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Yud Tet Kislev (5762)

In the beginning of this weeks Torah portion, we read of Yaakov's confrontation with his evil brother Eisov.

The Torah tells us that before the meeting, Yaakov was afraid (32:8) "And he had good reason to be. Years ago he had cheated his brother out of both his birthright and his father's blessings, and now Eisov was coming to get revenge with an army of four hundred men."

Rashi tells us (32:9) that Yaakov reacted in three ways; he prayed to G-d for success, prepared gifts of appeasement, and got ready for war.

At first glance it's not clear. Why didn't he also consider the option of running away?

After all, he was vastly outnumbered, had been wounded in his battle with an angel just hours earlier, and now had everything to loose. Not only that, but he had been fleeing from Eisov for over twenty years anyway, so what would it hurt to consider one more retreat?

I want to answer with two stories told about the founder of Chabad Chassidus Rabbi Shneur Zalman, also known as the Alter (old) Rebbe:

One day the Alter Rebbe was walking in the street together with his teacher, the Maggid of Meziritz, and another great Tzaddik, Rav Pinkus of Koritz. Suddenly Rav Pinchus spotted a sheet of soggy paper in the dirt, picked it up, examined it, and began trembling with rage.

"Here! It's a page of your Chassidic ideas! Have a look!" He yelled, holding it up for the Magid to see. Because of YOU The HOLY Torah is laying in the GUTTER!"

Rav Pinkus was very opposed to the Maggid's policy of publicizing Chassidic-Kabalistic Torah ideas. And now he was beside himself with anger.

The Maggid was stunned, but the Alter Rebbe did not lose his composure and said "Let me answer with a parable":

"Once there was a great and mighty King who had an only son whom he loved with all his heart.

One day the boy fell ill and nothing seemed to help him. The best doctors were called in to treat him, but day after day their efforts unexplainably ended in failure. Needless to say the king was beside himself with grief. His beloved son was dying before his very eyes and he was helpless.

After several weeks, just as everyone had given up hope, an old man with a long white beard and a radiant face appeared in the king's court

He approached the throne, bowed deeply and said, "Your Majesty please excuse me for not coming earlier, but I think I can cure your son. It will require a big sacrifice on Your Majesty's part, and it just might be too late, but it’'s Your Highness's only chance."

"ANYTHING!" Shouted the king, "Just tell me what it is I should do."

"The old man pointed to the top of the kings crown, where, set in gold, sparkled a huge diamond - The very symbol of the king's greatness and splendor.

"You must grind up that diamond" he answered.

A gasp went up from the crowd.

When things quieted down he continued. "Then I must mix it in water and give your son to drink. There is very little chance of him opening his mouth, and even if he does, I can't promise that he will swallow any. But if even the smallest amount goes down his throat, he will be healed."

The king readily removed his crown, the old man removed the gem, prepared the mixture, and they all rushed to the sick prince's bedside.

They watched anxiously as the stranger tried to open the unconscious boy's mouth and pour the mixture in. At first it all trickled down his cheek, and onto his pillow and onto the floor. Then a bit seemed to get passed his lips, but he began coughing and this also he spit out. But finally he swallowed! And, true to the words of the old man and to the unbounded joy of the King, the prince opened his eyes and began to recover."

"This is a parable explaining what you saw today", continued the Rebbe.

"The King is G-d. The Prince is the Jewish people. The crown is Torah. The diamond represents its precious secrets. And the old man that healed the prince, is the Baal Shem Tov.

Like in the story, the Jewish people today are ill. Deathly ill. The oppression and poverty of exile is taking its toll, and they are losing their enthusiasm. Some are even, G-d forbid, leaving the Torah altogether.

The Baal Shem knew that the only remedy for the Jewish people is making the secrets of the Torah digestible for even the most seemingly hopeless Jew; and that is Chassidus.

"But in the process, unfortunately, much spills out. And that is why that page of Torah was laying in the gutter today."

Later, the Maggid thanked his pupil profusely and told him that when Rav Pinkus yelled at him, it was because in heaven there was a decree against his policy.

G-d created the world on the condition that the creation (both spiritual as well as physical) would conceal His Oneness, and the teachings of Chassidus were beginning to change all that.

Therefore the Maggid had opposition from heaven as well as from man. Just as our forefather Yaakov, had to battle both "angels" and humans; because he wanted to reveal G-d, here in this world. And the Alter Rebbe's parable saved him.

But there is another story with seemingly the opposite message:

Years later, in 1798, the Alter Rebbe was mysteriously charged by the Czarist government with high treason, imprisoned, almost sentenced to death, and miraculously released 53 days later (on the 19th of the Jewish month of Kislev).

The immediate cause of this imprisonment was that he was (falsely) charged with plotting to organize a Jewish rebellion to overthrow the Czar, in order to aid Turkey in conquering Russia.

A deeper reason was the intense opposition of other religious Jews (called misnagdim) to his deep and unique Chassidic teachings, and his emphasis on Moshiach. In fact, it was they who falsified documents of "proof", and instigated his arrest.

But there was even a deeper reason. Just days after his arrest, the Maggid and the Baal Shem Tov (who had both died years earlier) suddenly appeared in his prison cell.

The first thing he asked them was why he was imprisoned.

They answered that it was because of his policy of revealing and advertising too many Torah secrets in order to hasten the arrival of Moshiach.

Surprisingly, the Rebbe asked them if he should stop doing so.

"NO!" they replied. "Now that you have begun, continue with even more force."

This is, at first glance, very strange! Why did the Alter Rebbe even consider stopping his teachings? Why didn't he defend the spreading of Chassidus, as he did earlier when the Maggid was challenged?! Or shun retreat as Yaakov did in the beginning of our section?

The answer is that the Alter Rebbe's situation was different.

Yaakov had worked for 20 years by Lavan only in preparation for this moment when he would meet Aisov (who represented worldliness), and plant the seed for the future redemption. [As he hinted by sending Aisov a message that he had a donkey (32:6) which implies Moshaich (see Midrash Rabba 75:6) and telling him they would meet "later" in Sair (Rashi 33:14)] So it wasn't relevant that he retreat.

Similarly, the Maggid strove for the redemption, but his main goal was to save Jews from assimilation. So it was also necessary that he continue.

But the Alter Rebbe was trying to bring Moshiach immediately...and he suddenly thought that the time was not yet ripe.

The prerequisite for Moshiach is a total spiritual rearrangement of Jewish priorities; The Jews will have to really desire that this physical world be filled with the revelation of G-d "like water fills the sea". (Rambam, hil Melachim 12:5). So when he saw the tremendous Jewish opposition to his ideas, and heard from his mentors that the heavens also disagreed, he thought that perhaps he should stop.

And to this his holy visitors answered "No!" He must ignore all the apparent obstacles, and he must spread his teachings more than ever before. The world IS ready for Moshiach.

The holiday of the 19th of Kislev is the birthday of Chassidus Chabad. Celebrate it by learning Chassidus, making resolutions to learn and teach more Chassidus, and most importantly, to put what you learn into practice. Before we know it we will all be greeting....

Moshiach NOW!

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