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Do You Think the World Revolves Around You?
by Rabbi Zvi Homnick

One of the most infuriating things about Lubavitch and its belief system to those on the outside looking in, whether they identify as Misnagdim or Chassidim of other denominations, is the casual certitude that their role is such that their actions are the central determining factor as to the fate of the entire Jewish people and the world.  One of the harder to swallow manifestations thereof is the fact that they have their own holidays, even as they insist that these holidays are universal in nature and should be celebrated by all Jews.  We always knew that you couldn't blame the Chassidim for this, since it was coming from the top, but that didn't make it any easier to tolerate. 

 

You couldn't ask for a better example of this than the letter written by the Rebbe Rayatz in the year 5688/1928 in honor of the one year anniversary of his release from captivity on 12-13 Tammuz 5687/1927.  There he writes, “It is not only me that Hashem redeemed on the twelfth of Tammuz, but all those who hold the Torah dear, those who observe Mitzvos, and even those that are called with the name Yisroel as a sobriquet...”  In a letter from 1932, he refers to 12 Tammuz as the day that was established as the moed hamoadim (holiday of all holidays).  Yes, we knew that the first year there were some other great people who proclaimed this a day of celebration, such as Reb Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld in Eretz Yisroel, but beyond that it all seemed too exaggerated and even delusional.

 

Oddly enough, the knowledge that Lubavitchers believe that their Rebbe is Moshiach actually made them seem a little more reasonable.  If you believe that a certain somebody is going to redeem the Jews and the world as the anointed scion of the House of Dovid, it makes a little more sense to believe that every move he makes and every event in his life has global impact and significance, although it makes it no less annoying to those who are not quite convinced. 

 

Of course, that very belief provided more ammunition for debate when encountering Lubavitchers, especially after the Rebbe came out with a sharp statement discouraging the promotion of that belief.  Within a few hours of the end of Shabbos Parshas Bereishis 5745, the fellows in the yeshiva where I hung out during the holiday break that Tishrei were up to speed on the latest news from 770.  I remember clearly standing on the corner of Coney Island Avenue and Avenue M, across from the yeshiva and a block away from home, as one of the guys who assiduously followed the goings on in Lubavitch quoted the Rebbe's statement, emphasizing that the Rebbe did not deny the belief, but rather addressed the possible negative public relations repercussions.

 

This perception, that the Rebbe actually endorsed the belief while discouraging its broad dissemination was the prevalent view in the yeshiva circles that I traveled in.  In fact, I knew a few guys that got their kicks at that time from confronting Lubavitchers as to whether they believed the Rebbe is Moshiach, and found it hilarious when they hemmed and hawed as a result of the Rebbe's strong statement.  One year later, on Simchas Torah 5746, when the Rebbe seemed to pull back from his earlier restraining order, I was learning in Eretz Yisroel in a yeshiva that was less involved in such issues so I didn't get the news until I returned to New York the following Pesach.

 

I could list any number of ideas and statements that broadcast loudly and clearly the worldview that the Chabad Chassidic movement is the driving force of implementation of the Divine Plan, which I was aware of this before I considered the serious study of Chassidus and possibly entertaining the outrageous premise that these ideas and statements might even be valid.  As disturbing as that possibility was to me, my previous perusal of general Chassidic texts had prepared me for the idea that metaphysical truths are not readily corroborated by human logic and rational thought, and that one had to pray that G-d open his eyes to recognize spiritual truths beyond the ken of finite intellectualism.  What intrigued me most was the claim that Chabad Chassidus makes it possible to take those beliefs that one could access only through the soul's inherent spirituality and “bring them down” so as to be grasped by the human mind.

 

ORIGINS OF THE WORLD

 

As mentioned previously, I never really struggled with issues of faith even as I struggled mightily with the issues of love and fear of G-d, as well as the need for submission to divine decree and divine authority, that is, my own personal relationship with G-d.  Thus the theory of evolution was to me nothing more than ignorant nonsense and I didn't have the patience or the interest to bother reading those Jewish works that tried to debunk and disprove said theory.  I had even less patience for those who approached me claiming that they were struggling with the possibility that evolution was true, as opposed to the Torah account in Bereishis.  On the other hand, I was fascinated by the spiritual dynamics that allowed such a patently absurd notion to gain such a degree of universal credibility that the term “creationist” became an extreme pejorative. 

 

Even more disturbing was the direct link between the development of that theory and the theories of the existentialist philosopher whose views on men and supermen inspired the ideas behind the final solution.  Additionally, there was a similar link to the theories of the Jewish apostate who inspired the worker's revolution that became a superpower committed to uprooting any vestiges of Jewish faith and practice.  And although it took a longer time for that theory to worm its way into the American consciousness, as America had and has a much stronger faith base than Europe, it ultimately became the foundation for the licentiousness and profligacy that has become endemic in American life.  Having been exposed to certain Kabbalistic principles early on, such as the idea that the forces of evil mirror the realms of holiness in opposition, the fact that this one fatuous theory played such a prominent role in the death and persecution of so many of my fellow Jews and the abandonment of Jewish belief and practice by so many others, intrigued me to no end.  

 

Over time, I worked out a possible explanation for this phenomenon, only to discover later that same idea in Chassidus with far greater clarity.  The basic idea is that there are two aspects to creation.  There is the clearly miraculous act of creation of “something from nothing” by an omnipotent being, and then there are the “laws of nature” that govern the everyday running of the world in a manner of “cause and effect.”  G-d's role in creating “something from nothing” is something that is completely hidden from the created beings.  In fact, Chassidus explains that that is why it is described as creating “from nothing” despite the fact that we know that, in the words of Dovid HaMelech, “since everything is from You.”  The same is true for G-d's hand in the everyday affairs of the world that seem to operate under the rules of cause and effect. 

 

However, although we have no way of “seeing” the act of creation itself in our world, by accepting that premise on faith (and even more so when understanding that creative process to the degree that is humanly possible as it is explained in Chassidus) we do have the capacity of discerning Divine Providence in the everyday events in our lives and the world.  As the Ramban explains regarding the miracle of splitting the sea and the other miracles of the exodus from Egypt, the purpose of miracles that are above nature is so that we realize and discern that what we call nature is nothing more than ongoing miracles.  The way in which we can do so on a regular basis, even when there are no obvious miracles is through constantly looking to see the hand of Divine Providence in everything.

 

This is in fact the deeper dynamic of the “exile” and “redemption” of the Jewish Nation.  “Exile” is when we live in a state where G-d's presence and involvement in our world and our lives is concealed from our eyes and our consciousness.  Thus, in Egypt, we were enslaved to Pharaoh who proclaimed, “The Nile is mine, and I made myself,”  “Who is G-d (YHVH) that I should listen to His voice.”  In order to “break” that concealment, there was a two-step process.  The first step is when Pharaoh is confronted by Moshe (both in his palace and at the side of the Nile when doing his business) and visited by plagues so that it becomes clear that the Nile is not his and “so that you will know that I am G-d (YHVH)...”  Initially, before he is broken, Pharaoh fights back even harder by enslaving the Jews even more deeply.  Finally, he is forced to concede and “let My people go.”  The next step is when he tries to make a last ditch effort to re-enslave the people until he is finally destroyed in a miraculous fashion when it becomes fully manifest that “I am G-d your G-d who took you out of Egypt.”

 

Later in the desert, even after the Giving of the Torah, it becomes clear that experiencing a high degree of divine revelation by way of regular miracles in everyday life is not sufficient to undo the tendency to separate the “Creator” from the “normal” everyday “cause and effect” system of the world.  In fact, during the era of the First Temple when they experienced the “ten miracles in the Temple” and a much higher degree of divine revelation, they made it clear that they wanted G-d to be less involved in their lives and preferred to live in the “normal” world of “cause and effect.”  This was actually predicted in advance in the “rebuke,” where they were told that if they prefer to live in a world of “happenstance,” Hashem would give them just that although the consequences would be horrible and they would be forced to experience “exile” again and again.

 

FIXING THE WORLD

 

The process whereby we are to extricate ourselves from the final exile, requires that we overcome both  the inability to “see” G-d in creation and our everyday lives and that we embrace His involvement and welcome His presence.  As we entered into the era universally recognized as the final days before Moshiach, or in Talmudic terms, “the footsteps of Moshiach,” there was tremendous push-back from the forces of evil which presented in various forms but all based to some degree on the idea of rejecting G-d in his role as the Creator, and embracing the idea that the world runs in random fashion with the only order imposed on the world being by human agency.  “The Nile is mine, and I made myself,” “Who is G-d that I should listen to His voice.”

 

The response to this is also a two-step process, albeit played out over a much longer period of time.  The first step was that the “Moshe” of that time had to confront “Pharaoh” in his “palace,” the most feared Communist prison, representing the seat of power from which this heartless colossus wreaked havoc on its own citizens and the world at large.  On the night of his arrest, hundreds of religious leaders, Jewish and otherwise, were simply taken out and shot.  And yet, he stood up to them by completely ignoring their authority, and ultimately they had to bow in defeat and release him to freedom.  Just as in Egypt, the first response was for the forces of evil to fight back even as they knew that this was the beginning of the end of their being broken entirely.  They threw everything they had at us, from holocausts to relentless persecution, from forced apostasy to the seduction of everything goes, but the core was already broken.  So yes, 12 Tammuz is a “day of redemption” for all Jews, whether they know it or not, whether they appreciate it or not.

 

This time around, the second step of the process, unlike in Egypt, is to synthesize the miraculous and the mundane, so that we not only “see” and appreciate the hand of Divine Providence in world events and our everyday lives, but we yearn for the degree of revelation when it will be obvious to all “and all flesh will see that the Mouth of G-d has spoken,” and happily accept it when it comes.  Every aspect of Jewish life today is a clear testament to the transition from the concealment of “exile” towards the revelation of “redemption” where the miraculous becomes an everyday reality.  This is the case with the existence of the State of Israel and its survival, and the tremendous growth of the yeshiva world with tens of thousands learning in Kollel and endless more examples.  Those people may not recognize or even actively reject the idea that this is all an outgrowth of the mesiras nefesh of the Rebbe Rayatz, and the work of the Shluchim in bringing G-dliness into every place in every corner of the world, but that doesn't change the spiritual and physical reality.

 

Those of us who have been privileged to be shown the inner workings of the Divine Plan and our role therein, and having been told that we have completed the job of “bringing the One (G-d, as He is above nature) into the Ten (G-d, as He operates within nature)” as well as “elevating the Ten to the level of the One (so that nature itself proclaims the Oneness of G-d),” cannot allow ourselves to be distracted by the last vestiges of exile, which is our own inner resistance to accepting G-d within every facet of our beings and every aspect of our lives.  We need to “accept Moshiach” and prepare the world to “accept Moshiach,” so that we “see” G-d Himself revealed in our world, immediately, NOW!

 

 


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