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Parshat Vayechi (5766)
This week's section begins on a strange note: The Patriarch Jacob on his deathbed gathers his twelve sons around him for a final message but he didn't succeed.
The Talmud tells us (Pesachim 56a) that Jacob wanted to reveal the end of days to his sons (i.e. the date of the arrival of Moshiach) but the Shechina (G-d's presence) left him and he wasn't able to"
Does this make sense? First of all, what is so important about the date when Moshiach will arrive? Second, why couldn't he tell? It's only a date, certainly he didn't forget it! And it couldn't be that G-d told him not to reveal it. Exactly the opposite - the Shchina departed from him!
Perhaps we can understand this better from the following story. (Otzer Sipuri Chabad vol.15 pg. 62)
The first Chabad Rebbe; Shneur Zalman of Liadi was a known miracle worker and Tzadik. Just as Moses did some three thousand years earlier (Rambam, Y'sodi HaTorah 8:1); the miracles he did were only to help people, especially Jews, and to better the world. In fact this was the way of all those Tzadikim who followed 'Chassidut'; the way of the Baal Shem Tov.'
But in general the Chassidim tried to 'bother' the Rebbe with only spiritual matters, like how to better serve the Creator. Only rarely did they come to him with mundane issues, unless they had no other choice.
For instance, once there was no rain in the area of Liozne. The farmers had spent all their resources; money, time and energy, plowing and planting but without rain it meant nothing. The fields lay barrenly plowed; parched and drying in the sun with only the farmers' tears to irrigate them. Prayer, fasting, charity, good deeds, more prayer.. the farmers tried everything but the skies remained deathly pale and clear. Their only recourse was the Rebbe.
Five of the older farmers, who were also Chassidim of the Rebbe, were selected to travel to Liozne and the next day they were in the Rebbe's office pleading for their lives and those of all the children, women, orphans and widows in their village and the surrounding area. There were
also thousands of gentiles that would suffer.
But the Rebbe did not answer. In fact, he didn't react at all. He just sat silently, almost ignoring them, looking to the side as though to say there was nothing he could do.
The farmers stood almost paralyzed looking at the Rebbe with eyes begging for mercy, hoping against all hope that he would say something or even glance at them. But it didn't happen.
After several minutes one of them quietly began to back up toward the exit and they all followed suit. Once outside the room they closed the Rebbe's door and all burst out crying. They were helpless.. even G-d didn't seem to want to help.
But it just so happened that the Rebbe's grandson, Menachem Mendel (nicknamed the Tzemach Tzedek who was a young man at the time and would become the third Rebbe of Chabad) and two other well-known great Chassidim, one of whom was Rabbi Issac of Homel a known Tzadik, were sitting nearby learning Talmud together with great vigor but stopped when they heard the wailing.
They stood and approached the farmers and asked for an explanation. "How can it be that you fellows are sad? Who cries after leaving the Rebbe!? Every Chassid that comes out of Yechidut (private meeting with the Rebbe) is happy and dancing!! Why are you different?"
But when they heard the explanation they fell silent in deep thought. The Rebbe's grandson broke the silence.
"Don't worry!" He said with certainty, "I just thought of a solution that will surely work."
He called to the fellow that had been chosen to be the Rebbe's assistant that night; a simple but devoted Chassid who had been given charge of letting people into Yechidut, and said.
"My friend! We three Rabbis constitute a judicial court and you must. we are commanding you to. follow our orders."
The simple fellow had never been in such close proximity to such great and legendary Chassidim and was awestruck. He shook his head in amazed agreement. The Rebbe's grandson wrote something on a paper, handed it to him and said:
"Remember, one who disobeys a judicial court is punishable by ostracism from the community (Shamta). Therefore we command you to read to the Rebbe what is written here.
When the Chassid read what they had written on the page he began trembling from head to toe and almost fainted. He couldn't do it! He wanted to say no and walk away, but a Judicial court! He had no choice.
He entered the office of the Rebbe and when the Rebbe looked up said meekly, "Rebbe, I have been adjured by a bait din (Torah court), your grandson, Rab Issac and another to read this to you, and if I don't do it I could be punished." He looked intensely at the paper so as not to see the Rebbe's face, cleared his throat and read:
"If you are able to help the farmers that just left your room and you don't, then you are a thief. Why not give them what is due to them? And if the reason you didn't help them is because you can't, then how can you accept on yourself to be the leader of thousands of Jews?! You are a fraud! '
The Rebbe folded his arms on the table before him and lowered his forehead on them for a long moment. what seemed to the servant an eternity. He just wanted to silently back out of the room. but he was afraid.
Suddenly a cold wind rattled the window and the the room became gradually darker. The skies were becoming overcast with clouds! The Rebbe sat up for a few seconds, seemed to be in another world and repeated the scene a second time. But this time small drops of water began pattering on the window pane.
The Rebbe did the same thing a third time and a minute after he put his head down rain began pouring in torrents.
Outside the Rebbe's room the farmers saw the rain and ran into the street arms raised and faces to heaven, weeping and hugging each other, drenched to the bone, dancing and falling in the mud.
Rab Issak of Homel looked to the Tzemach Tzedek, turned his palms up questioningly, shrugged his shoulders in amazement and asked for an explanation; where had he learned that trick?! And how could he have been so certain that it would work!?
"It was simple" the Tzemach Tzedek answered, "It is written explicitly in a story found in the Talmud in Tractate Taanit, page 24b.
"Once there was a drought and the farmers went to the great Amora (holy wise men after the time of the Mishna) Rav Pappa to ask him to pray for rain. Rav Pappa declared a fast and everyone prayed and fasted. It was a difficult fast and in fact Rav Pappa himself became so weak that had to eat some porridge to keep conscious and continue praying. But after all this the rain didn't come.
"At this point another Amora, Rav Nachman bar Ushpazti came up to him and said sarcastically, "Rav Pappa, maybe if you eat yet another bowl of porridge do you think rain will fall them?!" The Talmud tells us that Rav Pappa was ashamed and rain began pouring.
"I always wondered" The Tzemach Tzedek continued, "What the Talmud was teaching us with this story, certainly it can't be encouraging one scholar ridiculing another, G-d forbid? But just now, suddenly I understood what it means. Rav Pappa was the leader and holiest man in his generation but sometimes such a Tzadik gets so pure and removed that he has no connection to this world and has to be brought down to give blessings. That is what Rabbi Nachman did. And that is what I did to my grandfather, the Rebbe.
That brought the Rebbe down to the physical world of people and events."
This is the lesson from our section.
Yaakov wanted to tell his sons that the time for the redemption was now. He wanted to draw down to them the power, blessing and ability to change themselves and the world: to reveal the Oneness of the Creator in the entire creation and bring Moshiach immediately.
But he became so spiritual and removed at this intensely holy moment that the 'Shechina'; namely the ability to make this extra measure of G-dliness dwell (Shochain) into his sons, departed from him.
And, unlike our story, there was no one to 'bring him down to earth'.
This is the job of the Baal Shem Tov and his teachings of Chassidut (if you have never learned Chassidut please visit your nearest Chabad House): to bring G-dliness down to earth; into our minds, hearts, daily lives and even
our most mundane matters.
Namely, to return the world to real consciousness (Tshuva); so that even the most distant Jews, the most distant recesses of our Jewish souls and eventually the entire world, will awaken to a true desire for Moshiach and the awareness of the Creator that he will bring.
This is what the Lubavitcher Rebbe announced time and time again: The time for redemption is here!! The goal of the Baal Shem Tov and all the Tzadikim after him has been completed.
We have the power, the blessing and ability to manifest Jacob's fervent desire and bring....
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