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Thursday
Sep122019

The Baal Shem Tov & the Light bulb

The light bulb is a fascinating invention, one that illuminates our lives and improves our standard of living tremendously.

by Levi Liberow

Invented by Thomas Edison around 1879, quite a while after Chassidus was revealed to us laymen, we can find multiple similarities between the luminescent light bulb and the deeper dimension of the Torah, which allow us a greater appreciation of it.

In addressing the question of who invented the incandescent lamp, historians list 22 inventors of incandescent lamps prior to Joseph Swan and Thomas Edison, not to mention that all of them leaned heavily on prior discoveries of 17th century scientists who seriously studied electricity and vacuum physics, thus taking wide strides towards economical productive electrical use.

They conclude that Edison’s version was able to outstrip the others because of a combination of three factors: an effective incandescent material, a higher vacuum than others were able to achieve and a high resistance that made power distribution from a centralized source economically viable.

The light bulb is not at all such a revolutionary invention, it was just a successful attempt of combining some of the natural resources Hashem has put into his world to work alongside others for the benefit of mankind.

The inner dimension of the Torah too, was a divinely inspired revelation dating back to Sinai, yet it took many centuries to develop into what it is today, – a vital component of every part of Jewish life.

The phenomenon was divinely “observed” by Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai. It was “rediscovered” and refined by the Arizal to be released to be studied by many more, thus making it permissible for the community of sages to use this wisdom to invent “light bulbs” to illuminate their own life and “laboratories” – the study halls, thus revitalizing their observance of mitzvos and relationship with Hashem. Yet it still was not yet time for it to become a driving force for the masses and a luminary of every home.

On the 18th of Elul 5458 (1698), the Ba’al Shem Tov was born, whose mission was to finally invent the “light bulb” of Chassidus. He developed the model for a successful light bulb, which was now being manufactured by his many students who became lighthouses in their respective towns, cities and regions, attracting thousands to be warmed by its inspirational glow.

On the same day, in 5505 (1745), the final stage was divinely brought about by the birth of the Alter Rebbe, who would finally make that “light bulb” available to every single Jew regardless of his or her prior knowledge or affiliation. Through the holy Tanya, every Jew now has an easy-to-follow manual on how to install a “light bulb” in his mind and heart and turn his Jewish experience into a warm and illuminated one.

What made it possible now more than before? Perhaps we may offer three reasons:

A higher vacuum: As we approach the coming of Moshiach, it is time for a thorough preparation, a foretaste of the future occupation of knowing G-d. The greatest darkness of night precedes the break of dawn, so ironically in specifically these generations so spiritually numb in a sense, the vacuum exists which allows the light of Chassidus to shine and be more effective than ever.

An effective incandescent material: the Ba’al Shem Tov was a man of fiery faith; he had complete faith in G-d and consequently in Jews; you can trust every Jew because what makes him one is his G-dly soul, a “part of G-d literally”. Revealing that reality in every Jew, especially the simple ones, and seeing the beauty of a Jew just for what he is – a Neshama, allows for complete faith in him or her which in turn, allows them to realize their potential – a burning flame and luminary. A Jew is indeed an effective incandescent material, which unlike the light bulb, or even the LED, is truly eternal.

A high resistance: the Alter Rebbe taught that there is no better place in which to reinforce the fiery faith and feelings to G-d than in the cold rational human intellect.

While many of his colleagues were of the opinion that not everyone can be a “light bulb” but everyone must have access to one ( – a Tzadik) in order to manage his way in a darkened world, he held that with the right measure of “resistance”, every Jew can work himself up to being a “light bulb” that receives power from a centralized source (a Rebbe). This resistance is the human intellect being put to work to “test” the power of the faith which by definition  can transcend it and prevail.

This model is “economically viable”, because G-d has given every Jew a mission to do, and the Rebbe teaches how to direct the G-d given energy towards that mission, and so-to-say “independently” illuminate. Your energy is not wasted, nor is the Rebbe’s, for everyone is doing the work that divine providence has empowered them to do.

The light bulb doesn’t create something new. It merely illuminates the dismal surroundings, revealing what was hidden there the whole time! Likewise, Chassidus doesn’t come to teach us novel concepts, rather it comes to reveal to us the true depth hidden beneath the basics of Torah.

Until the light bulb was invented people managed to get through life; once it was available it became a lot easier. Now, modern-day life relies on it so heavily that in today’s day and age it is no longer a luxury, it is an inseparable part of everyone’s life. The light bulb allows us to work after the sun sets, and deep down where the sun’s light never reaches.

Chassidus too, was a luxury when it was revealed, and Jewish life was manageable without it for many centuries; but now we are required to deal with spiritual challenges and opportunities that are indeed unmanageable if not for Chassidus. To be a Jew today, is only possible with Chassidus.

When a light is lit, it is not just a light for one, it becomes a light for all those basking in its glow; A Jew who studies Chassidus and conducts his life in its ways is a “light onto his family, his community and the nations.”

One more point of light: the luminescent light bulb is in the process of being replaced with brighter, stronger and longer-lasting sources of light like the florescent bulbs and LED lamps; Chassidus too, is just a “taste” of the “Torah of Moshiach” which we will soon be able to enjoy in its entirety. And the good news is that it’s real close, and we can make it happen sooner.

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