or garment, there
are ways of dealing with a souls loss. But what is to
be done with the sheep? Here the Talmud has no
formula, no logistic solution.
Nevertheless, the Torah commands: Return them to your
brother! Every spiritual loss is recoverable, every
deficiency can be transformed into a positive force. An ox
run amok is a destructive force, but when properly harnessed
and channeled, its passion diverted to holy ends, Much
grain yields the might of the ox.
The obstinacy of the ass, properly sublimated, translates
into endurance and perseverance in remaining true to ones
mission and G-d in the face of trial and difficulty. Treachery, too, has its positive uses; physical life is itself
an act of subterfuge on the part of the soul, who assumes
a material body and identity only to exploit them to serve
its spiritual goals.
And the meekness of the sheep, no matter how difficult a
problem it poses, can also be reclaimed as a virtue. Meekness
can be recast as self-abnegation to G-da self-abnegation
that spawns not the passivity and resignation of the lost
sheep but the resolute and uncompromising activism of he who
has surrendered his ego and its encumbrances to serve an omnipotent
Based on the Rebbes talks, Tishrei 5715 (October
Three cities you shall set aside within the land that
the L-rd your G-d is giving you as an inheritance... and they
shall be for all murderers to escape to.† This is the murderer
who shall flee there, and live: one who strikes his fellow
And for one who did not lie in wait [to kill premeditatedly],
but G-d has caused it to happen to him, I shall establish
for you a place to which he can flee
The unintentional murderer is not innocent. He is guilty
of criminal negligencenegligence which has resulted
in the destruction of a life. But for his sake, G-d commanded
that cities of refuge should be established in
the Holy Land. Cities to serve him both as a haven and as
a place of exile; cities to which he is banished to atone
for his deed as well as to rebuild his life anew.
There are cities of refuge in space, and there is a city
of refuge in time. And while the spatial cities of refuge
await the coming of Moshiach and the restoration of Torah
law in the Holy Land to be reinstated, the haven in time that
G-d has established for us in the calendar is there for us
at all times, under all conditions.
This haven in time is the month of Elulthe last month
of the Jewish year and the month that leads to the Days
of Awe that commence the new year. This is alluded to
in one of the verses that discuss the law of the cities
of refuge: as master Kabbalist Rabbi Isaac Luria
points out, the first letters of the Hebrew words inah
lyado vsamti lach (...has caused it
to happen to him, I shall establish for you...Exodus
21:13) are alef, lamed, vav, lamed,
which spell the word Elul.
The Accidental Sinner
Elul is the month that Moses spent atop Mount Sinai
as G-d reconciled Himself with His people after they had betrayed
their covenant with Him by worshipping the Golden Calf. By
divine command, Moses had hewn two tablets of stone and brought
them to the top of the mountain; there G-d inscribed upon
them the Ten Commandments that encapsulate His covenant with
Israel to replace the original Tablets of the Covenant
that were broken in the aftermath of Israels sin. After
forty days, which included the whole of Elul and culminated
in Yom Kippur, G-d uttered the fateful words, I have
forgiven, as you request, thus establishing the precedent
for teshuvahfor mans ability to rectify
an iniquitous past and establish it as the base for a renewed
and invigorated relationship with G-d.
Ever since, the month of Elul has been the city of
refuge for all inadvertent murderers who
seek the protection of its walls. For every transgression
against the will of G-d is, by definition, an act of inadvertent
murder: murder, because one has violated the essence
and raison dÍtre of ones own life; inadvertent,
because man is inherently and intrinsically good, and all
evil deeds result only from a lapse of awareness of ones
own true will. In the words of our sages, A person does
not sin unless a spirit of insanity has entered into him.
The twenty-nine days of Elul offer an isle in time, a sanctum
for introspection and self-assessment, for atonement and rehabilitation.
It is a place to which we might exile ourselves from our subjugation
to the struggles and entanglements of material life to audit
our spiritual accounts and restore the sovereignty of our
true will over our lives. It is a month in which to resolve
that, henceforth, no accidental iniquity will mar the quintessential
goodness of our soul.
Based on the Rebbes talks on Shabbat Mevarchim Elul,
5711 (1951), and on other occasions
Remember what Amalek did to you, on the way,
when you were leaving Egypt...
Said Rabbi Yosef Yitchak of Lubavitch:
The numerical value (gematria) of the Hebrew word amalek
is 240, the same as that of the word safek, doubt.
All things holy are certain and absolute. Torah is absolute,
the mitzvot are absolute, divine providence is absolute. Amalek
is doubt. Baseless, irrational doubt that cools the fervor
of holiness with nothing more than a cynical shrug.
And I beseeched G-d, at that time, saying: L-rd
G-d, You have begun to show Your servant Your greatness...
Said Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov:
Moses was G-ds faithful servant, the greatest of the
prophets, the recipient of the Torah from G-d. And after one
hundred and twenty of the most G-dly life ever lived, he sees
himself as only beginning his relationship with the Almighty...
The Rebbe on the 60's
Editor's note: The following is a free translation of a directive
the Rebbe issued to his chassidim at a gathering on Purim
G-d has granted our generation opportunities that have never
been granted before. To our great misfortune, we are not utilizing
them to the utmost.
One of these opportunities is the recent awakening among
the youth for what they call a return to roots.
They hunger and thirst for the word of G-d,
its only that they are, as of yet, unaware as to where
the word of G-d is to be found. The sole responsibility therefore
lies with those who are already immersed in the watersthere
is no `water' save for Torah--to explain to them that their thirst is for
G-ds perfect Torah, without compromise.
The first step, the rejection of the negative, they, our
generations youth, have already achieved. They have
shattered the idols and icons which prevailed among some of
their parents. They have recognized that the man-made ideologies
that were embraced forty and fifty years ago are false. We
need only bring them to the second step, the acceptance of
the positive---the study of Torah and the observance of mitzvot.
We are living in a time of opportunity and divine grace,
and much can be achieved. We must not squander these times,
We are living in a time that The voice of my beloved
knocks: Open for me.
When G-d knocks on the door of every Jews heart and
begs that it open to Him. G-d is not asking that we demolish
walls or break down doors, only that we open up to him as
the point of a needle, for My head is filled with dew, and My locks with the
drops of the night---G-d can no longer suffer,
so to speak, the tribulation of the galut night. He promises
that when we open to Him as the point of needle He will do
the rest, and in the blink of an eye,
bring the true redemption through our righteous Moshiach.
Adapted from the teachings of the Rebbe by Yanki Tauber
. For example, the word garment teaches
us that a person is only obligated to return an object that
has identifying marks or characteristics (simanim)
by which the owner can prove it is his (a garment is an
object that can always be identified by size, color, material,
and the like). If someone finds something that has no siman
(such as loose coins or fruit) he is not obligated
to return it, even if he knows who lost it, because it is
assumed that the owner has relinquished all hope of recovering
. Talmud, Bava Metzia 27a.
. Cf. Talmud, Shabbat 53a: A donkey is cold
even in the height of summer.
. Thus Jacob blessed the tribe of Issachar with the
ability to pursue the study of Torah with the endurance
of an ass (Genesis 49:14; Rashi on verse).
. This is the deeper significance of Jacob dressing
himself in Esaus clothes to receive the blessings
of the dew of the heavens and the fat of the land,
as related in Genesis 27.
. Likkutei Sichot, vol. I, pp. 155-158.
. The Holy Ari, 1534-1572.
. Shaar HaPesukim, Parashat Mishpatim.
. Rashi, Exodus 33:11.
. Likkutei Sichot, vol. II, pp. 623-626; et
 Printed in Likkutei Sichot, vol. IV pp. 1369-1370
 Cf. Amos 8:11: Behold, says G-d, days are
coming in which I shall dispatch a hunger upon the land;
not a hunger for bread, nor a thirst for water, but to hear
the word of G-d.''
 Talmud, Bava Kama 17a on Isaiah 55:1.
 G-d says to Israel: My children! Open to
Me an opening of teshuvah as the point of a needle, and
I will open for you doors for wagons and carriages pass
through...''---Midrash Rabbah on Song of Songs, ibid.
 Song of Songs, ibid.
 See Mechilta on Exodus 12:41.