This Shabbat is the birthday of the Baal Shem Tov and also the Birthday of the first Chabad Rebbe called the Alter Rebbe. The Hebrew date of their birthdates is the 18th of Elul. The numerical value of 18 in Hebrew is chai which means life.
The month of Elul is a month of divine closeness. This is expressed in the acronym of Elul which is “Ani Lidodi vidodi li”, I am to my beloved and my beloved is to me.
This is the background of the Chassidic teaching that the reason the Baal Shem tov and the Alter Rebbe were born on the eighteenth of Elul is because they in their lives brought life (chai) and vitality into Elul, that is, the close relationship of Hashem and the Jewish people.
The Baal Shem Tov is known for his inspirational teachings that discuss the unique relationship between Hashem and the Jewish people. These teachings speak to the soul but are not fully developed in the intellectual realm. However, the Alter Rebbe brought these teaching down into the realm of intellect and understanding in his famous work called Tanya.
On a personal level, Chany and I just returned from the Ukraine where we visited both the gravesites of the Baal Shem Tov and the Alter Rebbe. The Alter Rebbe’s grave site is very unique as it is on the bottom of a hill which descends to a river. This seems to correlate to the Alter Rebbe’s mission of bringing down the teachings of the Baal Shem Tov to even the lowest levels of our world.
Praying at the Baal Shem Tov’s Grave:
At the Alter Rebbe’s grave: