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Wednesday
Jan162013

MOSHIACH: EXCLUSIVELY FOR EVERY JEW

When the Rebbe announced in 1991-92 that the work has been completed, and now the only job that remains is to prepare oneself and the world to receive and embrace the reality of a G-dly world ushered in by Moshiach himself, once again the mission fell to a relatively small number of people, whether by design or by circumstance. * Presented in honor of Yud Shvat, from a talk given on Chaf-Dalet Teives at Machon Chana commemorating the 200th anniversary of the passing of the Alter Rebbe.

WHAT DOES EVERY JEW THINK ABOUT?

In the early days of the Chassidic movement, the means by which the revolutionary teachings of the early masters could be disseminated were severely limited. The strong and deeply entrenched opposition to any novel approach to traditional Judaism, and in particular to an approach that elevated the lowly simple Jew, made it all the more challenging.

One of the strategies that was employed to gain access to unsuspecting audiences was to take advantage of the custom in many cities, towns and villages, to honor visiting Torah scholars with the opportunity to give a learned talk to the local scholars and/or an inspirational talk to the community at large. Since there were no obvious differences in appearance or mode of dress at the time between one Jew and another, one simply had to establish one’s bona fides as a learned individual in order to be accorded said honor and opportunity.

It didn’t take very long for the Misnagdim, the sworn opponents of the nascent spiritual insurgency, to catch on to this tactic. The threat was very real, as many were being caught up in the groundswell, scholar and layman alike. Steps had to be taken, and so it become necessary to screen potential candidates for a guest spot at the pulpit in order to weed out any possible subversives. Since a Torah scholar would not engage in prevarication, it seemed a somewhat simple and straightforward process.

Once, one such an itinerant exemplar of erudition was asked about his opinion regarding Chassidim and Misnagdim. The clandestine Chassid responded by saying that the difference between the two groups was that Chassidim think only about themselves all the time, whereas Misnagdim think about G-d. Upon hearing this response, the members of the review board were only too glad to give their seal of approval.

After suitably impressing his audience with his exegetic prowess, the Chassid segued into ideas and concepts based on the teachings of the holy Baal Shem Tov, which made a deep and profound impression on the crowd. Afterward, the furious Misnagdim approached the Chassid, demanding an explanation for his earlier deceptive response. The Chassid assured them that he stood by the veracity of what he had said, explaining that a Chassid believes that the only true existence is G-d, and nothing else can be said to exist but Him. Therefore, the Chassid struggles with the question of how he himself can exist and whether or not he truly does exist, as well as the purpose of his seeming existence. Thus, he can be said to always be thinking about himself. The Misnaged, on the other hand, is absolutely certain of his own existence and his only question is as to whether or not G-d exists, and so he is always thinking about G-d.

Although in my younger years I identified with those in the opposition, unlike the apocryphal Misnaged of yore I never ever struggled with questions about the existence of G-d. To me, G-d was very real and very present. My personal struggle was mainly with trying to live up to my obligations as regards His commands and expectations. In fact, at an absurdly young age, I came to the realization that I had serious issues with impulse control and that the things that enabled most normal children to exercise restraint and acquire discipline were of little to no effect in my case. Fear of authority figures and the corporal punishment that they meted out liberally (usually deservedly) back in the day; fear of eventual divine retribution; peer and/or communal pressures based on societal norms within the insular religious world; none of these spoke to me in any significant way (except to exercise caution not to get caught so as to avoid the ever present threat of getting a whack or three).

To be sure, I had a very strong sense of myself as a Jew and as a member of religious society, and felt a strong kinship with all Jews in general and Torah observant Jews in particular. Despite being a good (sometimes bad) little adherent of ethnocentrism, I somehow never experienced the need or desire to be and behave like everybody else in order to belong or be accepted. This left me only with my very strongly developed sense of right and wrong, and the unshakable conviction that only G-d Himself has the first and final word on what is good and what is bad, what we are obligated to do and what we are obligated to refrain from doing.

As a little kid, years before his Bar Mitzva – I am not going to mention an actual age, mostly because it would just seem way too weird even for the more credulous amongst us. However, do allow me to suggest that we as parents and educators cannot afford to underestimate the inner world of even very young children. Anyone remotely familiar with the educational philosophy and teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, should be well aware that the Rebbe held very strong views on this topic. – I felt trapped and overwhelmed.

Aware that the Evil Inclination I was born with was working overtime and that I wasn’t due for a Good Inclination until age thirteen, I tried to come up with some way to rein myself in. The only concrete strategy I managed to come up with was to grow peios despite family opposition (now they all have peios), since I felt that the potential for chillul Hashem, desecration of G-d’s name, who I didn’t think should be reflected upon badly due to my lack of self control, would at least serve as a deterrent in the public realm.

Even after the ostensible appearance on the scene of the aforementioned Good Inclination, the struggle didn’t seem to get any easier, and although I employed similar strategies over the years, there were many times that I felt that I just couldn’t go on. There were even times that I turned to G-d and informed Him that if I dropped religious practice altogether (G-d forbid), it was not a reflection on Him, and that I would be the first to admit and proclaim that G-d is truth and His Torah is truth and I am the one who is remiss.

FOR EVERY JEW OR ONLY FOR THE ELITE?

Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, The Alter Rebbe, whose 200th yahrtzait we are commemorating this year, penned his introduction to Tanya in the form of a letter. In the salutation to that letter, he strings together a number of verses from Scripture, one of which is the verse from Yeshaya (Isaiah 51:1) which begins, “Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness, who seek G-d.” According to the tradition that the Alter Rebbe once spent six weeks deciding over a single letter in the text, we have to assume that this choice of words is not simply an exercise in lyrical prose, but is intended to accurately define the very essence of those whom the author is addressing.

Most of the commentaries on the verse (Radak and others) interpret this verse in the context of the prior chapter that concludes with the prophet excoriating the Jewish people of his time, and warning of the dire consequences they will face. At this point, he is turning to the tiny minority of righteous G-d seeking people, consoling them and guiding them in how to navigate the difficult times ahead. According to that explanation, it would seem that citing this verse is meant to convey that the Tanya was written for a very narrow and exclusive audience, namely the pursuers of righteousness and the seekers of G-d.

Later in his introduction, the Alter Rebbe again uses an expression that would seem to affirm this message of exclusivity, There he writes, “However, I am speaking of those that know me and recognize me, each and every one of the men of our fellowship, of our country and its outlying areas.” Regarding this statement, the Rebbe Rayatz once told of a tradition that he heard from his father, handed down from Rebbe to Rebbe starting with the Alter Rebbe, that the Alter Rebbe was addressing himself to every single Jew that will ever open a Tanya all the way until the coming of Moshiach.

The explanation given is that the author is trying to convey that he isn’t simply dispensing advice, but that he is investing his very being into his work so that any Jew who studies it in the future will become one of “those that know me and recognize me.” In fact, the Rebbe Rashab once stated that anybody who opens a Tanya should know that he is entering into “yechidus,” a face-to-face soul-bonding private audience, with the author.

The above explanation, however, would seem to require additional explanation: If it is meant for every Jew, then why include an expression that can be not only misleading but could be interpreted in a way that is the exact opposite of the intended message? This is not simply a theoretical question, as there actually have been very great people who cited those very words as proof that Tanya is not for everybody (such as the late Satmar Rebbe in his introduction to VaYoel Moshe). Additionally, this explanation would not seem to apply to the citation of the verse from Yeshaya addressing those “who pursue righteousness, who seek G-d.”

There is an alternate interpretation of the verse from the MaHaRI Kara. His reading of the verse depicts the prophet addressing the entire Jewish people in exile. According to that version, the prophet is referring to every single Jew throughout all the years of exile, which would fit nicely with the idea that the Tanya was written for and addressed to every Jew.

However, this explanation too requires additional clarification: How do we understand referring to every Jew as a pursuer of righteousness and seeker of G-d, when the reality of our existence and our history seems to proclaim the exact opposite? How can we have two interpretations of the same verse that are polar opposites? The view that it refers to a tiny minority of unique individuals has to be assuming that the overwhelming majority of Jews can absolutely not be classified as such! Additionally, if the function of Chassidus is to reveal the inner G-dly reality of all things and especially of the Jewish soul, why this choice of phraseology that only seems to cloud the issue?

WHAT DOES EVERY JEW REALLY WANT?

In Tanya, the Alter Rebbe reveals the existence of a second soul that exists only within the Jew, which is “a literal part of G-d from above.” As such, its most primal drive is to reconnect to where it came from, and therefore it wants nothing more than to leave this world and reattach itself to its source within G-d, “even though it will be naught and nothingness and will be nullified there entirely out of existence, and nothing will remain of it of its original substance and essence.” As the Alter Rebbe explains, this is true of the Jewish soul at all levels, “the neshama of man [a Jew], and also the aspects of ruach and nefesh,” which are the levels of the soul that manifest within the physical body.

However, being that leaving the world is not an option, since it is not what G-d wants as He sent the soul down here into a physical body, the soul needs an alternate way to become reunified with G-d. That is where Torah and Mitzvos come in. G-d, in His “desire for a dwelling place in the lowly realms,” invested His Will and His Wisdom and, by extension, His Very Being, into Torah and Mitzvos, and it is only by learning and doing them and building that divine abode that the soul can reconnect on all levels of its existence. Unfortunately, the way the world is currently constructed, the Divine Unification that is accomplished with every word of Torah and every good deed remains hidden from our eyes and our consciousness until the coming of Moshiach, except in limited ways at certain auspicious times, or for those about whom it says “your world you shall see in your lifetime.”

The bottom line is that the most essential instinct that characterizes the soul is the boundless desire to go back home to G-d as He transcends the entirety of the natural order and all finite limitations, in order to reconnect and lose itself entirely in His Oneness. And if the only way to experience that reunification is by taking this fixer-upper of a world and doing the necessary renovations, then no effort is too difficult and no sacrifice is too great to achieve the revelation of “G-d is One, and His Name is One.” So it turns out that one of the central concepts revealed in Tanya upon which much of the rest of Tanya and the spiritual advice and guidance dispensed therein is based, is the fact that the core soul programming of every Jew is to want to fix the world and find G-d.

It was only as we began drawing nearer to the end of the long and difficult exile, when the darkness became so pervasive and the natural instincts of the soul became concealed and misdirected, that instead of being instinctively drawn to Torah and Mitzvos, Jews began pursuing other ways and other definitions of what it means to try to “fix” the world and make it a just and righteous place. However, the one thing that never changes and can never change is the nature of the Jewish soul. So whether its Enlightenment or Communism, Assimilation or Zionism, saving the planet from global warming or saving chickens from a southern fried holocaust, fighting for mothers to have the right to kill their unborn children or making sure the poor victimized Palestinians get their own state, a Jew is prepared to make far greater sacrifices for, and will demonstrate more extreme commitment to, that distorted version of a good and just world.

Similarly, every Jew is always seeking out G-d for the purpose of reconnecting, whether he realizes it or not. That is why we see that when a Jew embraces a given belief system, he does so in a way that goes far beyond his gentile counterparts. So for example, when a Jew says he believes in Evolution, he is embracing a very different version of that belief. His Evolution is all-seeing, all-knowing, all-wise, all-caring, and any question that the human mind can conceive on any subject can and will be answered somehow by Evolution and/or Science.

It doesn’t matter to him that it was seeing the inherent unfairness and extreme imbalances within nature that caused the founder of the theory to suggest that there was “no owner to this domicile,” and instead there was a random process of natural selection going on. To a Jew, Evolution has to be fair as it is the source of all that is good, and to suggest that one race is further advanced than another (a basic premise underlying the original hypothesis) is blasphemous, and if any imbalances do exist then it is up to us to do anything and everything to set them right. The same holds true regarding any belief system that a Jew embraces. His version of that belief system transcends all the limitations of nature and is the means through which to fix the world.

The mission of bringing G-d down and making Him accessible, while at the same time helping every Jew uncover his own instinctive drive and true desire to become One with G-d and make himself and the world around him a suitably hospitable place for the revelation of His Oneness, fell to one man and his subsequent successors along with their followers. They would be forced to operate as a small minority (Chabad) within a minority (the Chassidic movement) within the tiny minority of the Jewish people.

Much like the prophets of old, the Alter Rebbe addresses himself to those few who felt the call of G-d to pursue righteousness and seek out G-d, those committed to trying to fix the world and make it a dwelling place for G-d, even if it requires standing up to the entire world. The mission that he charges them with is to reveal to, and within, every Jew how he too is included amongst those “who pursue righteousness, who seek G-d.”

TO GET EVERY JEW TO CALL OUT

In his inaugural address, on the 10th of Shvat 5711/1951, attended by a fairly small crowd, the Rebbe laid out the mission of our generation, the last generation of exile and the first generation of Redemption, as being to complete the work started by the Alter Rebbe. There he defined the work as “calling out” that G-d and the world are not two separate entities, as well as causing others to “call out” the same. Additionally, the Rebbe issued a caveat that if one wishes his own “calling out” to truly penetrate his own being, the only way to accomplish that is by making others do so as well.

Sixty-two years ago, a pitifully small handful of people were called upon to embrace a vision of a world made right, a world that is One with G-d and proclaims that nothing else exists except for G-d, and to reach out to every Jew in the entire world on an unprecedented scale in order to convince them that this is who they truly are and what they truly want.

When the Rebbe announced in 1991-92 that the work has been completed, and now the only job that remains is to prepare oneself and the world to receive and embrace the reality of a G-dly world ushered in by Moshiach himself, once again the mission fell to a relatively small number of people, whether by design or by circumstance.

So yes, it helps to be a maverick, someone who is not hampered and hindered by societal norms and conventions, in order to hear the call to those “who pursue righteousness, who seek G-d.” But that is not enough. We need to operate with the knowledge that the same is true of every Jew in exile. It is just that we have the good fortune, along with the tremendous responsibility, of helping them reveal it until they too call out (and we all internalize) that Moshiach is here, and will be fully revealed immediately, NOW!

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