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Beyond the Surface

Friday, 23 November, 2018 - 1:20 pm

This coming Tuesday, Jews around the world will celebrate the holiday of the 19th of Kislev. On this day in 1798 the Alter Rebbe, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, founder of Chabad Chassidism was released and set free from a very dangerous imprisonment. The story surrounding his arrest, the charges, the interrogation and eventual release is written up in great detail and is beyond the scope of this article.

The Jewish world saw his release as a vindication of the entire Chassidic movement and it was from that day onward that Chassidic teachings went viral. Rabbi Schneur Zalman saw his ordeal as one that originated in heaven. He understood that if he, as the leader of Chassidism, was being challenged down here in this corporeal world, it is only a sign that Chassidism was being challenged in the upper realms as well. He wondered if he and his colleagues were not spreading this lofty teaching too much. Maybe the world is not yet ready for the ‘crown jewel’ of the Torah to be spread with such intensity. But then came the 19th of Kislev and his release. That was the sign that from on high Chassidism was vindicated and it was time for this holy and spiritual teaching to be spread to all four corners of the world.

Chassidism is referred to as the ‘Soul of the Torah’. Like with a body and soul, the soul gives life and vitality to the body. With the Torah it’s the same way. The ‘body’ of Torah is the laws of the Torah and their physical practice, like lighting Shabbos candles and giving charity or eating Matzah on Pesach. The ‘soul’ would be the life behind those practices; the G-dly energy and mystical revelations that result from those actions. And trust me, when a Jew is aware of the higher truth and ‘soul’ of the Mitzvot we observe, they become alive. They become soulful and energized with great vitality. 

They tell a story of a Chassidic master who was once challenged by an opponent of Chassidism. The opponent said to him; you Chassidim learn and study so much Chassidic and Kabbalistic knowledge, but at the end of the day what difference is there between us? We both put on the same tefillin, we both wrap ourselves in the same Tallis and we basically do all the mitzvoth just like you do with no difference at all, so what’s all the fuss of learning Tanya, Kaballah and the ‘soul’ of Torah? The rebbe answered him and said; it’s like two people eating the same chicken soup with one difference, one is eating it while hot and the other is eating it cold. They might both be eating the same ingredients but the difference is vast. One can hardly say that they are both experiencing the same thing. And indeed a mitzvah that is observed with an understanding of the soul behind it is warm, its alive, its vibrant and so much deeper.

Let me apply this to something very current; We are just coming from a very contentious election period. Democrats and Republicans fought it out and then the people had their voice. With every election cycle and its non-stop barrage of negative ads, protests, acrimonious mudslinging from one side against the other, I convince myself that it cannot get any worse. The division in the country is at its worst it’s ever been, I say to myself. But then comes the next cycle and I realize that two years prior was nothing compared to the current round. People wonder why this is and how we got here. In my opinion, it is because we have become too superficial. We stereotype. We see others by their tags. Democrat vs. republican, white vs. black or man vs. women. When we look at a fellow citizen what do we see first? That person's color?  Their external qualities? Their voter registration card? Or their human soul, made in the image of G-d? Can we as a society look deeper? Can we reach beyond the surface or are we so superficial and only skin deep? I hope last night, at Thanksgiving dinner we all had a chance to get back to basics and see things for what they really are; your family, your friends, your fellow Americans. All the rest is secondary or even less than that.  

The holiday of Kislev 19, when we were given the ‘soul’ of Torah, is a time to reflect on the ’soul’ of everything. The inner truth of every human being, and indeed of everything, is G-dliness. All we need to do is reveal it to ourselves and each other, because when we do, we realize that the entire creation is really one essence: G-d. And that, by the way, is what we mean when we say in the Shema prayer that Hashem Echod; G-d is one. It means that everything is G-d and G-d is everything, and that too was taught and expounded upon at great length in the teachings of Chassidism.

Shabbat Shalom

 

 

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