18 Elul: A Fiery Chariot to Heaven

August 24, 2023

The events of the passings of Elijah the prophet and the Baal Shem Tov offer insights into their lives' purpose and mission

(משיחת ש”פ בשלח, י”ג שבט, ה’תשי”א)

A. The Biblical Prophet and the Chassidic Rebbe

In the Biblical story of Elijah the Prophet we read that his soul and body never separated, rising to heaven together (Source 1).

The Baal Shem Tov said about himself that he could ascend to heaven alive, like Eijah, but having the body returning to earth is greater. If so, why did Elijah not wish to return to earth? The Rebbe answers that everyone has their own, unique path to their personal perfection.

B. Elijah’s Role

Following his passing, Elijah has three functions:

Elijah had condemned the Jews for disregarding the mitzvah of circumcisions. G-d did not appreciate his criticism, and instructed him to attend every brit from then on and bear witness to the Jews’ observance of this commandment (Source 2).

At the Seder night, we pour a cup for Elijah and leave the doors unlocked so that when Elijah arrives, he will be met with an open door (Source 3). The reason for these customs is that on Passover we celebrate our liberation from Egypt, and at this time we express our faith that Elijah will soon come and herald the Messianic era, our final redemption from our current exile.

Elijah excused his absence from Rabbi Shimon’s conference by explaining that he had been busy with rescuing Rabbi Hamnuna (Source 4). This begs the question: How does Elijah manage to visit so many circumcisions and Passover Seders simultaneously, but he missed the conference because he had business elsewhere? The Rebbe explains that Elijah attends the Seders and circumcisions without his physical body, thus allowing him to be present at multiple locations simultaneously.  But when he meets with sages, he appears in his bodily form out of respect, and is unable to be at two places at the same time.

In order to fulfill his role – such as heralding  the redemption –  Elijah needs to have his body. His personal perfection demanded that he  ascend with his body.

C. The Baal Shem Tov’s Role

During the Baal Shem Tov’s time the Jewish people were in dire straits, akin to a person in a faint. One method of rousing a fainted person is by calling their name, and here too, the way to arouse the Jewish people was to send a soul with the name of the Jewish people. When someone is called by their name, their essential vitality is aroused and returns to enliven the rest of the body. When a collective soul is sent down, it arouses the individual vitality of the Jewish people.

Now we can understand why the Baal Shem Tov’s passing occurred in a normal way. His role was to connect with the Jewish people at the lowest levels as well, and inspire them towards holiness. Therefore, his body had to return to the lowest level, to earth.



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