The 18th day of the month of Elul, or Chai Elul as it’s often referred to, holds dual significance as the birthdays of the Baal Shem Tov (1698), the founder of Chassidism, and the Alter Rebbe, Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi (1745), the founder of Chabad Chassidism. This date often aligns with or closely follows the Shabbat when the Torah portion of Ki Tavo is read.
Jewish festivals and important events in the Jewish calendar are cryptically referenced within the Torah portions read during relevant weeks. Consequently, we can find a connection between Chai Elul and the Ki Tavo portion.
The connection can be found in the beginning on the parsha, where it talks about the mitzvah of bikkurim (first fruits), where the Jewish people were told to bring their initial harvest offerings upon “entering the land that the L-rd your G-d is giving you as a possession, settling and inhabiting it”.
A deeper understanding reveals that the phrase “settling and inhabiting it” signifies the commencement of the bikkurim obligation post a 14-year phase of conquering and dividing the land of Israel.
The reason for the use of these words serves a purpose: The genuine meaning of “entering the land” is synonymous with complete immersion. This concept aligns with the insight that partial entry is insufficient. Thus, “entering” equates to “settling and inhabiting it”, indicating true entry only after this stage of settlement.
Ki Tavo and Chai Elul, the birthdates of Chassidic pioneers, both charge their followers to have the ability to stimulate a person’s spirit, intellect, and heart. This results in the individual’s engagement with Torah and mitzvot mirroring Ki Tavo – an immersive experience where every facet of their being is suffused with spiritual dedication.
In essence, Chai Elul ties the pioneers’ birthdays to the Ki Tavo portion, illuminating Chassidism’s power to immerse an individual wholly in spiritual devotion, just as the bikkurim could begin only after complete entry into the land of Israel. Chassidus blends the innermost life force with the animate, making each Jew one with Torah and mitzvot, akin to true entry into the Promised Land.