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Saturday, July 20, 2024 - 14 Tammuz 5784
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Proof of Existence
There was a Jewish scholar who used to say, “The only proof that the world exists is the first verse of the Torah: ‘In the beginning G-d created heaven and earth.’” Now this statement may sound like a Chassidic witticism. But it actually alludes to a fundamental debate on the basis of the Jewish faith. Is the physical world the true reality and the Torah must conform to it? Or is the Torah the one true reality, and the physical world must adapt to it?

The scholar staked his position on the latter: The existence of the world depends on the Torah. Without Torah the world would not exist, and our only proof that the world exists is that the Torah says so!

This difference in perspective has halachic significance as well. Whenever a statement in Torah seemingly conflicts with reality, we defer to the Torah perspective. The world is the illusion while the Torah is absolute truth.

The physical reality can often deceive. Although we were given wisdom and rationality to discern the truth, our understanding is nevertheless limited. The Torah represents divine wisdom, and words of Torah are permanent and not given to change.

For example, take this rule from the laws of Shabbat: Halacha establishes that if non-Jews approach a Jewish border town we must take up weapons on Shabbat to fend them off—even if they are only coming for “hay and straw.” In other words, even if it is clear that they have no intention of doing bodily harm but only want to take hay and straw, we nevertheless may fight them on Shabbat.

Now, rationality would argue that there is no danger to life here. Military and political experts will weigh in, warning that it will lead to a breakdown in international relations. If they are not coming to kill anyone, what is the justification for breaking Shabbat? However, halacha determines that the risk of their onslaught is enough to permit violating the Shabbat, even if reality suggests otherwise.

A further example can be found in Talmud, tractate Taanit: “Rabbi Yochanan says, our father Jacob did not die.” The Talmud challenges Rabbi Yochanan with the facts: “Did they in vain eulogize him, embalm him and bury him?” But Rabbi Yochanan ignores all these sensible arguments. He brings proof from the Torah—the word “death” is not used in connection with Jacob’s passing. This is his proof that regardless of what we may see, Jacob is alive.

This Shabbat marks the third of Tammuz, the day the Lubavitcher Rebbe was concealed from us. We don’t refer to it as his day of passing.

Many ask why Chabad chassidim ignore reality in favor of this “fantasy” that the Rebbe is alive, despite the events of 22 years ago, which were witnessed by thousands. After all, there was a passing, there was a funeral, there was a burial! Yet chassidim hold on to the faith that what Torah says takes precedence over what our eyes see. Based on explicit Torah sources it is clear that the Rebbe is alive and will continue to live until the revelation of Moshiach, and he will lead us to the Redemption. Our steadfast faith in the Rebbe’s words will hasten the Redemption and bring these prophecies to fruition.


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