Thursday, August 28, 2008

Who is Moshiach?

This (very long) but extremely well reasoned article appeared in Shturem here. According to the author he wrote it in response to a question by his son about the "Moshiach issue". There will obviously be many who disagree with him but, to my mind, he explains the issues clearly, honestly and thoroughly.

With regards to the whole Moshiach issue our Chabad community in Melbourne appear to adhere to the Aussie philosophy of "she'll be right mate" and "no worries". It appears that the majority of our community have no feeling for this one way or the other and couldn't care less about the extremely small minority who make a "song and dance" about it as long as they do it on street corners away from Yeshivah Shul. Despite the chillul Lubavitch this causes nobody seems to care. That the "Yechi" sign still exists in Yeshivah Shul - and nobody even notices - is part of the same issue.

In any case, some of the points he makes resonate with me...

Let me begin by stating that the general notion (you will see below what this actually means) that the Rebbe is Moshiach is not something new that was discovered in the late Tof Shin Mems or the early Nun’s (1990’s). It was something that I also grew up with as a young bochur living in Crown Heights in the early Chof’s. However it was talked about on rare occasions such as at a farbrangen, and even then, only late at night when only a few people were left.

In this context I also recall hearing at those times that really for us Chassidim the title Rebbe was more important and relevant and even perhaps more choshuv. I well understood that this was a chassidishe hergesh that, as Chassidim used to say about krias Shma sheal hamitah, it belongs “unter di koldres” - under the blankets. This means that if you recite a serious krias Shma al hamita in a way that others are able to observe you and know about it then you have defeated the whole meaning and purpose of a real chassidishe ‘krias Shma al hamitah.

The point is that this kind of a belief is a personal chssidishe hergesh (a Chassidic feeling). A Chassidishe hergesh is something that if one truly does have this feeling it remains mostly inside of oneself and is kept within the limits of a Chassidishe environment. The purpose of a chassidishe hergish is to be a personal motivator for a Chosid to enable him to do that which is demanded of a true Chosid and not to be used as an ornament or display item. Keeping something in a pnimis does not in any way mean that we are ashamed or afraid to make it public rather it is something that is inherently meant to be internal. After all, the notion of keeping something in a pnimius is the very hallmark of Chabad avodas Hashem.

An example of this is when the Rebbe would say something at a farbrangen but later delete it from the edited printed version. The matter was indeed appropriate for a farbrangen but was not appropriate for a wider general audience. (It seems to me that this inclination to erase the classic distinction between the inner and outer spheres in Chassidic life is an indirect influence from the secular world where the boundaries between the private/personal and the public domains have been completely obliterated.)

He then discusses Moshiach in Halacha and in Ruchniyus. His halachic discourse needs to be read in full but his spiritual argument starts:

The Rebbe spoke about a lot of inyonim of Moshiach in regard to the Frierdike Rebbe. Clearly they were not about the matter of chezkas Moshiach or the gashmius of Moshiach but rather they were all in the realm of ruchnius. This category of Torah encompasses most of the references to Moshiach in the Sichos of the later years. When the discussion is shifted to the realm of ruchnius the whole notion is different. Moshe Rabaynu, Dovid Hamelech, the Baal Shem Tov, the Alte Rebbe, the Frierdike Rebbe all are Moshiach to a greater or lesser degree. After all, if the Nosi Hador is Moshiach then every dor has its Nosi who is Moshiach.

Considering that we have had over one hundred and fifty generations since mattan Torah there are at least one hundred and fifty Moshiachs. (Chassidus even suggests that every Jew has a spark of Moshiach in his neshomo.) Indeed it is so, and yet there is no conflict between them at all. Because in the realm of ruchnius, neshomos can be part of each other, integrated together or invested in each other and one does not exclude the other as it would in gashmius. The nitzus (spark) of the neshomo of Moshiach is invested in all these individuals. We can not know or determine who has more and who has less of this nitzus. All we can say is that our Nosi, our Rebbe, has it.


Remember, you cannot apply the rules of Halacha to the world of ruchnius and you cannot apply the notions of ruchnius to Halacha. Mixing or confusing the two is a fatal error which has misled many.

Understanding this fundamental ‘hanocho’ is essential to understanding the Rebbe’s approach Moshiach and most of the Sichos in that regard.

I am not sure if I agree with all of the following but in general it makes sense to me:

Is Moshiach here now? The Rebbe in the Sichos seems to say Moshiach is here already and all we need to do is open our eyes. (You should know that this same language was already used by the Rebbe Reshab and the Frierdike Rebbe many years ago.) The answer is that the Rebbe (and the previous Rebbes) is talking about a ruchniusdike phenomenon (about which we also have precious little understanding) and we accept that it is whatever the Rebbe says it is. But if we are asking what the status is according to Halacha, Moshiach is absolutely not here. We are not even at ‘aschalte degulah’ on the contrary; the fact that some people claim that we are in ‘aschalte degeulo’ places us, according to the Rebbe, in the darkest part of golus.

Is one able to feel geuloh and Moshiach now as in no other time before this? The Rebbe said yes and so it surely is, if (and ‘if’ is a very big word) we open our eyes.

Have any of us actually opened our eyes? I don’t want to judge other people but let me say that I am very very skeptical of anyone who goes around and trumpets such a claim. The old rule should apply here; der vos zogt halt nisht derby; der vos halt derby zogtnisht (the one who says is not there and the one who is there does not say).

At this point it is also important to note that making the issue of the Rebbe being Moshiach (in any which way) into an ikar in our world view and daily life is in itself a gross distortion of Torah and Chassidus. The Torah not only teaches us about the Will of Hashem but also prioritizes these values and practices. This system of priorities is a most critical part of Torah and any time we change or even mildly tamper with this delicate balance we wreak havoc on all of Torah. For example, if one does not know that an essa takes priority over a lo saseh you end up with an entirely different Torah life. This same kind of gross distortion of the priorities of Chassidus is being perpetrated on us by these people.

This I do agree with:

To sum up this point; this whole misguided effort of identifying Moshiach has to its credit the destruction of the credibility of the Rebbe’s Moshiach campaign and the alienation of many thousands from the Rebbe and Chassisdus. It is not unreasonable to suggest that this mistake has actually delayed the coming of Moshiach!!

In general I like his analysis and, whether one agrees with everything he says or not, think it should be required reading for all Lubavitchers.