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The Service of Refining The World Has Been Completed - That’s A Fact!
By Avrohom Jacobson

As head of the Vaad Hanachos HaTmimim for more than ten years, Rabbi Simon Jacobson, noted author of Toward a Meaningful Life, had a unique opportunity for interaction with the Rebbe MH”M. In this article, he shares with readers of Beis Moshiach some of the directives and clarifications he merited to receive during this time.

When it comes to “spreading the wellsprings outward,” Rabbi Simon Jacobson is certainly on the forefront. His popular book, Toward a Meaningful Life, has already been translated into several languages, and has brought the Rebbe’s teachings to millions of people around the world. As the Rebbe’s chozer and head of the Vaad Hanachos HaTmimim for over a decade, Rabbi Jacobson was responsible for preparing the Rebbe’s sichos for print, a job that entailed obtaining hundreds of clarifications directly from the Rebbe on various topics in Chassidus.

Several weeks ago, Rabbi Jacobson was invited to deliver a lecture in 770 on the Rebbe’s repeated statements to the effect that the “service of birurim [the process of refining the world] is over” and “the buttons have already been polished.” The organizers of the event asked him to expound upon several questions: 1) When the Rebbe made these statements, was he expressing a wish or a blessing, or was he revealing an actual fact? 2) If the service of birurim is indeed over, and the reason for the Galus doesn’t exist anymore, why has the Geula shleima not yet taken place? 3) How can evil (e.g., conflict between nations, the battle between the yetzer ha’ra and the yetzer tov, etc.) still exist? 4) If, as the Rebbe said, “everything is ready [for the Redemption]; the only thing left is to open our eyes,” what kind of service are we supposed to be engaging in now?

Fact: The Buttons Are Already Polished

The phrase “polishing the buttons” has been in the Lubavitcher lexicon for decades. The first time the expression was used was on Simchas Torah 5689 (1928), when the Rebbe Rayatz explained that almost all of the components of the Redemption are already in place. The Rebbe Rayatz declared that even the “garments” were ready; only the finishing touches, like “polishing the buttons,” remained to be done.

The first time the Rebbe MH”M used the expression “the buttons have already been polished” was in the famous sicha of Beis Nissan 5748. But for almost two more years, till the summer of 5750, the Rebbe did not mention it again.

When I heard that expression from the Rebbe that summer I was surprised; I wasn’t even sure that I had heard correctly. In fact, my brother hadn’t heard the Rebbe say it, nor had the other chozrim at the farbrengen. The following Shabbos everyone was on the lookout. That time, we all heard the Rebbe say that “the buttons have already been polished…”

The truth is that we were shocked. One of the underlying principles of Chassidus is that as soon as the service of birurim is completed, the inner purpose of creation is supposed to materialize  G-d’s “dwelling place in the lower worlds.” When the sparks of holiness will have been successfully separated, the world will be ready for Redemption and the revelation of the light of Moshiach. As the Alter Rebbe put it, “The reason the Galus has been so drawn-out, more than 1700 years, is to refine the 288 sparks. Moshiach will arrive when the process is finished, may it happen speedily in our days, amen.”

We asked ourselves: If the service of birurim is over, where is the Redemption? According to the rule of cause and effect, if the cause of a certain phenomenon ceases to exist, the effect should disappear as well. If the reason for the Galus is to refine the 288 sparks of holiness that fell to the sitra achra, and that has already been accomplished, there is no reason for the Geula to be delayed!

When the Rebbe made reference to these concepts several times over the next few weeks, we decided to ask him directly. The way it worked was that whenever we weren’t sure what the Rebbe meant, we would submit two different versions, and the Rebbe would choose the one that was correct.

So when we gave in the sicha for the Rebbe to edit, there were two possibilities: In the first version, the Rebbe was saying that he hoped and wished that we would reach the point at which the process of birurim and “polishing the buttons” was behind us. In the second version, we made it clear that the Rebbe was revealing the true reality  that the process had already been completed. In addition to the two versions, we included our question: if the service of birurim is over, why is the Geula being delayed?

When the Rebbe edited the sicha, he drew a line through our first version and indicated that the second was correct. As for our question, he noted briefly, “This is not the place to elaborate.”

From the Nasi to the People

On Purim 5748 the Rebbe spoke about how for many years, he had labored to understand why Moshiach has still not come. After much effort, the Rebbe explained, he arrived at the conclusion that the reason was that, till now, the task of bringing Moshiach lies on the shoulders of the nasi. Now, however, the time has come to turn the job over to the people. In the Rebbe’s words: “From now on, the matter has passed from the category of ‘the nasi is all’ to the ‘all’  that is, to each and every Jew.” On the 28th of Nissan 5751 the Rebbe stated this even more clearly and unambiguously: “I have done my part; from now on, you must do all in your power.”

The truth is that the Rebbe repeatedly warned us in his sichos  from the very first day he [officially] assumed the leadership of Chabad  that he would not allow the Chassidim to rely on the Rebbe to do all the work. On the 11th of Shvat 5711, the Rebbe outlined his future plans with the following announcement: Do not think, he said, that you now have someone to rely on, someone to whom you can simply give in your pidyonos… Rather, each and every one of you has a job, and each individual must fulfill it for himself. I will not refrain from helping you, but I will also not assume all the responsibility. You must be the ones to expend the effort, and I will assist you. That was the crux of the Rebbe’s message.

There’s an expression to the effect that when a person is in the middle of a deep forest, he “cannot see the forest for the trees.” Sometimes, many years have to pass before the perspective of hindsight enables us to understand past events. Today, 50 years after the Rebbe assumed the nesius, it isn’t hard to discern the Rebbe’s unwavering insistence on individual service, “till the flame rises up of it own accord.” These concepts, which we heard so many times at farbrengens, take on new meaning with the proper perspective.

Take, for example, the whole idea of shlichus, the very “backbone” of the Rebbe’s nesius all these years. Let’s compare it to the way another “educational institution” like I.B.M., l’havdil, operates. When an employee of I.B.M. goes to a new city to assist the parent company, he is given full financial support (provided he submits a detailed account of all his expenses). The employee doesn’t make a move without prior approval. Every step he takes has to be authorized by the home office.

L’havdil elef alfei havdalos, the Rebbe’s shluchim are expected to act autonomously as soon as they arrive in their new location. Every shaliach is responsible for his own fundraising and erecting his own network of mosdos. A shaliach doesn’t ask the Rebbe for permission every time he does something. He’s supposed to be “a flame that rises up of its own accord.” But of course, as a shaliach of the Rebbe, he isn’t acting solely under his own power.

On Shabbos Parshas B’Haaloscha 5751, the Rebbe expounded on the concept of “a flame that rises up of its own accord,” which is a fundamental principle in Yiddishkeit and chinuch in particular. When a Jew exerts an influence on another person, it must be done in a way that the affected person can continue to progress on his own, “a flame that rises up of its own accord.”

In that rather complex sicha, the Rebbe connected this idea to the much more difficult concept of free will. By the end of the sicha we had a whole page of questions on various points that we didn’t quite understand. We asked the Rebbe for further clarification.

A few hours later we had our answer. With his holy hand, the Rebbe wrote something like this: The whole content of the sicha was “that the flame should rise up of its own accord”  and you’re asking me? (implying that we were supposed to figure it out for ourselves.) However, the Rebbe added that when we expend our own energy to understand it, “it would also be accomplished with the power of the Kohen Gadol.”

When we received that answer we were astounded. We had never gotten anything like it before. I was especially surprised by its conclusion. It reminded me of the story that is told about the Tzemach Tzedek, who one time had to travel to Petersburg on a communal matter. For some reason the Tzemach Tzedek was unable to make the trip himself, so he sent one of his Chassidim in his stead. When the Chassid asked what he should do if he wasn’t sure how to act in a particular situation, the Rebbe told him to rely on “daas atzmo,” his own intellect. The Rebbe Maharash, who had overheard this conversation, was sure that the Chassid would get into trouble. A few days later, during the Shabbos seuda, the Tzemach Tzedek suddenly looked as if something was wrong, and said that the Chassid in Petersburg was experiencing a problem. After a pause of a few moments the Rebbe added that the Chassid had made his decision, and said, “Good, good. He knew what I meant…”

The Rebbe Maharash then realized that the Chassid was on such a high level that his intellect was completely nullified to the will of the Tzemach Tzedek, and whatever he decided would surely be in accordance with the Rebbe’s wishes.

The Rebbe MH”M told this story on Shabbos Parshas Shmos 5748. At the end of the story he explained, “When a shaliach is sent out to perform a task, he is given all the strengths and powers he needs to fulfill it, including the ability to decide correctly in case of doubt. This ensures that his decision will be in accordance with the truth.”

The Rebbe even said that his words were intended as a “general answer” to all shluchim: Whenever a question arises about the proper method of spreading Yiddishkeit and the wellsprings of Chassidus outward, the individual shaliach must decide for himself, as “a judge can only make a decision based on what he sees.” The whole idea of shlichus is based on the assumption that the shaliach has been given the power to deduce the true will of the meshalei’ach. This is because the shaliach is so nullified to the “Kohen Gadol” that everything he does is accomplished with the Rebbe’s strength.

We shouldn’t be surprised that the Rebbe has assigned us a task; the truth is that it’s always been that way. The only difference is that the job we’ve been given now, to bring Moshiach, was “taboo” all these years, belonging only to the Rebbe; the Rebbe was the one who was supposed to be worrying about the Geula.

For our part, we were busy with the details: bringing people to the Rebbe, convincing another Jew to put on tefillin, or light Shabbos candles. But we never dealt directly with the main point, from which all the details follow: the Redemption itself. On Purim 5747, and even more clearly on the 28th of Nissan 5751, the Rebbe explained that the time had come for us to participate. Bringing Moshiach is no longer the sole concern of the Rebbe; it is also what Chassidim are supposed to be doing.

Why did the Rebbe turn such an important job over to us? I offer you the following explanation…

(Click here for continuation.)

The Redemption without any “missing” days

Rabbi Nissan Mindel, a’h, authored a book called Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi. I was told by Rabbi Mindel that the Rebbe himself edited the book and made a number of additions.

The book raises the following question: If, in the end, every Jew will ultimately do teshuva and “not one will be rejected,” why is it so important for the Jewish people to perform their service properly? When G-d decides that the right moment has come to bring the Geula, everyone will do teshuva anyway.

The same question was brought up after the Rebbe announced that “everything is ready for the [Messianic] seuda,” and all we have to do is “open our eyes.” If everything has already been prepared, what are we supposed to be doing now?

The book presents a truly unique answer, one that I haven’t seen anywhere else, not in any book of Chassidus or in any of the Rebbe’s sichos. And when I asked Rabbi Mindel about it, he told me that that particular section had been written by the Rebbe himself:

Every minute of time is an entity unto itself. The service of “refining the sparks” encompasses not just geographical space, but also the realm of time. It follows, therefore, that every day that is not utilized to prepare for the Geula will forever remain a “Galus-day,” a day on which “there is none but Him” was not revealed.

That is what we’re supposed to be working on, so when Moshiach comes the Geula will be complete, without any “missing” days…


Rabbi Simon Jacobson
When we gave in the sicha for the Rebbe to edit, there were two possibilities: In the first version, the Rebbe was saying that he hoped and wished that we would reach the point at which the process of birurim and “polishing the buttons” was behind us. In the second version, we made it clear that the Rebbe was revealing the true reality  that the process had already been completed...



The Rebbe wrote something like this: The whole content of the sicha was “that the flame should rise up of its own accord,”  and you’re asking me?


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