December 24, 2013
Rabbi Gershon Avtzon in #908, 24 Teives, Moshiach & Geula

By Rabbi Gershon Avtzon

Dear Reader sh’yichyeh,

This Friday is 24 Teives, the Yahrtzait of the Alter Rebbe. The Alter Rebbe in Igeres HaKodesh (Ch. 28) writes that “all the effort of man which his soul toiled during his lifetime is above in a hidden and concealed state. It becomes revealed and radiates in a manifest way from above downwards at the time of his passing … and at the time of passing on, the chesed (kindness) of the L-rd radiates from world to world over those who fear Him, and effects salvations in the midst of the earth.” From these words written by the Alter Rebbe about the passing of a tzaddik, we can understand the effect of the histalkus of the Alter Rebbe himself.

In the Sichos of 5752 we find that the Rebbe connects this date with Moshiach in many ways. Here are some examples:

1) The number 24 in Hebrew is כ”ד. There is a Pasuk where the Navi (Yeshaya 54:12) discusses the way the city of Yerushalayim will look in the times of Moshiach:”And I will make your windows of jasper and your gates of carbuncle stones, and all your border of precious stones.”

The Gemara (Bava Basra 75b) discusses this verse and says the following: [It is written] And I will make thy pinnacles of kadkod — R. Shmuel bar Nachmani said: There is a dispute [as to the meaning of kadkod] between two angels in heaven, Gavriel and Michael. Others say: [The dispute is between] two Amoraim in the West. And who are they? — Yehudah and Chizkiya the sons of R. Chiya. One says: [Kadkod means] onyx; and the other says: Jasper. The Holy One, blessed be He, said unto them:להוי כדין כדין – Let it be as this one [says] and as that one.

From the above Gemara the Rebbe explains that the third Beis HaMikdash will have – at least – every advantage of the first two. As the Navi (Chagai 2:9) foretells: “The glory of this last House shall be greater than the first one, said the L-rd of Hosts. And in this place I will grant peace, says the L-rd of Hosts.”

2) The Alter Rebbe’s death was at the turning point of the Franco-Russian war. It is well known that the Alter Rebbe passed away on the road, running from the French.

When Napoleon led his armies into Eastern Europe, some Torah leaders supported the French forces in the hope that their victory would enhance the status of the Jewish people. The Alter Rebbe, however, supported Czar Alexander I, explaining that Napoleon’s victory would no doubt improve the Jews’ economic and social standing, but would detract from their spiritual commitment and practice. A Russian victory, by contrast, would perpetuate the difficult economic conditions under which the Jews lived, but would also nurture the fruitful spiritual climate of yiras Shamayim which then prevailed.

Why was the Alter Rebbe so opposed to Napoleon? At the core of the French Revolution lay a disregard for higher authority, a disregard which can spur undue self-concern. Such an attitude in turn leads to the pursuit of material pleasure and decadence.

This should not be misinterpreted to mean that Judaism opposes involvement with the material dimensions of our existence. Quite the contrary, Maimonides writes:

A person may desire… not to eat meat, nor to drink wine, live in a pleasant home, or wear fine clothing…. This is a wrong path and it is forbidden to follow it…. Our Sages directed man to abstain only from those things which the Torah denies him and not to deny himself those [benefits] which are permitted. (Mishneh Torah, Hilchos De’os 3:1)

At the same time, the Torah does require that our involvement with material things should be motivated by more than a desire for self-gratification. Instead, this involvement should be purposeful in nature and ultimately directed towards serving G-d. For this reason, the Tanya identifies all material indulgence that serves only the desire of the body –  – even that which is necessary for the body’s very existence –  – as sitra achra, the Kabbalistic term associated with evil.

The latter term literally means “the other side,” and signifies a thrust that is not directed toward G-dliness. An object or a motive is included in this category, not because it is harmful or destructive, but because it is not directed toward G-d. This is the inherent difficulty in material involvement, for man has a natural tendency to be preoccupied with his own interests and pleasure, rather than with His.

Conversely, however, our involvement with material things is necessary to enable us to fulfill a unique G-dly intent. Chassidus explains that every element of material existence contains G-dly sparks which are unrevealed. Through the Divine potential he himself possesses and through the power of the Torah, man can reveal this hidden G-dly energy invested within the world.

Chassidus refers to this approach to worldly involvement as tziruf, “refinement.” The same word describes the process of smelting ore. In this process, the dross is discarded and the precious metal is retained. Similarly, our involvement in the world requires turning our attention away from our own material concerns and focusing on the G-dliness within.

The Hebrew word for France, Tzorfas, shares the same root as the word tziruf, implying that it is intrinsically connected with this mode of serving G-d. France thus represents two approaches to worldly involvement: the self-oriented approach of seeking material pleasure, and the above-described task of refining the world and revealing the G-dliness invested within it. 

Originally, France was associated only with the former approach.

At present, however, the second approach is in the ascendancy. This began with various visits to France by the Rebbe Maharash, and later, more frequently, by the Rebbe Rashab. In the following generation the Previous Rebbe not only visited France, but moreover sent members of his family there as his emissaries. 

Ultimately, this process reached a peak when the Previous Rebbe, after having settled in America, established various branches of Tomchei T’mimim, the Lubavitcher yeshiva, in France.

This is all part of the prophecy (Ovadia 1:18) that will take place before Moshiach: And [the inhabitants of] the southland shall inherit the mountain of Esau, and [the inhabitants of] the plain, the Philistines, and they shall inherit the field of Ephraim and the field of Samaria, and Benjamin [with the inhabitants of] Gilead.

And this exiled host of the children of Israel who are [with] the Canaanites as far as Tzorfas (France) and the exile of Jerusalem which is in S’farad shall inherit the cities of the southland. And saviors shall ascend Mt. Zion to judge the mountain of Esau, and the Lord shall have the kingdom.

Rabbi Avtzon is the Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivas Lubavitch Cincinnati and a well sought after speaker and lecturer. Recordings of his in-depth shiurim on Inyanei Geula u’Moshiach can be accessed at

Article originally appeared on Beis Moshiach Magazine (
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