Getting There Faster In The Slowlane
By Rabbi Levi Yitzchok Ginsberg
Reb Mendel Futerfas used to tell the following story:
Some Chassidim of the Baal Shem Tov were once sitting and
farbrenging together in their little shtetl. The longer they
farbrenged, the stronger their desire to be with their Rebbe grew, till they
impulsively decided to hire and horse and wagon and set out for Mezhibozh.
The shtetl was quite far from Mezhibozh; even if they
traveled non-stop for several days, there was only a small chance they might
make it by Shabbos. The wagon driver was less than enthusiastic; as far as he
was concerned there was no need to hurry, and in his opinion, it was simply not
possible to cover that many miles before sundown on Friday. The roads were very
bad, he pointed out, and there were always unexpected obstacles and delays while
But the Chassidim were enthusiastic and determined. Logical
considerations could not compete with their hiskashrus. Without further
ado they were on their way.
The wagon driver soon had the horses at a gallop, running as fast
as they could under the circumstances. The roads were very narrow, wide enough
for only one vehicle. They were so narrow, in fact, that if another vehicle were
to appear, passing would be impossible.
As they reached a fork in the road, at an intersection where
another path joined the main thoroughfare, an elegant carriage suddenly pulled
out in front of them. It was the carriage of the local paritz, and he was
clearly not in a hurry to go anywhere. At a leisurely pace his carriage ambled
down the road, blocking all traffic. The Chassidim were now stuck behind it,
reduced to a crawl.
The wagon driver gritted his teeth; even the Chassidim were
becoming angry. The tiny chance they had to make it to Mezhibozh in time for
Shabbos was rapidly evaporating before their eyes.
One Chassid was more upset than the others. “I can’t believe it!”
he complained. “After all our efforts, how can something so ridiculous spoil our
plans? Just because of this slowpoke we’re going to miss out on spending Shabbos
with the Baal Shem Tov!”
Another Chassid, however, hastened to calm him down. “My dear
brother, how can you say such a thing? Why are you worried? Have you forgotten
what our master the Baal Shem Tov has taught us, that the Holy One, Blessed Be
He, directly supervises every mundane detail in the world, and that even a leaf
doesn’t turn in the wind without Divine providence? Does it not state in the
Torah, ‘From Him no evil will descend’? Nothing bad can come from on High, and
indeed, everything is for the good. Whatever Hashem does is only good and for
the best. The more we accustom ourselves to thinking and acting accordingly, the
more we will merit to see the good that is in everything openly revealed. How
can it be that this basic principle we talk about so often should be forgotten
when it comes to actually implementing it in our own lives? I tell you friend,
it’s only a nisayon…”
The Chassid’s fervent plea entered the hearts of the other
Chassidim, and they were much cheered. The wagon they were riding in didn’t
speed up any, but they were filled with emuna and bitachon that
the unexpected delay was for the best.
The wagon continued traveling at its sluggish pace until suddenly,
another potential problem appeared on the horizon. Up ahead, at the next
intersection, they could see a group of drunken peasants waiting to pounce on
the next wagon that passed by…
There was no doubt what the drunken goyim would have done to
the Chassidim if they had been in the first wagon. No one would have stood up
for the Jews or even sought justice afterward. They would have simply received
the “usual” treatment drunken peasants knew so well how to mete out. The
Chassidim would have been grateful to have escaped with their lives, let alone
continue on their journey.
As it turned out, because the paritz’s carriage was
traveling ahead of them, the hooligans simply dispersed once they saw whom it
contained. By the time the Chassidim reached the intersection the danger was
A few minutes later the paritz’s carriage turned off onto a
side road, and the main thoroughfare was suddenly clear. With a crack of the
whip the horses were again at a gallop, and the Chassidim made it to Mezhibozh
with time to spare.
All of which goes to show that something that doesn’t appear to be
good at first, is not necessarily so in reality…
So the only question is when we will see the good, either
sooner or later. In actuality, however, “No evil descends from above,” as the
Alter Rebbe writes in Epistle 11 of Igeres HaKodesh:
In truth, however, “No Evil descends from above,” and everything is good, though
it is not apprehended as such because of its immense and abundant goodness. And
this is the essence of the faith for which man was created, to believe that
“There is no place void of Him,” and “In the light of the King’s countenance
there is life.” Accordingly, “Strength and gladness are in His place,” because
He is but good all the time.
Therefore, first of all, man ought to be happy and joyous at every time and
hour, and truly live by his faith in G-d, Who animates him and acts kindly
towards him at every moment. But he who is grieved and laments demonstrates that
he is undergoing some hardship and suffering, and lacks some goodness; he is
(Heaven forfend) like a heretic. This is why the Sages of Truth, the Kabbalists,
strongly rejected the trait of sadness… One must believe that he truly lives it
[the true life], and that all of his needs, and everything related to himself,
truly evolve in all their details not from the sitra achra, for “By G-d
are the steps of man made firm,” and “While there is [yet] no word [on my
tongue, You, G-d, know it all].” Accordingly, everything is absolutely good,
except that it is not apprehended as such by man.
When one believes this truly, everything becomes good even on a revealed level.
For by such a faith, in which one believes that what manifestly seems to be evil
in fact receives its entire vitality from the Supreme Good…by this faith the
imagined evil is truly absorbed and sublimated in the concealed Supreme Good [so
that the good becomes palpably revealed to the physical eye.
Our Sages tell the story of Nachum Ish Gamzu, who always said,
“This is also for the good,” no matter what happened. Even when he went on a
special mission to the Roman Emperor, and the innkeeper stole the precious
gemstones and pearls in his chest and replaced them with sand, he still
declared, “This is also for the good.” The end of the story was that the sand
turned out to be far more valuable than any conventional treasure, when Eliyahu
HaNavi appeared and said it was the same sand Avrohom Avinu had used to be
victorious in battle.
A second, similar story is told about Rabbi Akiva, who was forced
to sleep in a field when the inhabitants of the nearest town refused him
lodging. That evening, his candle was extinguished by the wind, and his rooster
and donkey were killed by wild animals. Rabbi Akiva declared, “Everything the
Holy One, Blessed Be He does is for the good.” Later, it was learned that
robbers had attacked and plundered the town in the middle of the night; had
Rabbi Akiva been allowed to lodge there, or had his candle or his animals given
away his whereabouts, he would also have been discovered and harmed. The loss of
his candle, rooster, and donkey thus saved him from far greater suffering.
The Rebbe shlita explains the difference between the two
stories in Volume 1 of Likkutei Sichos (Parshas B'Chukosai),
pointing out that Rabbi Akiva lived one generation after Nachum Ish Gamzu, when
the Galus had already intensified and the darkness in the world was
greater. In the story about Rabbi Akiva, the discomfort and anguish he
experienced saved him from something worse. The suffering he endured was real,
but it resulted in a positive outcome. By contrast, in the story about Nachum
Ish Gamzu, it was through the sand itself that he ended up attaining more than
he could have with mere precious gems.
In other words, the greater the G-dly light that illuminates in the
world, the easier it is to perceive the true good in things that initially
appear less than desirable.
Although this principle applies to all pain and suffering, it is
especially relevant to the experience of the Jewish people in exile, as
emphasized during the “Three Weeks” between the Seventeenth of Tammuz and Tisha
It is axiomatic in Judaism that the purpose of grief and mourning
is not to cause us pain and make us depressed. Rather, the intent is that the
suffering should serve as an impetus for practical action, and provide us with
the strength to nullify the source of the suffering.
As the Rebbe has explained (Dvar Malchus, Parshas Balak
5751) it is precisely in the past few generations, the closer we get to the
Messianic era, that the positive aspect of the Three Weeks has become more
openly revealed. As time goes on, it becomes more and more obvious that the
entire Galus has been nothing but a preparation for the ultimate geula,
and its actual beginning.
On several occasions (such as Gimmel Tammuz 5748) the Rebbe
explained why Gimmel Tammuz always falls on the same day of the week as the
Seventeenth of Tammuz and Tisha B’Av: to reveal the inner significance of these
seemingly negative days. Externally, they symbolize destruction and Galus,
to the point that halacha characterizes them as “days that are the
opposite of merit” (for which reason we avoid doing anything that requires
making a special bracha.)
However, as we know that nothing happens “by chance,” and that
everything occurs by hashgacha pratis and “no evil descends from on
High,” we know that these days must also be good in the innermost sense.
Furthermore, it is often those things that externally seem the opposite of good
that contain the highest good of all, a level that is superior to “revealed
good.” It is precisely this that Gimmel Tammuz comes to reveal:
Even Gimmel Tammuz, the Rebbe has explained, initially appeared to
be the opposite of good. The Rebbe Rayatz was being sent into exile; he had been
found guilty and deserving of punishment. The Rebbe Rayatz himself indicated in
his writings that what was happening seemed to be an undesirable event: “I have
been forced to go into exile in my city of refuge.” Later, it became clear that
the day of Gimmel Tammuz was actually “the beginning of the redemption” leading
to the Rebbe’s departure from Russia and the “dissemination of the wellsprings
outward” on an unprecedented level, which will ultimately culminate in the true
and complete Redemption with Moshiach.
Gimmel Tammuz contained the potential for all these things, which
is why the Rebbe has said, “Chassidim should also celebrate on Gimmel Tammuz.”
Gimmel Tammuz provides us with the strength to uncover the true
inner meaning of the period “Between the Straits,” which have traditionally been
seen as days of semi-mourning. Gimmel Tammuz helps us understand that,
b'p'nimiyus, their real function is to increase our hiskashrus with
Hashem to even greater heights than before the destruction, a truly superior
level that will become fully revealed in the Messianic era.
What did the destruction accomplish? In essence, nothing but the
removal of the previous “form” of hiskashrus, allowing us to attain a
more essential level that transcends all form and limitation, i.e.,
“Yerushalayim shall dwell an unwalled city.” When this will be fully revealed in
the Messianic era, these days will be transformed into joyous Yomim Tovim, and
we will see that they were all along only a means of raising us to a
higher level of bittul and hiskashrus.
When the Beis HaMikdash was in existence, “Kohanim at their
avoda, Leviim on their platform and Yisroel at their position,” miracles
were commonplace and it was easy to perceive G-dliness. The Jew’s relationship
with G-d was profound, as his bittul and hiskashrus permeated all
the powers of the soul. However, although it was a very high level, it was the
direct result of being able to see, feel, and understand. The individual was
limited by his own capabilities; he was only as mekushar as he was able
to perceive G-dliness. Because there was so much G-dliness in evidence, people
in those days were on a very high, albeit limited level.
It was only after the Jewish people went into Galus, when we
cannot see and cannot understand why G-d has “poured out His wrath” on us, when
G-dliness is in a state of concealment and it seems as if “G-d has abandoned the
earth” (chas v’shalom), that the essential connection between the Jew and
Hashem was revealed. Only then could we come to realize that the bond with
Hashem is indestructible, that it transcends every other factor in the world,
and is higher than any giluyim that could distract or even “impress” us.
While we are still in Galus, it is impossible (and
forbidden) to thank G-d for it. On the contrary, a Jew is obligated to despise
the Galus with a deep-seated and intense hatred. When a son realizes the
great distance he is from his father, he cannot content himself with their
essential relationship and rejoice in it. His terrible sense of longing prompts
him to cry out from the depths of his heart, “My soul thirsts for You, my flesh
longs for You, in a parched and weary wilderness without water.”
The cry itself reveals the son’s connection to his father, how
nothing in the world can truly separate them. In fact, it is at the precise
moment when it seems as if their connection no longer exists that its very
deepest aspect finds expression.
It is only then, when the geula will burst forth from the
depths of the Galus and the p'nimiyus of all Creation will be
revealed, that we will be able (and indeed obligated) to thank Hashem for the
exile, as it states, “I thank You, O G-d, for having poured out Your wrath.” At
that time, we will understand that no destruction ever occurred and that Hashem
never abandoned His children. G-d only wished the essential, independent
connection with His people to be revealed, which could only happen if there were
no giluyim to distract us. For this reason, G-d withdrew, as it were,
into the “two-fold and double darkness of the exile,” a time when “goyim
dance in His Sanctuary and He is quiet” - all for the purpose of revealing this
As the Rebbe explained on Shabbos Parshas Balak 5752, the closer we
get to the end of Galus, the less negativity associated with the exile we
experience, and the more we are able to receive a foretaste of the Redemption.
This is especially true for us, the last generation of the exile and the first
of the Redemption, after the Rebbe has declared that “The time for your
Redemption has arrived”; the service of “refining the sparks” has been
completed; the “buttons are already polished” and the geula is already a
reality; all we have to do is “open our eyes.”
This is the reason, the Rebbe goes on to explain, why the month of
Tammuz was always a sad time in previous generations. (The very name “Tammuz” is
the name of a Babylonian deity). By contrast, in our times, and only within the
past generation, it merited the Chag HaGeula of Yud-Beis/Yud-Gimmel
Tammuz, the “festival of festivals,” and the entire month has now come to be
known as the Month of Geula. For the closer we get to the fulfillment of the
Divine plan, the more our suffering is lessened and the brighter the world
The ultimate expression of this concept is Gimmel Tammuz, which was
initially perceived as a negative phenomenon, and only in retrospect recognized
as the “beginning of the redemption.” Gimmel Tammuz, the Rebbe says, is the
impetus for transforming these days into “rejoicing and happiness. Moreover, not
only was Gimmel Tammuz not a “descent for the purpose of ascent,” it was
an integral part of the ascent itself, revealing the hidden good within the
Seventeenth of Tammuz (the gematria of “tov” is 17) and in Tisha
B’Av, the birthday and day of revelation of Moshiach.
When our true, essential hiskashrus will be revealed and
fully manifested in the Third Beis HaMikdash, we will experience the
fulfillment of “Yerushalayim shall dwell and unwalled city.” At the same time,
“I will be to her, says the L-rd, a wall of fire,” for even the highest levels
of infinity will be able to permeate the limitations of finiteness. This will be
accomplished by Melech HaMoshiach, who transcends all illness and
cessation of life, as he is completely united with Atzmus.
In order to rise above the limitations of the exile and the fact
that “They were born in Galus and grew up in Galus, and are
therefore ‘Galus people,’ and they ask all kinds of questions that stem
from the exile’s darkness” (Shabbos Parshas BaMdbar 5751), we must stick to the
tried and true recipe given to us by Melech HaMoshiach himself.
It is not a complicated recipe. All it calls for is that we learn
about Moshiach and geula, and during the Three Weeks, study topics
related to the Beis HaBechira, especially “the Torah (maamarim and
sichos kodesh) of the Nasi HaDor.”
The weekly Dvar Malchus should be particularly emphasized,
as it enables us “to know and recognize our present circumstances and situation,
that we are actually standing on the threshold of the Redemption, when we can
point with the finger and say, ‘Behold, Melech HaMoshiach is coming.’”
For it is not theoretical knowledge we are acquiring but practical halacha
for our daily lives.
May we merit to apply it immediately.
“Yechi Adoneinu Moreinu v'Rabbeinu Melech
Hamoshiach l'olam va'ed!”