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Winning Over The Opposition
by Rabbi Zvi Homnick
LEARNING FROM THE OPPOSITION
 
One of the most difficult issues that I have ever grappled with is how to distinguish the truth when confronting something over which many great men, certainly greater than myself, disagree so passionately.  Growing up, I tended to go along with the prevailing attitudes, beliefs and even antipathy that I absorbed from my non/anti-Chassidic elitist environment, as well as developing my own ideas and insights in support of that worldview.  However, even at an early age, I found disquieting the idea that those I saw myself as opposed to were called Chassidim, meaning “pious ones,” and those in opposition were called Misnagdim, meaning “opponents.”  I, for one, certainly did not wish to identify as an opponent of piety.
 
In the second year after I married, I had a conversation with an older fellow whose intellect and incisive insight I admired, on this very topic.  This person was someone who enjoyed learning Chassidus, and in his words, “I can't imagine any greater pleasure in this world,” and yet was very firm in his beliefs that the worldview and philosophy of Chabad Chassidus was “not for us” and should even be vigorously opposed.  (Today, he is a Mashgiach in a major Lithuanian style American yeshiva).  As to the names Chassidim and Misnagdim, he argued that most of the Chassidic world had stopped using the term Misnagdim and instead referred to non-Chassidim as “Litvaks,” often acknowledging the positive qualities of that world and its leaders.  Only Lubavitchers still use the nomenclature of a bygone era because “they have a persecution complex.”  They draw personal validation from and feed off of opposition, real or imagined, and some are even willing to do outrageous things to fan the flames of that opposition.
 
Fortuitously, his seemingly cogent and reasoned arguments actually helped me solidify my then burgeoning conviction that I needed to invest more of my time and energy into the study of Chassidus, not simply as a means of broadening my spiritual horizons, but because that is where I could find the absolute truth.  Although that would seem to lend whole new meaning to the term counter-intuitive, it was just what I needed to hear, at a time when I was at a crossroads in my life.  Allow me to explain:
 
There was a particular teaching of the Baal Shem Tov that I had encountered (in non-Chabad sources) that really resonated with me, and ultimately came to serve as a guiding light in navigating many spiritual quandaries.  The Baal Shem Tov addressed the universal question of how to discern what is true from what is false, and particularly when it comes to a Tzaddik, a great spiritual leader whose righteousness is called into question by those who oppose him, how to know if he is actually a righteous person or not.  Drawing upon the teachings of the Sages regarding the many criticisms that the people of his generation directed at Moshe Rabbeinu, he concludes that whereas truth is consistent throughout, when falsehood attacks truth it will use contradictory arguments and even ones that stretch the limits of incredulity, or in the modern day vernacular, “the big lie.”
 
That is why we find that Moshe was criticized for practicing celibacy following the revelation at Sinai and “they suspected him of adultery (Sanhedrin 110a),” which illustrates both the contradictory nature of the attacks as well as the enormity of the lie used to besmirch his piousness.  “Moshe is true and his Torah is true, and we are liars.”  That is the proclamation that Korach and his cohorts are condemned to repeat throughout time for the crime of opposing Moshe and claiming that his judgment was colored by self interest when in fact, as the most humble man who ever walked upon the earth that would be antithetical to his very being.  Spiritually, explains the Baal Shem Tov, it is specifically those who attack and oppose the truth from whom we can learn to identify the truth.
 
Although engaging in activities that arouse the ire and fuel the animus of those who oppose Chassidus and Chassidim is highly inappropriate, as the Alter Rebbe writes that “they are to subdue their spirit and heart before every man according to the attribute of 'truth unto Yaakov,'” the existence of the opposition serves an important purpose in proclaiming that “Moshe is true and his Torah is true.”
 
After years of hearing (and stupidly parroting) conflicting and often outrageous claims aimed at Chassidim and Chassidus in general, and Chabad and the Lubavitcher Rebbe in particular, I was forced to confront the fact that I had to choose not between being a “Litvak” or a “Chassid,” but between being someone who would embrace the truth wherever it is to be found or someone who would just go along to get along.
 
FEEDING OFF THE OPPOSITION
 
The prophet Yechezkel describes the events that transpired on the tenth day of the month of Teves, at which time Nevuchadnetzar, King of Bavel (ancient Babylon) laid siege to the holy city of Yerushalayim.  In describing this he says (24:2), “Samach melech Bavel al Yerushalayim.”  The Rebbe points out that the word “samach” is an uncommon expression to describe the act of laying siege, and is particularly odd in that it generally is used in a positive sense to mean to fortify or provide support.  The use of a word with positive connotations in this context is even more surprising since the Talmud rules that if 10 Teves were to fall on a Shabbos, unlike all other fast days including Tisha B’Av, we would be required to fast.  (According to our prearranged calendar it never falls on a Shabbos, as opposed to when they still sanctified the new month based on visual sightings of the new moon).  The Avudraham (Laws of Fast Days, cited in Beis Yosef OC:503) explains that this severity is due to the fact that the events of this day represent the beginning of the process of destruction of the First Temple and all the subsequent exiles and persecutions, as well as the destruction of the Second Temple.  What could possibly be positive about that?
 
The Chassidic movement in general and the Chabad movement in particular were born and forged in the smelting pot of intense opposition.  The Alter Rebbe, founder of Chabad, was thrown into jail and faced a possible death sentence for alleged acts of treason.  Ultimately, he was vindicated and set free on the 19th of Kislev.  In a letter describing these events he writes, “And when I was reading in Tehillim (Psalms) the verse, ‘He redeemed my soul in peace,’ I went out in peace…”  In many maamorim on this verse, starting with the Mitteler Rebbe (Shaarei Teshuva, Shaar HaTefilla), the Rebbeim addressed the obvious question that arises when reading this verse.  How can Dovid HaMelech say that “He redeemed my soul in peace,” and then go on to say that he was redeemed “from those who did battle against me?”  If he was forced to go to war, then even if he was victorious and was “redeemed” it could hardly be described as “in peace.”
 
The explanation that is given is that all forms of opposition to holiness exist only to fortify and strengthen the forces of holiness.  When a person is confronted with a challenge, it forces him to dig deeper within himself to draw on deeper reserves of strength to overcome the obstacle or enemy.  Spiritually, it provides the stimulus to arouse loftier and more powerful levels of the soul capable of overwhelming and obliterating any and all opposition, whether internal or external.  When a person overcomes a spiritual enemy through the inner faculties of the soul (called nefesh, ruach, neshama), such as in the normal everyday struggle that a person has with his own animal soul or Evil Inclination during prayer and throughout the day, that can’t really be described as a redemption since he will have to fight all over again the next day.  It may be a victory of war, but it certainly can’t be described as “redeemed in peace.”
 
However, when a person encounters a greater test which forces him to dig deeper and he arouses the unlimited power of ratzon (will) within his soul (the level of chaya) then the “enemy” is completely overwhelmed to the point that he can no longer put up a fight, and is subservient to the will of the soul.  This clearly qualifies as “redeemed” and can even be described somewhat as being “in peace,” since the opposition is completely neutralized.  However, this is not the true meaning of “in peace,” since the enemy has only been subdued in the face of an overwhelming force, but if that force were to be removed the enemy would be back looking for a fight.
 
The ultimate spiritual redemption “in peace” is, when in the face of a life and death challenge, the fifth and highest level of the soul that is “completely one with G-d” (the level of yechida) comes to the fore.  At that level of holiness, no opposing force can even exist.  There is complete redemption and total peace.  Although Chassidus explains how each individual can attain these levels through his own efforts in prayer, only the perfect Tzaddik can experience this state on a consistent basis.  That is, until the coming of Moshiach, when “I will remove the spirit of impurity from the earth.”  Since Moshiach is the general yechida of the entire Jewish People, and will reveal the yechida within each and every Jew, and elevate the entire world to that level of oneness with G-d, evil will cease to exist. 
 
The primary function of the Holy Temple was to be a source of Divine light with which the Jews could illuminate the entire world.  And yet, even as the two temples stood, the Jews continued to engage in sinful behavior or divisive behavior, in opposition to the Divine Oneness. The only purpose for the destruction and the exile of the Jews is so that they would be forced to reveal progressively deeper and higher soul powers to confront ever more difficult challenges, which will ultimately bring them and the world to a state of  being “redeemed” and “in peace.”  Thus, the true purpose of the siege begun on 10 Teves, which foreshadowed all the calamities that followed, was and is to “fortify” and “support” the Jews in fulfilling their divine mission.
 
A key step in this process is the revelation of Chassidus, the deepest secrets of the Torah that are described as the yechida within Torah, the part of Torah that is one with G-d in a revealed way, through the Nasi of each generation who is the yechida of the entirety of the Jewish People.  This in turn empowers each individual to reveal his own yechida, and ultimately bring the world to a state of true peace, when the knowledge of G-d will cover the earth as water covers the sea.
 
All of this is fueled by the opposition of “those who did battle against me.”  At the very beginning of the process of destruction, the prophet emphasizes that the opposition which manifested as a siege is meant to fortify and support us in the fulfillment of our mission in exile, and that the destruction is actually the impetus for a greater rebuilding.  Similarly, the opposition to Chassidus is meant to enable us to reach deep down inside and reveal the highest levels of the soul. 
 
“And when I was reading in Tehillim the verse, ‘He redeemed my soul in peace,’ I went out in peace…”
 
KISS THE OPPOSITION GOODBYE
 
Although opposition to holiness in its many forms exists only to reveal greater levels of holiness, it manifests externally in a negative way.  However, the Rebbe explains (sicha VaYechi/10 Teves 5751) that as we get closer to the Ultimate Redemption when we will experience true peace without any opposition, and after all the suffering and purification that we have endured, the positive becomes more revealed and the external negativity fades.  In fact, over the next year or more (5751/5752) following that talk, the Rebbe went on to say on numerous occasions and in numerous ways, that the nations of the world as well as the physicality of the world have already been “refined,” and as such can pose no real opposition.  Even if on the surface there appears to be any opposition from those quarters, by standing firm and giving it no weight the opposition will not only dissipate but will turn around to actually assist the forces of holiness.  The same holds true for any internal opposition from the body and animal soul (see at length sicha VaYigash 5752).
 
We are now at the point that we are no longer supposed to be struggling with the last superficial remnants of opposition, even for the purpose of deriving the benefits that come from this struggle, but negating it completely.  This is accomplished from the top down by overwhelming it completely, or from the bottom up by actually working with the opposition to win it over as in the words of Mishlei, “When Hashem favors the ways of a man, even his enemies will make peace with him.”  The first example of this is alluded to in the verse, “He redeemed my soul in peace,” as the Sages say (Yerushalmi Sotah 1:8) that those fighting against Dovid on the side of Avshalom prayed that Dovid be victorious.
 
The ability to do this is not only due to the time we live in and its immediate proximity to the time when evil will be removed from the world, as well as all the suffering and purification of the past.  The Rebbe explains (sicha Tazria-Metzora 5751) that the power to remove any and all obstacles and to ultimately reveal that there are no obstacles and everything exists only to serve holiness comes from Moshiach himself in his role as king.   As the Sages say regarding a king that if he proclaims that he will uproot a mountain, he will not back down until he has uprooted the mountain.  This symbolizes the power of the king to uproot any and all opposition.  The ability to transform the opposition comes from the fact that, as Chassidus explains, the very life and existence of the kingdom and all his subjects are dependent on the king, so there can be no real “opponent” to something or someone that his whole existence depends on.
 
“And similarly as pertains to the Geula (Redemption) - the idea of Malchus/kingship (Melech HaMoshiach) emphasizes the truth of the matter that the world (Galus/exile) can't be in opposition to the Geula, since the entire existence of the world depends on the matter of Geula.  As it says in the Gemara (Talmud, Sanhedrin 98:2), 'the world was not created except for Moshiach.'  Therefore the 'opposition' of the world (Galus) to the Geula is nothing more than an external matter, and its negation is through revealing the true essence of the world – Malchus.”
 
May we all succeed in transforming our own inner opposition and any external opposition, real or imagined, by revealing the true purpose of all existence: the True and Complete Redemption, NOW!
 

 


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