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Moshiach It's Gotta Be Personal
by Rabbi Zvi Homnick
The fact that my personal journey on the path of Chassidus has been a long and convoluted one, unmarked by a single earth shattering epiphany (although dotted with many eye opening realizations), means that it comes along with certain advantages and disadvantages.  One of the disadvantages is that if pressed by curious folks to recount how I found my way, I don't have anything particularly exciting to share.  On the other hand, a key advantage is the fact that I had to process and work through a great many ideas along with massive amounts of information, as well as trying to resolve and/or rethink many issues, which the born and bred and those struck by spiritual lightning might never have the need or opportunity to address.Chabad. lubavitch
One of the important realizations that I experienced along the way was the idea that those who view Judaism and the world exclusively through the lens of the revealed Torah tend to reach conclusions that are in direct opposition to the ideas expressed in the mystical dimension of Torah, especially as explicated in the teachings of Chassidus.  This applies not only to individual issues within the vast range of Jewish beliefs and practices, but to foundational all-encompassing issues as well.  Even more fascinating to me was the discovery that those in the non-Chassidic world that progress to the study of the esoteric, delving into the mystical teachings of Kabbala, also tend to interpret those teachings in the context of their preexisting superficial outlooks.
A prime example of this, which helped to open my eyes in a profound way, is a conversation that I had with a certain learned individual during a period when I was unsure as to which way I would go.  We were discussing the divergence of views between the Alter Rebbe and the Gaon of Vilna as to whether the Lurianic concept of tzimtzum (the divine contraction that created the “void” within which the worlds could be created) applies to the Divine Essence or the Infinite Light, as well as whether it is a literal removal or simply a conceptual one.  One of the issues that came up was that there are those who attempt to argue that there is no real disagreement between the two, as well as those that claim that the view of the Vilna Gaon is misrepresented by Chassidim as it doesn't jibe with what is written by Reb Chaim of Volozhin in Nefesh HaChaim, and they refuse to consider the possibility that the student disagreed with his venerated teacher on such a seminal matter.
This fellow felt very strongly that these attempts to paper over the view of the Vilna Gaon, namely that G-d Himself literally withdrew his Essence to allow for the existence of the worlds, and as such He is not present within the existence of those worlds and it is only His Providence that is present, is nothing more than craven defensiveness in the face of the Chassidic onslaught.  He didn’t even have a problem with the idea that Reb Chaim Volozhin seemed to differ on this point and took the position that G-d's Essence is in fact present in all of existence, since he comes to the same conclusion as the Vilna Gaon in direct opposition of the Chassidic view as far as the main issue. 
That conclusion being that we as created beings are incapable of having a direct relationship with G-d Himself as He is not accessible to us on any level, and any attempt to do so is not only folly but can lead to apostasy.  We can only relate to Him through His wisdom and His commandments as revealed to us in the Torah, which address us as entirely separate beings because that is the way He wants it to be.  We cannot apprehend Him or His reality and we can never become “one with Him,” and any suggestion otherwise is dangerous to the individual and ultimately undermines the core principles of Torah.
I remember standing and listening to him expound on how Chassidus promotes the idea that the ultimate goal is to connect to and be one with G-d Himself and to experience the reality that nothing else exists except for Him.  He even cited the saying of the Alter Rebbe quoted by the Tzemach Tzedek in Derech Mitzvosecha, “I don't want your Gan Eden; I don't want your Olam HaBa; I want nothing more than You Yourself,” as being the antithesis of the Gaon's worldview.  I was very impressed by his clarity on the issues, but what really shocked me was my own reaction.  I remember thinking how to me it was obvious that the Chassidic approach was the truth, which left me with the shocking realization, “Uh oh, I guess that means I have to accept Chassidus as the truth and I have been living a lie.” 
This realization was not based on rational or textual proofs, nor was it the result of much study and meditation, and I could not hope to formulate even for myself how I knew it to be so, but it was as clear as day to me that “I want nothing more than You Yourself” is the ultimate expression of the innermost yearnings of mine and every other Jewish soul.  Beyond that, I couldn't fathom how he could get so passionate and excited in defending a worldview that banishes G-d from the world and from the personal consciousness of any Jew that makes the effort to seek closeness with Him. 
I am aware that the Rebbe once expressed the idea that for us the way that we know that the Alter Rebbe's view is correct is because we know that he received these teachings from the Mezritcher Maggid in the name of the Baal Shem Tov, who in turn received them from Achiya HaShiloni the prophet, who was also present at the Exodus from Egypt and the Giving of the Torah.  However, for me, it was almost the reverse.  Once I realized that these teachings are the truth, it was an easy jump to accept the fact that they came to us by way of a biblical era prophet who showed up in a cave in Europe in the eighteenth century to impart those teachings to the holy Baal Shem Tov.
One of the areas of difference that can be seen in light of the divergent approaches to relating to G-d is how to relate to exile and redemption, particularly at this time of the year, during the three weeks beginning with the 17th of Tammuz and ending on the 9th day of Av.  The traditional understanding, based on the revealed Torah, is that these are purely collective and impersonal phenomena aimed at and affecting the entire Jewish people as a whole.  Additionally, the tragedies that transpired in the past at this time of the year reflect a “concealment of (G-d's) face” and His generally negative disposition towards the world, and that being the case one should keep a low profile and avoid danger at all costs, because you may just get zapped, G-d forbid.  The extent to which mourning over the destruction of the Temple(s) and the exile of the Shechina is a personal matter is only insofar as it is a measure of one's individual level of piety.  Only someone who is on an exalted spiritual level (such as the late great Chofetz Chaim) can truly claim to be so pained over these tragic events that he feels compelled to pray incessantly for and even demand the coming of Moshiach.
From its very inception, the Chassidic movement challenged those attitudes as resulting from a frighteningly superficial understanding of the dynamic between G-d and His firstborn son – i.e. each and every Jew throughout history.  The Baal Shem Tov explains the verse in Tehillim (69:19 – also incorporated into the Lecha Dodi liturgy) “my soul's redemption draws close” to mean that one cannot begin to pray for the general salvation of redemption from exile until he feels the weight of and prays for salvation from his own personal exile.  Although G-d interacts with the Jews as a nation, it is ultimately a personal matter between Himself and each and every Jew.
Viewing our current situation only in terms of a national or global issue means that it has nothing to do with me personally.  The fact that I can't fulfill two thirds of the Torah's commandments under the current world conditions is just one of those things that fall under the category of “what can you do?”  One can even conclude that accepting the status quo is itself an act of great piety, acceding unquestioningly to the divine decree as painful as it may be.  However, as soon as you examine all of the above in terms of a personal relationship with G-d Himself, that approach begins to emerge as a grotesque pietistic parody.  If G-d decided that I can't do the mitzvos; that I can't see Him; that I can't bring the sacrifices; that I can't experience true revelation; that I can't devote myself completely to His service; all that plus any and all manifestations of exile reflect an intensely personal issue between my soul which is a literal part of Him (the real me) and G-d Himself.
As much as the exile and all its negative implications have to be felt and experienced as a truly personal matter, part of the dynamic of a personal relationship with G-d is realizing that as bad as it can possibly get it is all an expression of His Infinite Love for me.  It is all just a way to get me to wake up my innermost soul spark, which as the Baal Shem Tov explains is the Moshiach that exists within each individual.  And even in the deepest darkness and suffering, He is closer than ever, as the Maggid of Mezritch explains the verse in Eichah (1:3) “All her pursuers caught up to her between the (narrow) boundaries” to refer to the Shechina, namely that every Jew who pursues a closer connection with G-d during the “three weeks” will be successful as G-d makes Himself much more accessible at this time.
So much can be written to develop this uniquely Chassidic idea further, demonstrating without question how all the traditional sources actually express these ideas even though they did not become known until more recently, but that remains beyond the scope of a brief article.  However, what must be made clear is that these teachings are not simply meant as inspirational homiletic exercises, but reflect the correct and proper understanding and approach to foundational ideas and principles in Judaism.  Exile is by definition a very personal event and the same holds true for Redemption.  So much so that the Rebbe cites repeatedly the Alter Rebbe in the name of Chazal that “if even one Tzaddik were to do a complete repentance, then the (ultimate) Redemption would come.”
Yes, it takes work and effort to make it personal and to really feel every aspect of exile in a personal way so that one truly cries out “ad mosai,” and completely rejects even the most comfortably appointed exile because “I want nothing more than You Yourself,” and especially to feel that it is up to me to make a difference.  However, as Chassidim, the one thing that make it that much more personal is the tremendous desire to see the Rebbe “the king in his glory” when “these days will be transformed to joy and happiness” with the coming of Moshiach, immediately, NOW!


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