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Mar302015

THE FOUR ANSWERS

HOW MANY QUESTIONS?

One of the significant aspects of the Seder is the emphasis we place on questions, and specifically, the Four Questions.

The four specific questions are introduced with a general one, the Ma Nishtana question: “Why is this night different from all other nights?

The Rebbe Rashab (the 5th Lubavitcher Rebbe, whose 75th yahrtzait occurred two weeks ago, on the 2nd of Nissan) follows a tradition of commentators who view the four questions as four answers to a single, overarching question.

The original question, the way the Rebbe Rashab interprets it, is restated as: why is this period of Galus-exile different from all preceding periods of exile?

What follows is an inquiry into a modern modification of that question and is directed to finding a novel understanding of the four answers.

Rather than focusing on our exile in its entirety—stretching from the destruction of the Second Temple to the present—let us focus on the paradoxical period we are in right now.

The Rebbe (whose 113th birthday we celebrated this week on the 11th of Nissan) told us that we are living in Messianic times; Moshiach is already here. The feast associated with Messianic times has been set right in front of us. We have but to open our eyes and see it. All we need do is welcome Moshiach into our lives. The Rebbe pointed to 5750 and 5751 (corresponding roughly to 1990-1991) as years of miracles and great wonders. The many miracles during the Gulf War and the astonishing peaceful collapse of the former Evil Empire, the Soviet Union, pointed to our entry into a new age and invited us to savor Redemption. In the Rebbe’s own words: “we have witnessed the beginning and a taste of Moshiach’s effects on the world.”

CONCEALMENT

However, after all of these seismic shifts in the geo-political situation and incredible miracles in Israel, we now find ourselves apparently in a lull.

To be sure, miracles have not ceased. But since the 3rd of Tammuz of the year 5794 (1994) we can no longer see and hear the Rebbe. Israel’s very existence is now being called into question by its “neighbors” with more ferocity than ever before. Even friendly countries are putting extraordinary pressure on Israel to sacrifice its own security. So many tragic losses have occurred in the Jewish community and beyond; most recently, and may it be the last time such a horror assails us, the devastating loss of 7 children in a fire last week. We are forced to conclude that we are in the period the Midrash and Rashi call nichseh-[temporary] concealment.

THE NEW MA NISHTANA

And so the Ma Nishtana question can be rephrased for this moment in time as: Why is this period of concealment different from all other periods of exile that preceded it?

The question does not beg for a description of what is happening or why it is happening—the former is quite evident and the latter only G-d can answer. Rather, the import of the question is, how best do we respond to this version of night? What do we need to do differently from past efforts to bring about the Redemption? And here too, we are not looking for newfangled, heretofore unknown remedies to our Galus conditions. We just want to know which Torah approaches, within so many possible diverse and legitimate ones, should we emphasize now.

DOUBLE DIPPING: TOHU AND TIKKUN

The first answer is: “In all other nights (read: periods of Galus) we did not dip even once; this night (phase of Galus) we dip twice.”

To understand the significance of the “double dipping” we must first review the reason for dipping at the Seder. The dipping, we are told, is to do things differently and change the narrative. This will pique the child’s curiosity and will invite more questions.

The child is the Moshiach innocence covered up within us and sandwiched in Messianic energy that we now experience in the period of nichseh-concealment.

We do unusual things because it reveals the “differences” within us; those elements that make us different and unique.

The Rebbe taught us to do revolutionary things until they became mainstream and then he inspired us to “dip” again.

More specifically, in his historic talk of the 28th of Nissan 5751 the Rebbe spoke of our mission: to “introduce the sublime light of the world of Tohu into the ample vessels of Tikkun.” The world of Tohu, Kabbala teaches us, is a spiritual realm where G-dly light is too powerful for vessels to contain it. The world of Tikkun is a world in which the light is sufficiently attenuated so that it can fill the vessels. Our objective, the Rebbe stated, is to introduce the powerful energy of Tohu into the consciousness of our limited world of Tikkun.

This Kabbalistic formula can be restated simply as we should do revolutionarily radical things (within the context of Judaism, of course) and make them normal.

The Rebbe was preparing us for this “concealment” period, thus he emphasized the need for “double dipping.”

Those whose behavior is structured and therefore limited must “dip” (a term in Hebrew which also means to nullify oneself) by breaking out of their pattern. And, conversely, those whose approach is non-conformist, zealous and revolutionary must also “dip” by transforming their approach. They must learn to allow their energy to be internalized and made acceptable to the world. This double dipping requires that we do two things: a) change the light of Tikkun into the light of Tohu, and b) change the vessels of Tohu into the vessels of Tikkun without compromising either the energy of Tohu or the vessels of Tikkun.

NO PERSONAL AGENDAS

The second answer to the Ma Nishtana question is: “In all other nights (read: Galus) we eat Chametz and Matza, this night (this phase of Galus) we eat only Matza.”

Chametz and Matza are symbols of ego and humility, respectively. In other periods of exile we pursued a two pronged approach to fulfilling our mission. We focused on our own self-development by stroking our egos, as symbolized by Chametz, even as we were aware of our role as G-d’s emissaries charged with bringing the world to its intended goal—the Messianic Age, when the world will be filled with G-d’s presence. When we focus only on our own spiritual needs that is like eating Chametz, symbolizing the ego, but when we have our eyes on the greater goal, we are in a Matza state because we have abandoned all personal agendas.

In another historic talk, the Rebbe spoke of how we concluded various missions in the past, leaving us with a single mission: to prepare ourselves and the entire world for Moshiach. The Rebbe added that this means all of the multifarious things that we did and must continue to do, are permeated with the overarching theme of Moshiach. Now we must be only Matza! Even our need to enhance our own spiritual lives becomes enmeshed with and subsumed in the quest to fulfill G-d’s desire for a world of Redemption. We can no longer afford to be sidetracked and follow tangents into different areas that might be divorced from attaining the goal.

On a long journey, the farther we are from our destination the more freedom we have to take a detour to visit the sights on the way. However, as we approach our destination we must begin to focus exclusively on how to reach the goal.

CRUSHED

The third answer to the Ma Nishtana question is: “In all other nights (Galus) we ate all types of greens, this night (phase of Galus) we eat bitter herbs.”

In the past, no matter how difficult Galus was, there were times when we derived some satisfaction from our growth (“eat greens”); today we are shattered, wanting Redemption for the world so badly that we are crushed every day Moshiach tarries.

In the last discourse the Rebbe distributed to us (entitled “V’Ata Tetzaveh”) he clarified how exile is more crushing today than it was even when we suffered from active persecution. Put in simple terms, the greater our expectations and the closer we get to the goal, the greater the yearning for it and the utter frustration and bitterness we experience from not having reached it yet.

Reclining and Unity

The fourth answer to the Ma Nishtana question is: “In all other nights (Galus) we ate sitting or reclining; this night (Galus) all of us eat reclining.”

As we know from reading the Hagada every year, reclining is a sign of freedom and Redemption.

In all other periods we could compartmentalize our relationship with Galus and Geula; now we must be obsessed with Geula.

Because we were so far from realizing our most heartfelt plea – bring Moshiach now! – we had to find ways of coping with and surviving Galus. So while we set aside times and opportunities to express our desire for Redemption, we were able to focus on Galus conditions and exigencies. By contrast, in this interim concealment period of Galus “all of us recline.” No matter one’s level of knowledge and practice of Judaism (and we can all grow) we have to be fixated on the future Redemption. And while the third answer spoke to the bitterness we presently feel towards Galus, that bitterness must not lead us to depression, G-d forbid. Rather it must stimulate our singular focus on the future. Sadness and depression have no room in Jewish life today and certainly not while crossing over from Galus into Geula.

There is another crucial message in the fourth answer. Reclining together at the same Seder table also conveys the idea of Jewish unity. In the past, unity was not as crucial as it is today. Now we all need to be sitting comfortably at the same table even if we disagree about everything else related to the path to Redemption, among other issues. We must recognize that we are all brothers and sisters, sitting as a family at our Father in Heaven’s table. That itself is a Moshiach phenomenon, which will hasten the full revelation of Moshiach and the true and complete Redemption. May it be this year in Jerusalem!

A Kosher and Happy Pesach!

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