Time For The Darkness To Illuminate
By Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Ginsberg
is precisely now, when the "enlightening" days of Chanuka are over and
we find ourselves in the dark and dreary month of Teives, that the main idea of
the "seventh generation" is most strongly expressed.
mentioned in previous columns, there are many stories Chassidim tell about Rabbi
Yaakov Yosef of Polana and how he became a Chassid of the Baal Shem Tov.
Originally a vociferous opponent of Chassidus, the author of the Toldos
Yaakov Yosef was later transformed into one of the Baal Shem Tov’s
greatest disciples. In fact, Toldos Yaakov Yosef was the first seifer
to be printed expounding the Baal Shem Tov’s teachings.
noted before, it appears that there were several gradual stages to Rabbi Yaakov
Yosef’s change of heart, as there always are when it comes to such
life-altering, 180-degree philosophical turnarounds. At first, Rabbi Yaakov
Yosef began to hear things about the Baal Shem Tov that softened his extreme
position. Later he considered going to the Baal Shem Tov to meet him personally,
despite his reluctance to waste time on such a long journey.
following story takes place during the early days of the Baal HaToldos’
Yaakov Yosef was a great Torah scholar who was the rav and halachic
authority of his locality. Extremely punctilious about time, Rabbi Yaakov Yosef’s
day was broken into various shiurim, some in which he learned by himself
and others in which he taught. He also designated specific hours for answering shaalos
and receiving guests, and of course, times when he davened with the
community. His main concern was that not one moment of precious time be wasted,
this point in time the Baal Shem Tov was still wandering about, mingling with
the common folk. Disguised as a simple Jew, he would go to the local marketplace
and regale the merchants, wagon drivers, women, and children with stories from
the Torah and tales of tzaddikim, always stressing how much Hashem loves
each Jew, and how easy it is to draw close to Him. It didn’t matter if a
person wasn’t particularly learned; all that was necessary was a little effort
and sincerity of heart. With this message the Baal Shem Tov would encourage the pintele
Yid in everyone, explaining how G-d loves even the simplest things we do in
accordance with His will: not lying, stealing or cursing; always acting
honestly; and helping one another, etc. Without fail, the Baal Shem Tov’s
audience would drink in his words like a vital elixir, and their avodas
Hashem would be greatly strengthened.
any event, it was already some time since the Baal Shem Tov had first set his
holy eyes upon Rabbi Yaakov Yosef of Polana; all he was waiting for was the
right opportunity to introduce him to the light of Chassidus. Rabbi Yaakov
Yosef, however, was careful to avoid anything with the faintest whiff of
Chassidus. The Baal Shem Tov would just have to come up with the perfect ruse…
mentioned before, every minute of Rabbi Yaakov Yosef’s day was accounted for;
a person could set his watch according to the Rav’s daily schedule. That is,
until one day when the Baal Shem Tov decided to position himself at a busy
intersection on the way to shul. The Baal Shem Tov was dressed in his
typical nondescript manner, with a rope tied around his waist as a gartel. As
usual, a sizeable crowd was soon gathered around him, listening to his stories.
One by one, people on their way to shul came over to investigate;
invariably, they all remained rooted to the spot.
the meantime, the proper time for davening had come and gone, yet the
rabbi was still alone in shul. Where was everybody? Nothing like this had
ever happened before. Rabbi Yaakov Yosef grew increasingly annoyed as the
seconds ticked by. Why, one of his shiurim was due to begin in another
few minutes! His entire schedule was being thrown off by these inconsiderate
people! Eventually Rabbi Yaakov Yosef decided that he couldn’t wait any longer
and he davened without a minyan. By that time, he was totally
beside himself. On the way out he asked the shamash why no one had shown
up in shul, and was told that a certain Jew had arrived in town and was
standing in the middle of the street telling stories. It seemed as though
everyone who went over to listen lost track of time…
go summon that storyteller and bring him here!" Rabbi Yaakov Yosef fumed.
The shamash ran outside and did as he was told.
was exactly what the Baal Shem Tov had been waiting for. He went to Rabbi Yaakov
Yosef, but before the Rav could even open his mouth the Baal Shem Tov said,
"Rabbi, I’d like to tell you a story." Without waiting for a
response, he began:
were once two neighbors who lived side by side. One was a talmid chocham
and the other was a simple laborer. Both men were in the habit of rising very
early – close to midnight – to begin their day: The talmid chocham
woke up to go to shul for Tikkun Chatzos and to lament the exile
of the Divine presence. Afterwards, he would sit and learn until daybreak, daven
with a minyan with great kavana, then attend several regular shiurim
in Torah. Only around noon, after almost ten hours of avodas Hashem,
would he return home to eat something and lay down for a little nap.
neighbor, by contrast, was a poor Jew who had to actively pursue his livelihood.
He woke up just as early to shlep his merchandise to all the outlying
towns. Going from door to door, he would visit the homes of peasants, farmers,
and landowners, offering them the opportunity to purchase his goods. This was
not the most conducive atmosphere for cultivating yiras Shamayim. After
he finished his morning rounds, he would return home, grab his tallis and
t’fillin and run off to shul for some hurried davening.
two neighbors would meet each other on the street each day, one returning with
ten hours of serious avodas Hashem under his belt, the other racing off
to shul after having dealt with his non-Jewish customers since before
dawn, trying to convince them to buy his wares. Every day, the talmid chocham
would look at his neighbor condescendingly and think to himself, ‘Ribono
Shel Olam! What a difference there is between the two of us!’ The simple
Jew would likewise look at his neighbor and sigh bitterly at the great divide
that separated them. This same scenario repeated itself every day for many
120 years, the two men were called before the Heavenly court to give an
accounting of their time on earth. The simple Jew was summoned first. When the
sum of his accomplishments was tallied, the results were embarrassingly sparse.
The man had barely known what was expected of him as a Jew, and had been often
unable to do what was required. Things did not look too promising until a
defending angel suddenly stood up to speak.
day, the angel pointed out, the Jew would meet his scholarly neighbor on his way
to shul and sigh bitterly over the disparity between them. This proved
more than anything else that he really had wanted to conduct himself properly,
but just hadn’t known how.
was time to render a decision. The Heavenly court placed all of the man’s sins
on one side of the scale, and the sigh he had uttered each morning on the other.
Incredibly, the sigh easily weighed down all his transgressions, and he was
it was the talmid chocham’s turn to be judged, the stockpile of
accomplishments over his lifetime was towering. How many countless hours over so
many decades had he spent perfecting his avodas Hashem? However, there
was one accusing angel who rose in dissent.
of that matters, the angel insisted. The amount of Torah he learned or how much
effort he put into avodas Hashem is irrelevant. What matters is the
superior and condescending smile he gave his neighbor every morning…
Heavenly court placed all of the talmid chocham’s numerous merits on
one side of the scale, and the faintly contemptuous smile on the other. Lo and
behold, the smile easily weighed down all the merits, and the talmid chocham
was found guilty!"
story concluded, the Baal Shem Tov turned and walked out. Rabbi Yaakov Yosef,
who had not even had an opportunity to speak, was completely flummoxed. All of
the absolutes upon which he had based his life were suddenly a lot less
absolute. It is said that this particular incident was one of the main reasons
he later sought out the Baal Shem Tov and ultimately became one of his greatest
story, like many others told by Chassidim, illustrates one of the most important
principles in Toras ha’Chassidus: Despite the fact that "the main
thing is the deed," a Jew’s connection to Hashem cannot be assessed by
simply adding up how much Torah he has learned or how many mitzvos or aveiros
he has to his credit.
Jew can be uneducated in Judaism, totally involved in trivial matters, seeming
to lack any connection to spirituality and holiness, yet in reality, his bond
with Hashem is stronger and deeper than that of the talmid chocham who
has worked on perfecting his avoda his whole life.
the same token, a Jew can be a talmid chocham, lamdan, and gaon,
etc., yet never develop his relationship with Hashem properly. The reason is
that one can never underestimate the power of the yetzer ha’ra. That
is, it is quite possible that everything the talmid chocham does
increases his sense of self, and with every rung up the ladder of spiritual
perfection he climbs, the more he feels "worthy." Instead of getting
closer to Hashem, which can only be done through bittul and
self-nullification, his ego actually distances him further, causing him to
temporarily add vitality to the realm of klipa, G-d forbid. Our Sages
stated, "He who is greater than his fellow also has a greater yetzer ha’ra."
course, this should not be an excuse for not learning or doing mitzvos.
As explained by Chassidus, "the main thing is the deed." We are
promised that every Jew will ultimately do teshuva: "Not one person
will be rejected" – and all the Torah and mitzvos he did will also
return to Hashem…)
person’s yetzer ha’ra isn’t handcuffed when he begins to learn
Chassidus. It learns with him, it comes along for the ride when he travels to
the Rebbe, and it accompanies him when he goes out on shlichus. The yetzer
ha’ra is always there, making the same age-old claim as Lavan HaArami:
"The daughters are my daughters and the sons are my sons; the flock is my
flock, and everything you see belongs to me!"
the yetzer ha’ra does sometimes succeed in "defiling all the
G-d forbid, especially the faculty of pleasure. The only aspect of a Jew that is
completely immunized against defilement is the "cruse of oil sealed with
the stamp of the Kohen Gadol," the "essential point of hiskashrus"
that is utterly impervious to harm. This, of course, is the essential point of
Moshiach, the yechida klalis, about which it is said, "I have
anointed him in My holy oil." It is something that can never be tainted,
contaminated or corrupted in any way.
miracle of Chanuka is the "cruse of oil sealed with the stamp of the Kohen
Gadol" we utilize an entire year, until it permeates all aspects of our
soul. This signifies the intrinsic connection between Chanuka and Chabad
is not coincidental that many important events in the history of Chabad took
place during Chanuka. On the fourth day of Chanuka 5559, the Alter Rebbe
returned home and recited HaGomel after being released from prison on Yud-Tes
Kislev. On the third and fifth days of Chanuka, we celebrate the Alter Rebbe’s
redemption from his second incarceration in 5561, exactly 200 years ago, which
was much more serious than the first. The set of accusations leading up to the
Alter Rebbe’s second arrest were not as personal as the first set, such as the
charge that he was smuggling money to Eretz Yisroel, etc. Rather, the new
accusations challenged the very basis of Chassidus: Why did the Alter Rebbe
teach that malchus was the lowest of all the s’firos? Why did he
preach that a person should aim to rise above the world? Wasn’t this in
contradiction to settling it? The Alter Rebbe’s subsequent vindication and
release was proof – and encouragement from Above – for him to continue to
disseminate Chassidus after his incarceration.
Chanuka, aside from being the last day of the holiday (and "everything goes
according to its conclusion"), was always treated as special by the Rebbe
Melech HaMoshiach. Who can forget how the Rebbe shlita would gaze at the menora’s
lights until late in the evening, and how he gave extra encouragement to Mivtza
Chanuka on Zos Chanuka? Zos Chanuka was also the day the Rebbe made a seudas
hodaa after his heart attack in 5738. (The Chassidim celebrated on Rosh
Chodesh Kislev, but the seudas hodaa with kos shel bracha was held
on Motzaei Zos Chanuka.)
are many connections and similarities between Chanuka and Sukkos: the number 8,
the opinion of Beis Shamai that the number of lights should decrease (like the
animal sacrifices on Sukkos), and the concept of ushpizin (guests) who
come to visit. According to the order of Chassidishe ushpizin starting
with the Baal Shem Tov, the ushpiz who visits on Motzaei Zos Chanuka is
the Rebbe Melech HaMoshiach shlita.
the Rebbe explained at his seudas hodaa in 5738, the fact that there isn’t
a minhag to increase in joy on Motzaei Zos Chanuka indicates that the
concept of Motzaei Zos Chanuka is so elevated that it cannot be contained in any
form, even a minhag…
reason, the Rebbe continued, is that the s’fira of malchus,
being last, relates to the very endpoint, when it seems as if all the light is
gone. The function of malchus is to cause the darkness itself to
illuminate until even the lower worlds declare, "Everything is G-dliness,
and G-dliness is everything."
saw this principle demonstrated many times in 770. When would the Rebbe
encourage the singing most strongly? At the very end of a niggun, just
before it repeats itself: "HaAderes V’HaEmuna," "Al
Nisecha," "Lecha Dodi." At the precise moment when
everything seems to be finished and done with, the main point is really just
beginning, as it is then that the essence that transcends all boundaries and
limitations becomes revealed.
ultimate objective, of course, is the Messianic era, when "the night will
illuminate as the day." Not only will the darkness be dispelled by an
infusion of light, but the darkness itself will be a source of illumination.
it is precisely now, at the conclusion of the "enlightening" days of
Chanuka, when we find ourselves in the dark and dreary month of Teives, that the
main idea of the "seventh generation" is most strongly expressed: that
"the darkness itself should illuminate."
leads us into Hei Teives, when we celebrate the pidyon shvuyim of the s’farim
of our holy Rebbeim. As explained many times, the legal victory was a sign from
Above for the seventh generation to continue to spread Chassidus until the only
thing left is to "greet Moshiach Tzidkeinu in reality."
getting back to our story about Rabbi Yaakov Yosef of Polana…
Jew can study Torah and daven a whole day long, but if he isn’t
"with the Rebbe," he can actually be a lot further from the truth than
someone who outwardly seems distant but follows the Rebbe with tmimus and
this crucial time in history we must proceed toward the future with the
"cruse of oil sealed with the stamp of the Kohen Gadol." Without
looking to the left or the right, without becoming "weak and straggling
behind," we will continue to march toward our goal with the Rebbe at our
head, secure in the knowledge of G-d’s promise: "No stranger shall sit on
his throne, nor shall others any longer inherit his glory. For You have sworn to
him in Your holy Name that his light will never be extinguished."
Adoneinu Moreinu V’Rabbeinu Melech HaMoshiach L’olam Va’ed!