March 7, 2017
Rabbi Gershon Avtzon in #1060, Ha’yom Yom & Moshiach, Parshas Zachor

Dear Reader sh’yichyeh,

This Shabbos (Tetzaveh) is Shabbos Zachor, when we remember what Amalek did to the Jewish people when they left Mitzrayim and our responsibility to destroy Amalek. While we cannot physically destroy Amalek until the time of Moshiach, we can still fight the klipa of Amalek. This is described in the HaYom Yom (13 Adar Beis):

“‘Amalek came forth and fought with Israel at Refidim.’ ‘Refidim’ implies ‘weakness of hands,’ Israel’s neglect of Torah. When Jews become weak in Torah – and Torah study is directed to fulfillment – then Amalek comes and cools the Jew’s ardor. ‘Amalek fought with Israel.’ The word ‘Israel’ is an acronym in Hebrew for ‘there are 600,000 letters in the Torah.’ (Every Jew has a letter in the Torah, and this is the reason for the universal Jewish custom of each person writing a letter in a Torah scroll.) Amalek cools this sanctity of Torah.

“The antidote for this is (Moshe’s command to Yehoshua) ‘Choose men for us,’ Moshe’s men, and ‘In every generation there is an extension of Moshe,’ for in every generation there are the ‘heads of the thousands of Israel.’ ‘And go forth and fight Amalek.’ Note the verbs in singular form (addressing each individual), for Torah is eternal, equally relevant in every generation in every time and place.”

When a Jew is cooled off from his excitement to serve Hashem, he is in danger of deteriorating. As the Rebbe writes (HaYom Yom 16 Shvat): “My father said: Coldness and heresy are separated by so slender a barrier! It is said, ‘For the Eternal your G‑d is a consuming fire.’ G‑dliness is a flame of fire. Learning Torah and davening must be with a blazing heart, that ‘all my bones may utter’ the words of G‑d in Torah and prayer.”

This is illustrated in the well-known story of the Baal Shem Tov: One winter day, the Baal Shem Tov’s students witnessed a group of peasants who had gathered on the surface of a frozen river, from which they carved a block of ice in the shape of a cross to use in a religious procession. They asked their master what lesson they could possibly derive from such an un-Jewish scene. The Baal Shem Tov replied, “In the Torah, water has spiritually cleansing properties; but when it is frozen, even the purest substance can be made into an icon of heresy.”

With this theme, the Rebbe explains why the first plague in Mitzrayim was the turning of water into blood: Water is cold, whereas blood is warm. There are two types of coldness and two types of warmth: a person whose primary orientation in life is material will be cold to spiritual concerns and warm to material concerns; a person whose primary orientation is spiritual will be cold to material concerns and warm to spiritual concerns.

River water, particularly the water of the Nile, signifies the coldness of materiality toward spiritual concerns. The annual flooding of the Nile gave the Egyptians the impression that their sustenance was due to the regular, orderly functioning of nature alone, without any need of reliance on a supernatural G‑d. Such an environment fostered indifference to the notion that there is a Divine force that surpasses and controls nature. In contrast, rainwater signifies the coldness of spirituality toward material concerns.

The Land of Israel’s dependence upon rainwater was conducive to keeping its inhabitants aware of their dependence on G‑d’s good graces for their sustenance. This awareness of G‑d bred a healthy indifference toward the facade which the laws of nature’s draw over our eyes.

The very first of the ten plagues, the ten stages by which Egypt was subdued, was transforming the coldness of its water into the heat of blood. Allegorically, this signifies the transformation of cold indifference to Divinity into warm enthusiasm for it. This had to be the first step because indifference can quickly lead to a drastic decline in commitment. Once this was precluded, the path was open to additional, more specific stages through which G‑d’s reality could be impressed on Egypt’s (and the world’s) awareness.

This is also the Chassidic understanding of the following Halacha: “The Halacha rules that if a snake is wrapped around a man’s heels while he is reciting the Shmoneh Esrei prayer, he mustn’t move. Yet if a scorpion is wrapped around his heels – he must run.” A snake’s venom is warm while the bite of the scorpion is cold.

The Mishna is teaching us that if one is davening and he is cold, which is symbolized by the coldness of the scorpion’s bite, he must stop and re-evaluate his Avoda. Without warmth, “Everything becomes dry and cold. Even a mitzva performed by habit becomes burdensome. Everything is rushed. One loses the sense of pleasure in Torah-study. The atmosphere itself becomes crass. Needless to say, one is totally incapable of influencing others.” (HaYom Yom 23 Iyar)

There is a part of our natural makeup which is naturally cold, and that is our brain. We need to bring life and warmth there as well. The Rebbe teaches us (HaYom Yom 12 Shvat): “Intellect and emotional enthusiasm are two distinct realms. One is cool and settled, and the other is seething and frenetic. Man’s task is to fuse these two realms into one. At that point, the frenetic energy is transformed into aspiration, and the intellect becomes a guide for a life of Divine service and action.”

In yet another HaYom Yom (11 Sivan) the Rebbe elaborates: “From a sicha of my revered father, the Rebbe [Rashab]: In Avodas Hashem that is practiced according to the teachings of Chassidus, we find all levels…. The level of a corpse needs little explanation. There is also, however, a Resurrection of the Dead in one’s Divine service (thank G‑d!).

“A corpse is cold. Now, there is nothing colder than the natural, mortal intellect. Yet, when a person’s natural intellect grasps a G‑dly concept and the emotions within it become excited and motivated by that concept’s sweetness — that is truly a Resurrection of the Dead.”

Amalek knows that when Moshiach comes, we will destroy it on every level. Therefore, it works overtime to sow doubts and cause our belief and activities to bring Moshiach to become cold. This is why the Rebbeim founded Tomchei T’mimim and gave us the special strength to stand up to this final test and attack from Amalek. The following are famous words of the Rebbe Rashab:

The Sages state: “Whoever goes out to a battle of the House of Dovid writes a bill of divorce for his wife.” [Over and beyond its historical meaning, this teaching has contemporary relevance, for] the “House of Dovid” alludes to the revelation of Moshiach, Dovid’s descendant.

The soul of the Baal Shem Tov once ascended to the heavenly realms. Having reached the palace of Moshiach, the Baal Shem Tov asked him: אימתי קאתי מר — “Master, when are you coming?”

And Moshiach answered: “לכשיפוצו מעינותיך חוצה — When your wellsprings will be disseminated outward.”

In plain words, the coming of Moshiach depends in large measure on the spreading of these wellsprings outward; it is our labors in disseminating them that will bring about the revelation of the light of Moshiach — the “House of Dovid,” Dovid’s descendant.

However, the House of Dovid (i.e., the revelation of Moshiach) faces battles. From the beginning of creation, “the spirit of G‑d [here interpreted by our Sages to mean ‘the spirit of Moshiach’] hovered over the waters”; i.e., the presence of the spirit of Moshiach from the beginning of creation implies that the original Divine intent underlying creation was that this material world be guided by the spirit of Moshiach. However, the sin of the Tree of Knowledge and the sins of the subsequent generations who repeatedly angered their Maker prevented this purpose from being realized immediately. Instead, it became necessary for the ultimate perfection of the world to come about through our Divine service. And when the materiality of the entire world has been sifted and refined, the service of “disseminating the wellsprings outward” will serve as a prelude to the coming of Moshiach.

Our Sages teach: “The world will exist for six thousand years — two thousand years of Tohu (‘Chaos’), two thousand years of Torah, and two thousand years of the Messianic Era.” The two thousand years of Torah were intended to correct the two thousand years of Tohu, through the refinement and elevation of the Divine sparks which had descended into this material world following the “shattering of the vessels” of the World of Tohu. Then come the two thousand years of the Messianic Era. The revelation of Moshiach in particular and the sixth millennium in general are called ikvos Meshicha, the “footsteps of Moshiach.” And the fifty-year period during which Moshiach the son of Dovid will arrive, is the period described in the Book of T’hillim: אשר חרפו אויביך ה’, אשר חרפו עקבות משיחך — “Your enemies, O G‑d, have abused … the footsteps of Your Moshiach.”

The fact is that I am bitterly grieved over the “Society for the Dissemination of Enlightenment.” For years now, they have been acting as informers to the Czarist authorities concerning the Torah schools and teachers, the chadarim and the melamdim, which have remained faithful to our time-honored tradition. This is the tradition which they seek to uproot, thereby polluting the minds of Jewish children by means of their disbelieving teachers, and in particular by this dire new plague, this “delegation of evil angels” — the teachers of the schools which endanger the faith of their pupils.

“I hate them with the utmost hatred,” and hold them utterly to blame. I am certain, however, that I can see the woeful turn for the worse and the suffering that they will bring upon our people, and this will be followed by the sweet conclusion of the fifty-year period of the “footsteps of Moshiach,” which will ultimately bring about the coming of Moshiach. But in the course of that period, the battle of the House of Dovid must be fought.

Our Sages teach, “If you see one generation after another scoffing [at G‑d and His Torah], be on the watch for the approaching footsteps of Moshiach. For in the above-quoted verse it is written, ‘Your enemies, O G‑d, have abused…the footsteps of Your Moshiach.’ And what is written immediately after that? — ‘Blessed be G‑d forever, Amen and Amen.’” I.e., when one generation of scoffers follows another, we can expect the ultimate Divine blessing, the coming of Moshiach.

The first generation of scoffers are the members of the “Society for the Dissemination of Enlightenment,” the founders and teachers of the above-described schools. They will educate the second generation of scoffers, who will bring on the “birth pangs of Moshiach” which the world at large and the Jewish people must undergo. This is what necessitates “the battle of the House of Dovid,” whose task is to strengthen our people’s faith in the Messianic Redemption and to ease its birth pangs.

There are two levels of evil found in the time of “the footsteps of Moshiach.” One category comprises “the enemies of G‑d,” the veteran apikorsim and maskilim, the above-described teachers and their disciples, who do not believe in G‑d or in the Torah, and whose prime intent is to ridicule the mitzvos and in particular the faith in the coming of Moshiach. The second category comprises those who believe in G‑d and in the Torah, but do not appreciate the holiness of the Torah.

[This category includes] those who believe that they can bring on the Redemption through their own efforts — such as the new group that distorts the meaning of the verse, “G‑d will build Jerusalem and gather in the dispersed of Israel,” saying that “when the dispersed of Israel will gather, they will rebuild Jerusalem.” May G‑d protect us from them and theirs, and ensure that they do not bring about a new spiritual and material destruction.

The other category — of those who “have abused … the footsteps of Your Moshiach” — comprises all kinds of people; in fact, it even includes quite reputable Torah scholars, whose faith in the imminent Redemption is nevertheless weak. They may well rationalize their beliefs with explanations ostensibly based on the fear of Heaven. The final word, however, is that their faith in Moshiach’s coming is weak.

The guiding strategy for “the battle of the House of Dovid” is the principle, לא בחיל ולא” בכח, כי אם ברוחי —Not by might, nor by power, but by My spirit.” The use of might and power signifies the rebuking approach of musar; “My spirit” signifies p’nimius HaTorah, the inner, mystical dimension of the Torah embodied in Chassidus, i.e., the comprehension of G‑dliness and the service of the heart.

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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