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Wednesday
Aug092017

A FAKE WORLD

Presented for Chof Av, the Yahrtzait of Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Schneersohn, the Rebbe’s father. * Part 1 * By Prof. Shimon Silman, RYAL Institute and Touro College

One Rosh HaShana, Rabbi Levi Yitzchok was walking with a chassid along a river. At one point the chassid asked him, “It says in Chassidus that on Rosh HaShana the inner life of the world is elevated. How do we see this in the world? Everything looks the same as it does the rest of the year.”

As they walked on a bridge over the river, Rabbi Levi Yitzchok leaned over the bridge and stared at the river for a while. Then he said, “The river is flowing in an entirely different manner!”

Did he see something spiritual, something Kabbalistic? No, that wasn’t the question. The chassid understood that there was a spiritual elevation. He was asking where we see the change in the corporeal world, and Rabbi Levi Yitzchok said that he saw it in the physical flow of the river.

What is reality and what do we see of it?

It has been known to scientists for over 100 years that the reality of matter is not what we see of it. Matter is made up of many billions of atoms—which we don’t see—packed tightly together. Within each atom there are subatomic particles. But the subatomic particles are extremely small so that most of what’s inside the atom is really…empty space. (To try to grasp this, draw a circle, put a bunch of tiny dots at the center, and scatter several tiny dots throughout the rest of the circle. You can now see that most of the space inside the circle is empty.)

Now if all of matter is made up of atoms, and each atom is mostly empty space, then matter itself is mostly empty space!

The Kabbalists have known for much longer than a century that even that scientific picture is not an accurate model of the ultimate reality, but rather, the letters of the 10 statements of creation recorded in the first chapter of Chumash are the true building blocks of creation, as the Alter Rebbe explains in Tanya. (Shaar HaYichud V’Ha’Emuna, chapter 1)

HUMAN RELATIONSHIPS

Human relationships are very complex. They are more complex than atomic physics, and even more complex than quantum mechanics.

I look at someone sitting across from me. What is he thinking? I don’t know what he’s thinking; he doesn’t know what I’m thinking. Chazal say “שבלבו של חברו אין אדם יודע מה – No man knows what is in the heart of his friend.” Sometimes you think a person is your friend but he’s really just an opportunist. He knows you have a lot of money or a lot of wisdom and he just wants to hang out with you and get what he can from you. He’s not your friend. He may even harbor negative feelings against you.

It may also be just the opposite. You may think, “This guy is not my friend. He’s always arguing with me, always challenging me, and cracking jokes about me.” You may think that this person is your enemy but he isn’t. It may just be a distorted relationship where he’s trying to be your friend but it’s just not coming out right.

Family relationships are much more complicated. Father and son. Sometimes a father is very strict with his son, and the son thinks, “My father hates me…” That attitude may continue into his adulthood. Then finally one day he realizes that his father really loves him a lot: “He just wanted me to grow up as a mentch, as a disciplined person, as a chassidishe yid.”

Same thing with a son and a father. A teenager usually challenges his father at some point during his teenage years. Is he turning against his father? Is he rebelling? Or is it a distorted kind of love where he’s trying to bring out something deeper from within his father and that’s the only way he knows how to do it at that point in his life?

Husband and wife is the most complicated relationship. It’s very complicated. Sometimes “no” means yes and “yes” means maybe… Logic itself breaks down.

So while quantum mechanics has its own paradoxes and has aspects which defy common sense, the behavior itself has a definite logical structure and one can make precise predictions for the future. In human relationships however, everyone has their own logic—אין דעותיהם שוות—and behavior may be totally unpredictable.

THE ULTIMATE OPEN-SOURCE PROJECT

We never see reality. To paraphrase President Trump—it’s a fake world (that’s why there’s so much fake news). In fact, the Zohar calls this world עלמא דשקרא—a world of falsehood, a fake world!

How can we live in such a world? How are we supposed to deal with it? Well, there is a “user manual” and that’s the Torah which tells us how to interact with the objects and people in the world. In fact, the same Torah is also the “source code” which Hashem used to create the world.

Torah tells us how to look at the world and how to act accordingly. This is the level of reality at which we are supposed to operate. This is very natural and “safe” even though we are living in a fake world and we don’t see the true reality. The Torah—which is תורת אמת (Torah of truth)—tells us how to deal with the world in a manner which is absolute truth. This is because the Torah is both the blueprint which Hashem used to create the world and the user guide which instructs us how to properly interface with it. In other words, the Torah is both the source-code for the creation of the world how it appears to us, as well as the key to access its true reality.

For example, we eat food to give us vitality. What do we know about food—the reality of food? But the Torah tells us not to eat treif and we will have life. Huh? What’s the connection? Well, we don’t know what food really is, what treif really is (why it’s so bad) or even what life really is, but if we don’t eat treif then we are told that we will have real life—and that’s absolute truth.

In the Maamer Basi L’Gani which the Previous Rebbe wrote in advance of Yud Shevat, 5710, he talks about the world being a world of falsehood—שקר—but he says that the point of it is that through Torah and Mitzvos we transform this שקר into קרש (the same letters in a different order)—a panel for the Mishkan, the Sanctuary. We make the world a holy place.

The world was deliberately created as an עלמא דשקרא, a world of falsehood. We are the interface between this fake world and Absolute Truth and our purpose here is to use the Torah to transform the fake world into a Mishkan—an abode for the Almighty.

A WORLD OF GEULA

Torah, of course, is not just the Chumash, but also the words and writings of the Chachomim (Torah sages) throughout the generations, the Gemara, Rambam etc.—and most certainly the words and writing of Melech HaMoshiach. It is well known that throughout the years 5751-5752 the Rebbe MH”M spoke and wrote in his published discourses about the time of the Geula having arrived, that the current era is the Era of Moshiach and that the Geula is here. These sichos and farbrengens are a part of Torah, i.e., the Torah is telling us that the reality of the world now is Geula.

When it comes to relating to our fellow Jew, the Torah does not tell us to perform a psychological analysis of him and try to figure out what he’s thinking. The Torah overrides all that and tells us to love our fellow Jew as ourselves, not to take revenge, not even to bear a grudge. Chassidus gives depth to these Mitzvos. The Baal Shem Tov, explaining the verse, “You [the Jewish people] shall be for me a desirable land,” says that there is unimaginable goodness within every Jew, just like there is unimaginable wealth hidden deep within the earth. This is reality.

In the Tanya, the Alter Rebbe elaborates on this. He explains that every Jew has a G-dly soul. If any thoughts of hate, jealousy or anger toward our fellow Jew enter our mind, we are to assert the authority of our mind over our emotions and do the exact opposite of what these thoughts would provoke us to do. We must act with kindness and extreme love towards those who antagonize us just like Yosef acted towards his brothers (Tanya, end of Ch. 12). He went to great lengths to set up a situation where they would do Teshuva for their sin. Then he took care of them and settled them in the best region of Egypt.

Is this reality? The Alter Rebbe says yes. He instructs us not to analyze people’s actions and motivations: “This is the job of heaven and not the job of humans.” We are to have emuna—believe in what Chazal say that all Jews are “limbs of the same body” with one heart. Any divisiveness among the limbs hurts the heart and hurts us all. This is reality. We may not be able to see it, but we can certainly act accordingly. If a bad thought regarding another Jew enters our heart, the Alter Rebbe continues, blow it away like you would blow away smoke. (Tanya, Igeres HaKodesh, end of Ch. 22)

FAKE DEATH

The Torah tells us how to relate to a fake world, how to bring reality to it. But sometimes the Torah goes a step further and also tells us what the reality of the world is. It says, in essence: “What appears to you to be the reality is false. In fact, the reality is this…” An important and well-known example of this is the Gemara (Taanis 5b) quoted by Rashi on Parshas VaYechi, that says, “Yaakov our father did not die.” Almost everyone thought he did die, so what’s going on here?

On the 20th of Menachem Av, 5731 (1971), Rabbi Levi Yitzchok’s yahrtzait, the Rebbe MH”M delivered a famous sicha in which he elucidated this Gemara. The Gemara quotes Rabbi Yochanan as saying, “Yaakov our father did not die” and immediately raises the question: “Was it for nothing that they eulogized him and mummified him?” The Gemara then proves from a verse in the Prophets that he is alive. Rashi, in his commentary on the Gemara, explains: “It appeared to them that he died but he was alive.” It’s that simple. The Gemara is saying that what appeared to them to be the reality was false. The reality is that he is alive.

(We said that almost everyone thought that Yaakov died. That’s because Yosef knew that his father was still alive. The Ohr HaChayim says that that’s why Yosef kissed Yaakov after it appeared that he died—to show his brothers that their father was still alive, as it is forbidden to kiss a dead person.)

And it’s not just Yaakov Avinu. From this Gemara the Rebbe MH”M extracts a principle that the Nasi does not die, as his title “Nasi” indicate: “נשיא” is an acrostic for ניצוצו של יעקב אבינו—a spark of the soul of Yaakov Avinu (sicha of VaYechi, 5752).

The Rebbe MH”M explains the full meaning of the statement that Yaakov did not die: “Not only was Yaakov not limited by the laws of nature but, even more than that, he was higher than the order of creation because according to the order of creation there has to be death in the world. It is impossible for a finite creation which is subject to changes to exist forever.

“But Yaakov our father did not die. This is because Yaakov, who was the “chosen of the forefathers”—his whole existence was Torah, as it says, ‘Yaakov was a man of honesty, sitting in tents [of Torah learning].’ Therefore, for him the limitations of the laws of nature were not relevant—just like the Torah itself [is above the laws of nature].”

Rabbi Levi Yitzchok himself writes about this in Likkutei Levi Yitzchok. He says that to the degree that a tzaddik is connected to the Torah, he is above the laws of nature. For example, Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, who wrote the Zohar and revealed the inner depths of Torah to the world, led a miraculous life while he was hiding from the Romans in a cave. But for him—relative to his level in Torah—this was not miraculous. Rather it was his nature. For something to be miraculous for him, it would have to be a higher level miracle. One man’s miracle is another man’s nature.

We see from this that the Torah which defines the reality of the world can also change reality—which is not surprising since it was the Torah with which Hashem created the reality of the world in the first place.

We will further elaborate on this in Part 2 with Hashem’s help.

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