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Moshiach - Beyond Brotherly Love #1
by Rabbi Zvi Homnick
MY BROTHER'S KEEPER
 
Growing up in a religious Jewish environment, the idea of love and concern for one's fellow Jews is (or at least should be) as much a natural part of life as breathing.  In my father's home, it was taken for granted that we rejoiced when we heard news that was good for the Jews anywhere in the world, whether close to home or as far away as Eretz Yisrael, Russia and elsewhere, and we commiserated and/or mourned when the news was of a tragic nature.  The same applied to reading accounts from the past, whether about Jewish successes and victories over enemies or challenges, or whether about painful and tragic events; whether about individuals, communities or the nation as a whole. 
 
To me, sobbing and pouring copious tears over a Holocaust account, especially one that depicted the spiritual heroism of the martyred, was very much a normal reaction.  It was only in my late teens when I returned the brand new pristine copy of “Those Who Never Yielded” by Moshe Prager to the person I borrowed it from in the form of a waterlogged mess and explained that I hadn't spilled any water on it, which was received with a look normally reserved for visitors from a distant planet, that I began to suspect that not everybody reacts the same way.  (To his credit, the fellow in question absolutely refused to let me pay for or replace the book).
 
Similarly, I grew up with my father going out of his way to give strangers rides in his car, even going out of his way to Williamsburg to drop off a Satmar Chassid or to Crown Heights to drop off a Lubavitcher Chassid, as well as extending a helping hand to all sorts of down on their luck Jews from all walks of life, so the idea that Jews care for and look out for each other was axiomatic.  (The above are just a few examples.  I can't hope to begin to enumerate every single form of kindness and show of concern and even unbridled affection for his fellow Jews that I witnessed from my father while growing up). 
 
Somehow, the paradox of vehemently opposing the religious or anti-religious views of most Jews while still feeling a tremendous kinship and empathy towards them was never troublesome to me.  What did freak me out was when I encountered other religious Jews who due to religious differences hardened their hearts to their fellow Jews, or those who due to a lack of religious belief and sensitivity betrayed their own people.  Whereas I could and would rant and rail against Jews of other denominations (religious or otherwise) while still feeling that it was only a disagreement amongst brothers who ultimately love one another.  (Maybe there is something to the theory that I was born with a Chassidic soul?)
 
Despite all that, when it came to clearly defining for myself what the Jewish ideal of Ahavas Yisrael really is and what it entails, I felt like I was adrift.  I was well aware of the Ramban in his commentary on the Torah, who writes that the command to “Love your fellow like yourself” is phrased in a way that is intentionally hyperbolic, since it is beyond the reach of human capacity to truly love someone else as much as a person loves him-or-her-self.  The reason is that this is such a great and lofty ideal, which Hillel and Rebbi Akiva categorized as the entire Torah or a “great general rule” of the Torah, so that a person has to continually strive for the ultimate even if he knows that he will never attain it. 
 
The purely subjective nature of such a quest without any concrete guideposts with which to measure progress seemed to relegate the entire matter to the ethereal mists of the metaphysical, which we were subtly or not so subtly taught to avoid getting too caught up with.  The emphasis of our education was to just learn Torah and do good stuff, including acts of goodness and kindness (to your frum friends and neighbors) and behave yourself in general.
 
LOVE THY BROTHER
 
One of the basic tenets of Chabad Chassidus is that the revelations of Chassidus are not limited to the realm of ideas and insights, but they also include the spiritual empowerment to attain spiritual levels that were previously unattainable prior to those revelations.  For someone such as myself whose personal search was conducted almost exclusively through studying the written word, that premise seemed a bit farfetched and utterly subjective.  If indeed it was true, how would I know that I suddenly had new previously unimaginable spiritual capacities?  Would I just wake up one day and know? 
 
As much as it all seemed very out there, I also recognized the fact that if I was taking my quest seriously I had to be open to the possibility of not just rethinking my worldview but also of experiencing myself and the world around me in an entirely different way.  Looking back, it is hard to identify exact times for specific shifts in my thinking and even harder to identify specific turning points when my spiritual hard-wiring became altered to the point that I had difficulty relating to the way I used to think and experience reality. 
 
One area that stands out in my mind was coming to the realization that according to Chassidus one could actually achieve loving his fellow Jew like himself.  I had studied chapter 32 in Tanya where he explains that by perceiving the soul as primary and the body as “repulsive and abominable” one could relate to other Jews on the soul level.  And since when it comes to the soul “who knows their greatness and loftiness in their root and source within the living G-d,” and additionally, “they are all compatible and there is one father to all of them, and therefore all Jews are called actual brothers,” “this is the direct and easy path to come to the fulfillment of the commandment of 'you shall love your fellow like yourself' towards every Jewish soul from great to small.”  I had also learned the section of Derech Mitzvosecha on the commandment of Ahavas Yisrael, where he explains in greater detail how all Jewish souls are part of the all-inclusive soul of Adam HaRishon, and as such are essentially limbs and organs of one larger spiritual organism.
 
I don't recall the exact time when it clicked for me that the implication of all of the above was that Chassidus was providing not only a spiritual guide-map and blueprint but was in fact making it possible to achieve what the Ramban had earlier deemed intrinsically beyond the realm of possibility, but I do remember very clearly a subsequent related episode.  It was during the year 1992, and I was sitting in the deserted basement of a shul in Boro Park, where I would do my learning in relative privacy.  I was reading the B'Tzeil HaChochma, which is a collection of conversations between the Rebbe and various great rabbis and scholars who had visited the Rebbe over the years. 
 
I don't recall who the Rebbe was speaking to (I don't own a copy and it is out of print), but I saw where the Rebbe makes this very point that Chassidus made a tremendous innovative breakthrough in the area of Ahavas Yisrael so that it was now possible to truly love another like oneself and even more so; unlike as it was in the times of the Ramban when it was in fact impossible to do so.  Far beyond the normal excitement that comes with the sense of “boruch shekivanti” (thank G-d that I came to a similar conclusion as someone far greater than me), I was completely overcome and began to sing and dance around this little room holding the book as one would hold a Torah scroll on Simchas Torah with tears of joy streaming down my face.  Yes, that is as subjective as it gets, but to me it was another powerful experiential signpost along my journey, even as I knew that actualizing that potential love for my soul-brothers was and is the labor-intensive work of a lifetime.
 
BROTHERS FROM THE SAME FATHER
 
As we enter into the month of Av, we are told (Taanis, 29b) to “decrease in joy” and to avoid litigating matters with a gentile, because the “mazal” of the month is weak.  Although when it comes to legal conflicts as well as the various mourning customs of the first nine days of the month, Chassidim are quite particular, when it comes to the instruction to decrease in joy, the Chassidic interpretation which says that “one should decrease all negative things through joy” seems to be the exact opposite of the literal meaning.
 
The very name of the month, the Hebrew word for father, is clearly an allusion to the relationship between G-d and the Jews as Father and son/sons.  And yet, although the father-son relationship represents the classic model for calling upon divine compassion “as a father has mercy on children,” it also represents a standard of accountability that is far beyond the expectations built into any other relationship “as a father reprimands his son, Hashem your G-d reprimands you.”  That is because a father's compassion dictates that he put his son's long term benefit before his desire to be liked and appreciated by his son in the short term.  The two yardsticks by which to measure the health of that relationship are if the child/children live up to the values and ideals and expectations of their father, and also if all the children love each other for the very fact that they are brothers from the same father.
 
On the 9th day of Av, the two Temples in Jerusalem were destroyed, almost five hundred years apart.  The reason for the first destruction is that the people of that generation indulged in the three major sins, representing a complete rejection of G-d and everything He stands for, or in the words of the Mishna (Sukka 5:1) “our forefathers that were in this place [stood with] their backs to the sanctum and their faces to the East, and they bowed eastward towards the sun.”  However, during the period of the Second Temple, when they rejected this behavior and proclaimed (ibid) “but we, our eyes are to G-d,” the reason for the destruction was “baseless hatred” and the lack of unity that resulted therefrom.  Each of these represent the rectification of the two key aspects that are supposed to derive from a healthy father-son relationship.  It is specifically because of the unique closeness between Hashem and the Jewish people that these tragedies/corrective lessons had to take place.
 
When a father is upset with his son and is in the process of trying to teach him an important lesson, he expects to be taken seriously and is in no mood for humor or frivolity.  However, the one thing that can defuse the tension is if the son is so overcome with joy over being in close proximity to his father that he can't help himself and he happily hugs and kisses his father despite the acrimonious atmosphere.  Chassidus enables and empowers us to experience the fact of G-d as our Father, not just as a concept or as a source of spiritual inspiration, but as actual reality.  This is expressed in the fact that Chassidus enables and demands that one put G-d before his own life even in situations where Torah law makes no such demand, “like a son who serves his father and mother as he loves them more than his body and soul... and gives himself up to death in order to redeem them...”  Additionally, Chassidus enables and demands that a Jew love his fellow Jew as actual spiritual brothers from the same father, to the point of unconditional love and even putting the other person's physical needs before my spiritual needs. 
 
When you have that kind of relationship with your Father, then the call of the hour, especially in the darkest times of exile when it is easy to lose sight of the fact that our Father in Heaven is closer to us than usual, is “to decrease all negative things through joy.”  (In our generation, the Rebbe has empowered us as part of the Messianic process to aim for and achieve an even higher degree of unity with our Father and brothers as will be discussed in the next installment, G-d willing.)  And that is one of the Chassidic explanations given for why the yahrtzeit of the Arizal is on the 5th of Av, the exact midpoint of the nine days, because the Arizal (whose name was Yitzchok- he “will” laugh) only brought us to the midpoint by bringing down the mystical ideas which served as the precursor to the revelations of Chassidus.  These in turn, made those ideas reality and translated them into actual modes of serving Hashem, thus bringing about the full rectification of the sins and flaws represented by the destruction and mourning of the 9th of Av.  May we finally witness how our efforts have succeeded to “transform these days to joy and happiness,” with the complete revelation of Moshiach, “his name is Menachem (the consoler),” in the month of Menachem Av (as it is called according to Jewish custom), immediately, NOW!
 

 


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