THE SEVEN STEPS OF CLOSENESS
September 13, 2017
Rabbi H. Greenberg in #1085, Nitzavim-VaYeilech, Parsha Thought

MOSHIACH A MITZVAH?

One of the most frequently cited verses in the Torah is: “For this thing is very near to you, in your mouth and in your heart, to observe it.”

The words “this thing” refers back to an earlier verse that speaks of “this Mitzvah.”

According to Nachmanides, “this Mitzvah” refers in turn either to the totality of Judaism, or more specifically to the Mitzvah of Teshuva-repentance.

However, from the words of the Midrash it seems that it also refers to the coming of Moshiach. The Midrash contrasts the heathen prophet Bilam’s words about Moshiach, “I see him but not now,” with Moshe’s statement, “For this thing is very near.” Bilam’s intent was to place Moshiach as far distant as possible while Moshe was asserting that his coming is near.

How do we reconcile the Torah’s use of the word Mitzvah, which means commandment, with Moshiach, which is about a person who will usher in the Messianic Age?

One answer is that it will be the Messianic Age when we will perform all of the Mitzvos in the most complete and ideal manner. According to Maimonides, Moshiach’s primary function will be to restore the integrity of Torah and all of its commandments. Quantitatively, the hundreds of Mitzvos we cannot presently observe, because we lack the Temple and suffer from other conditions associated with Galus, will be restored. Qualitatively, we will perform all of the Mitzvos with the greatest understanding, dedication, feeling, love and awe.

THE SEVEN WORDS: SEVEN GENERATIONS

It may also be suggested that this verse, which contains seven words (besides the conjunctive ki-for), presents us with a description of seven stages of preparing for Moshiach. It may further be posited that these seven stages parallel the contributions of the seven leaders of Chabad, who dedicated their lives to bring Moshiach, and to bring him closer.

The Baal Shem Tov, the founder of the Chassidic movement (whose birthday we just observed on the 18th of Elul), related in a letter that his soul once experienced a state of spiritual elevation so profound that he was able to enter the spiritual “residence” of the soul of Moshiach. The Baal Shem Tov asked when he would come. Moshiach replied, “When your fountains will be dispersed to the far reaches of the world.” This was taken to mean that Moshiach’s arrival hinged on the widespread dissemination of the Baal Shem Tov’s spiritual teachings, which focus on G-d’s presence in our world.

This process of making these mystical-philosophical teachings, known as Chassidus, accessible to the entire world began in earnest with Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, the founder of the Chabad Chassidic movement (and whose birthday we just observed on the 18th of Elul, the same as the Baal Shem Tov!).

KAROV-NEAR!

The Alter Rebbe, as he was called, took the core ideas of the Baal Shen Tov and transposed them into a systematic philosophical system that fused mysticism with rationalism. This synthesis enables the average person to access the heretofore esoteric domain of Jewish mysticism.

If we had to find one word that would describe the Alter Rebbe’s contribution to the process of Moshiach, that word would be “karov-near.” Absorbing these mystical ideas solely through one’s emotions, without understanding, does not get one closer to spiritual growth, because feelings are ephemeral and may easily dissipate.

The Alter Rebbe thus states on the title page of his classic work, the Tanya, that his work is based on the verse, “For this thing is very near to you, in your mouth and in your heart, to observe it.” The Alter Rebbe then states that his work was intended to clarify just how close it is.

In Chassidic tradition, the Alter Rebbe is known as the personification of the intellectual attribute of chochma, which is the first step in an intellectual process.

The Alter Rebbe was thus the first step in getting the inner dimension of Judaism accessible to us and this was the first step in bringing us closer to Moshiach.

EI’LECHA-TO YOU

The Alter Rebbe was succeeded by his son, Rabbi Dovber, known as the Mitteler Rebbe. He is identified with the second intellectual faculty, bina, the power of elucidation. In his voluminous works, Rabbi Dovber fleshed out his father’s seminal ideas. With the ideas of the Tanya are fully developed, they can be more easily internalized. Over the course of this process we can expect the emergence of powerful emotions that will draw us even closer to our spiritual goal.

The Mitteler Rebbe’s contribution can therefore be summed up by the next word in the verse, which is ei’lecha-to you; he allowed these teachings to be fully absorbed and internalized within us.

HADAVAR-THIS THING/WORD

The next level and contribution was personified by the Mitteler Rebbe’s successor, Rabbi Menachem Mendel (son-in-law of the Mitteler Rebbe and grandson of the Alter Rebbe), who is known by the name of his magnum opus, Tzemach Tzedek.

The third word of our verse, ha’davar, translated as “this thing,” also means “this word.” The Tzemach Tzedek was arguably the most prolific writer in all of Jewish history. He is reputed to have written 480,000 pages of Torah commentary (of which “only” about 25,000 printed pages are extant), shedding light on every facet of Judaism and fusing the esoteric with the exoteric, making the whole accessible to ordinary Jews. His genius was in his use of the written word to illuminate the teachings of the Alter Rebbe and to advance the cause of Moshiach by another major step.

ME’OD-VERY

The Tzemach Tzedek was succeeded by his youngest son, Rabbi Shmuel, who is known as the Rebbe Maharash.

The Rebbe Maharash’s unique contribution is reflected in a Yiddish maxim that is attributed to him, “l’chat’chilla aribber”:

“The world says: If you can’t go under [an obstacle], leap over; I say: In the first place, go over!”

The import of this saying is that when it comes to spiritual matters, we should not first use conventional approaches to meet the challenges that spring up, and only when they fail, dig deeper into our reserves for unconventional powers and methods of meeting those challenges. Rather, from the very outset we should try to go beyond measured conventional approaches.

The Hebrew term that best reflects this attitude is the fourth word of the verse, “m’od-very.” It is the same word that is used in the Shma: “And you shall love G-d with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your might [m’od’cha].” This instructs us that giving our heart and soul is insufficient; we must attempt to elicit our extraordinary potential.

This message is especially relevant today, as we stand on the cusp of the Messianic Age; the age of “extraordinary-ness.” We must ignore the dictates of Galus, which beckon us to slow-down, compromise and be content with mediocrity.

B’FICHA-IN YOUR MOUTH

The Rebbe Maharash’s successor was Rabbi Sholom Dovber, known as the Rebbe Rashab. His many accomplishments included systemizing Chabad Chassidus. One of the prominent Chassidim described the Rebbe Rashab as the Maimonides of Chassidus because he organized all of the Chassidic teachings in a way that was reminiscent of Maimonides’ systemizing of Talmudic literature.

As a result of his public discourses, which he subsequently committed to writing, the Rebbe Rashab raised the scholarly standards and caliber of students of Chassidus. He put these powerful teachings in their mouths. Obviously, his goal was not just academic; he advocated using the structured and clear understanding of the subject matter to strengthen our spiritual state by bringing G-dly light into our consciousness.

This contribution can be summed up by the fifth word of the verse, “b’ficha-in your mouth,” referring to the eloquent articulation of Chassidic teachings.

The Rebbe also described the Rebbe Rashab as paired with King David, whose royal edicts led his army to victory and paved the way for building the First Temple.

Fittingly, the Rebbe Rashab referred to his disciples as the Soldiers of the House of David, who were cultivated to wage war against those who mock G-d and His Moshiach. A king’s power is actualized through speech-b’ficha-in your mouth.

BILVAVCHA-IN YOUR HEART

The Rebbe Rashab was succeeded by his son, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak, known as the Rebbe Rayatz.

Among his contributions to the widespread dissemination of Chassidic teachings was the way he preserved the heart and soul of Chassidic life by his warm, inspiring portrayal of Chassidic history. The Rebbe Rayatz was also known for his incredible sensitivity, warmth and his emotional outpourings of sorrow and joy.

One may suggest that his contribution to Chassidus (in addition, of course, to his voluminous output of Chassidic philosophy, and total self-sacrifice for Judaism in the former Soviet Union) can be summed up by the sixth word of our verse, “bilvavcha-in your heart.”

LA’ASOSO-TO OBSERVE IT: TO DO AND PERFECT IT

The Rebbe Rayatz’s successor, our own Rebbe, took all of the contributions of his predecessors and translated them into action. The Rebbe combines unparalleled scholarly genius with a total dedication to each and every Jew, and to all of humanity. And while all of his predecessors brought us to the last stage of spiritual preparation for the Messianic Age, the Rebbe stated that his and our mission is to complete the task and bring Moshiach and the Final Redemption, literally!

The word that describes a finished product is the seventh and final word in the verse, “la’asoso-to observe it,” but translated more precisely as, “to do and complete it.”

This encapsulates our generation’s mandate: to complete the task of bringing G-d’s revealed presence into our world, the very purpose of Creation itself.

As we come to the end of the year 5777, poised to enter into the New Year of 5778 (the acronym for which can be t’hei, shnas, idan chadash-May it be a year of a New Era), may we all be inscribed and sealed with a good and sweet year, with the arrival of Moshiach and the Final Redemption even before Rosh Hashanah!

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