March 21, 2012
Rabbi Akiva Wagner in #828, 27 Adar, Farbrengen

During Napoleon’s campaign to conquer the world, the Rebbes of the time were divided as to whether or not his success would bode well for the Jewish nation. The Alter Rebbe maintained that the success of Napoleon, while improving the material lot of the Jews, would be very detrimental for them spiritually. Therefore, the Alter Rebbe was vehemently opposed to Napoleon, to the extent that he sent his Chassidim to assist the Russian army, including spying on their behalf, etc.

Once, the Alter Rebbe invited the Mitteler Rebbe to join him in learning a piece of Zohar. At that very moment, however, there was a great tumult outside on account of the sightings of French soldiers, who appeared to be overrunning the country. The Mitteler Rebbe turned to the Alter Rebbe in concern, saying, “Father, what happened to your promise to me that the enemy would not succeed?!”

The Alter Rebbe reassured his son, saying, “I swear to you that the army of Napoleon will meet their defeat here.” The Mitteler Rebbe was calmed, and wanted to now learn the Zohar. The Alter Rebbe, however, indicated that it was too late, saying, “For that Zohar you needed to display mesirus nefesh!”

The Mitteler Rebbe recounted the story, remarking that for years he suffered great pain on account of the missed opportunity to learn that Zohar with his father.

There are various levels of emuna. There were, presumably, those Chassidim who would not feel reassured even upon hearing the oath of the Alter Rebbe. They would not feel confident until they actually witnessed Napoleon’s downfall with their own eyes.

However the Alter Rebbe demanded of the Mitteler Rebbe mesirus nefesh, which seems to mean – in the context of the story – an unconditional and unquestioning acceptance of the Alter Rebbe’s words, despite appearances to the contrary.

•     •     •

I remember, immediately following Chof Zayin Adar, how the concern and davening of the Chassidim was peppered with a liberal amount of faith, hope and optimism. Many were speculating about whether we would see the Rebbe by Purim; Yud Aleph Nissan was not even a question in anyone’s mind. At that time, one prominent Chassid went around saying: “They’re talking about Purim and Yud Aleph Nissan; we’ll be lucky if the Rebbe comes out for Rosh Hashanah!”

I remember the shock everyone felt at such heresy. Didn’t we all witness the swift and miraculous recovery of the Rebbe in 5738? Surely we shouldn’t expect any less now! We had seen clearly enough that the Rebbe was not confined to the limitations of natural laws.

Time passed by (those who had committed not to leave the ohel until the Rebbe would be fully recovered reconsidered). We witnessed various triumphs and setbacks, and then, after exactly 2 years, the Rebbe suffered an additional stroke. Yet, the faith of Chassidim was fully intact, as we reminded each other that for the Eibeshter a big miracle and a small miracle were the same.

More time passed, and the unthinkable, Gimmel Tamuz, occurred. And yet, Chassidim continued to believe, to wait, and to eagerly anticipate. Whether we signed up for the blue team or the red team or the orange team, whether we practiced one slogan or the other (and while we diligently fought about them), Chassidim continued to live with the Rebbe, certain beyond doubt about the imminent appearance of Moshiach and that this final nisayon would speedily pass.

Everyone knew that the world needs a Rebbe and that although Hashem is testing us, it couldn’t possibly last very long. The Midrashim and P’sukim began to surface, providing all of the proofs that it was a matter of days or weeks, a few months at the maximum.

And I don’t believe anyone deserved credit for this faith; everyone naturally thought this way, it was inconceivable to think otherwise. This was the outcome of the guidance that the Rebbe had shown us over the years.

Eighteen years have passed since then. Bachurim entering zal now may not have been born by Gimmel Tamuz. Kallos standing under the chuppa were newborn babies on Chof Zayin Adar.

We still maintain our faith. But our definition of “imminent” becomes much vaguer. Initially, everyone shared the conviction that the Rebbe would recover and be nisgaleh right away; that any long term plans were inevitably about events that will be long after the Geula. But after thinking that way year after year after year, it becomes much more challenging to maintain that simple mindset. Of course, Moshiach is coming imminently. But does that mean this month, this year, this decade, during my lifetime?

Seemingly, now it is being demanded of us to practice mesirus nefesh. It’s the kind of mesirus nefesh that is required when your belief is against all odds, where it doesn’t appear natural or rational to just take the Rebbe’s word for it. It is when we are inclined to look for more reassurance, more of a guarantee, a more tangible basis for our belief.

But mesirus nefesh entails putting aside the natural inclination of our intellect and to believe today with the same certainty and conviction as we did in the first days, despite the challenges presented by the ensuing years: to believe today with simple faith that Moshiach is coming imminently, NOW!

• • •

This coming Tuesday, 4 Nissan, my family will be marking the yahrtzait of my father a”h, Reb Refael Menachem Nochum b”r Yitzchok Aizik. Following is a story that he would tell, that relates to the above:

There was once a young man, we’ll call him Jake, who was spending his vacation doing some hiking and mountain-climbing. On one particular trek, he negotiated a mountain-pass without sufficient caution, and he suddenly found himself sliding towards a 5000 ft. drop to the rocks below. Jake had a brief vision of himself as the “Sa’ir La’azozel” as he managed at the last second to grab onto the edge of the cliff and hang on for dear life.

He felt his strength rapidly waning, and he began screaming and shouting with all his might: “Help, help, is there anyone up there, help!”

He was shouting this way for a few minutes (that seemed to him like an eternity), when, suddenly, he heard a deep, booming voice from the heaven right above him, saying: “Yes my son, I am up here for you!”

“Please, help me, please!” Jake called up in desperation.

“Do you believe?” inquired the heavenly voice.

“Yes, I believe,” called Jake. “Please help me.”

“Listen carefully,” said the voice. “If you believe, then remove one of your hands from the edge of the cliff.”

Jake took a deep breath, lowered his left hand, and focused all of his strength into his right hand (that was very slowly beginning to slide), all the while continuing to call: “Please, please, are you up there, please help me.”

“Do you believe?” inquired the heavenly voice, a second time.

“Yes,” responded Jake, “but please help me.”

“Listen to me,” said the voice, “in order to prove your belief, remove your second hand from the edge of the cliff.”

Jake hesitated, looked down at the rocks thousands of feet below him, then slowly returned his first hand to the top of the cliff, and called out: “Help, help, is there anyone else up there!”

Undoubtedly, it is easy to believe when we have something to base it on, or the security of a back-up plan. But, bona fide mesirus nefesh entails believing when we’ve exhausted all grounds for it.

Chof Zayin Adar is, perhaps, a time to strengthen our mesirus nefesh-based emuna. We know all the questions; we understand the doubts of those who doubt. But we received a different training, and this is where it should be visible. Our avoda is to disregard the darkness around us, as well as the one within us, the one in our own intellect, and to work on living with true faith.

This has many implications for our day-to-day life, and the decisions we are involved in. For example: A yungerman is in kollel, contemplating shlichus. Sometimes, he is overwhelmed by his concerns over his future livelihood, and these concerns make the decision to go on shlichus a very challenging one.

Yet, if our mindset was that very imminently we will welcome Moshiach, that sooner rather than later we will greet the Rebbe, then I think the decision would be approached rather differently.

If we view the coming of Moshiach, not as an event in the distant future but as something that we – that’s right we – are about to experience, then that inevitably should start us thinking on a very different track. How do I want Moshiach to find me when he arrives? Taking a vacation? On a ski trip? Or, channeling all of my kochos and my abilities towards fulfilling my mission of making a Dira Lo Yisborach?

I’m not suggesting that it’s easy or simple. Yet, it is surely what we’re all about. We definitely have the ability to carry it out. We just have to focus on it and work on it.

This Shabbos we will read Parshas HaChodesh, when the Yidden were instructed to bring the Korban Pesach in a brazen display of their emuna, and in this z’chus they were ultimately redeemed.

Today as well we have to carry out an emuna revolution, to have mesirus nefesh for emuna, putting any necessary effort to turn our mindset – and subsequent conduct – into one of anticipation, hope, and absolute certainty about the imminent revelation of Moshiach NOW!

Surely in this z’chus we will speedily experience the fulfillment of the promise: “Kimei tzeischa mei’eretz Mitzrayim ar’enu niflaos!”

L’chaim! May we strengthen our unconditional emuna and bitachon, and may the Alm-ghty in turn acknowledge that we have already passed this test with flying colors long ago, and now all that remains is for Him to do His part and actually bring us the revelation of Moshiach Tzidkeinu NOW Teikef U’miyad Mamash!!!

From a written farbrengen directed towards Alumni of Yeshivas Lubavitch Toronto

Article originally appeared on Beis Moshiach Magazine (http://beismoshiachmagazine.org/).
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