Wisdom From Above, Wisdom From Below
By Prof. Shimon Silman, RYAL Institute and Touro College

"In the 600th year of the 6th millennium, the gates of wisdom above will open up and the fountains of wisdom below, and the world will be set to enter the 7th." (Zohar I, 117a)

In honor of the yahrtzeit of the Alter Rebbe this week on 24 Teives, we begin this series of articles on the revelation of the wisdom from Above, the Chassidus of the Alter Rebbe, and the wisdom from below, modern science, which, as the Rebbe Melech HaMoshiach explains, is a prelude to the Era of Moshiach.

PART I: A Long Chain

In this section we review some of the history of the revelation and development of Kabbala and Chassidus and the tzaddikim who brought this about.

First we start with a story:

Shortly after the Spanish Inquisition, a Spanish Jew named Joseph Jospa arrived in Krakow. He was a great scholar and a tzaddik, and was greatly respected by the Jews of Krakow, who called him the Spanish Tzaddik. Being fifty years of age and unmarried, he lived by himself.

Thirty years went by in this manner until a tragic event changed this. A young businessman from Krakow was killed during a business trip to Prague, leaving a widow with no children. The businessman’s brother performed a chalitza ceremony in the beis din of Krakow. It was the custom of Krakow in those days for the chalitza ceremony to be a community event, after which the rabbi of the beis din would bless the woman that she should soon marry and have children. Then the shamash would announce that if any man present wished to marry the woman, he should present himself to the beis din.

No one responded on that particular occasion, but about five months later, Joseph Jospa, the Spanish Tzaddik, came to the beis din and announced that he wished to marry the widow, if she would agree. He explained that he had not intended to get married, but now, for certain reasons which he did not wish to reveal, he wished to marry despite his advanced years.

The beis din then sent for the widow. Immediately upon arriving in the beis din, even before she had a chance to ask why she was summoned, she burst into tears.

"Why are you crying?" they asked her.

"I have a terrible secret weighing me down, but I can’t make up my mind whether to tell you about it," she replied.

She said she had been having a recurrent dream in which her father, who passed away many years before, appeared to her and asked her to do something. She could not decide whether to listen to him. She was worried and asked the beis din for advice.

The rabbis of the beis din told her that it would be best if she would tell them what the dream was. She said that in her first dream, her father appeared to her dressed in his Shabbos clothes, put his hands over her head, blessed her and said, "And now I wish you mazel tov, for it has been decreed that you marry the Spanish Tzaddik, Joseph Jospa."

She had awoken from this dream trembling violently, but put it out of her mind. She had the dream again, but again did not take it seriously. Then her father appeared to her looking very serious and told her to that there was no way out of it, as it had been decided in the Heavenly Court. She must speak to someone to arrange the marriage. If she listened to him, he continued, she would be blessed with a son. But if she refused she would come to a bitter end.

Three more times she had the dream, and she finally decided to go to the beis din about it. She had just made the decision to go, when the shamash arrived, informing her that the beis din had sent for her.

When she finished her story, the rabbis of the beis din looked at each other in amazement and told the woman that Joseph Jospa had come to them and told them that he wanted to marry her. She now had no doubt that it was G-d’s will that she marry the tzaddik, and the marriage was arranged. The wedding was a great celebration for the whole community. Everyone in Krakow felt that this was no ordinary wedding, but that it held an inner significance beyond their comprehension.

In the second year of their marriage, they were blessed with a son, whom Joseph Jospa named Eliyahu, after Eliyahu HaNavi. When Eliyahu was two, Joseph Jospa taught him Torah until he was of bar mitzva age, and he studied diligently.

About two weeks before Eliyahu’s bar mitzva, Joseph Jospa told his wife that he felt that he was about to pass away. He told her that after their son’s bar mitzva, Eliyahu would tell her that he wants to go out into the world. She should not discourage him from doing this, because he had been sent down to this world to fulfill a special mission. He told her that when her first husband had been killed, Joseph Jospa had received a Divine command to marry the widow, for a son of very high stature would be born to them who would have a special mission to fulfill for the Jewish people, to help them and uplift them. Eliyahu HaNavi had been studying with their son Eliyahu to prepare him for this mission. He was to be the first in a long chain of tzaddikim leading up to the coming of Moshiach.

After concluding these instructions, Joseph Jospa passed away. A few weeks after Eliyahu’s bar mitzva, he told his mother that he wanted to go out into the world. Having been prepared for this, she did not object. She gave him her blessing and he left. Forty years later, in the year 5350 (1590) he appeared in the city of Werms, Germany and became known as a miracle worker and a healer. He also established a yeshiva there where he taught Kabbala, particularly the Zohar, in addition to the Talmud. He was the famous Rabbi Eliyahu Baal Shem.

Rabbi Eliyahu Baal Shem was indeed the first in the long chain leading up to the revelation of Melech HaMoshiach. Rabbi Eliyahu was the first of four Baal Shem’s. He was succeeded by his disciple, Rabbi Yoel Baal Shem, then by Rabbi Adam Baal Shem, who was succeeded by his disciple, Rabbi Yisroel, the famous Baal Shem Tov.

With the Baal Shem Tov, two major changes occurred that would affect the rest of the chain. Firstly, the earlier Baal Shem’s and their followers were, for the most part, hidden tzaddikim – they did their work in secret. The Baal Shem Tov, however, was instructed by his teacher, the prophet Achiya HaShiloni to reveal himself as a tzaddik and to start doing his work openly. Secondly, as the Baal Shem Tov wrote in a famous letter, his soul ascended to the Heavenly chamber of Moshiach and he asked Moshiach, "When is the master coming?" to which Moshiach replied, "When the wellsprings of your teachings spread to the outermost reaches." From that time on, spreading the teachings of the Baal Shem Tov and his successors became an integral component of the chain, because it was known that this would bring Moshiach.

The Baal Shem Tov was succeeded by his disciple Rabbi Dov Ber, known as the Maggid of Mezeritch. After the Maggid of Mezeritch was nistalek, the chain branched out in several directions with his disciples setting up centers in different parts of Europe. The main link in the chain, however, was the Maggid’s foremost disciple, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, the Alter Rebbe. A fellow disciple of the Maggid once said of the Alter Rebbe, "We all ate from the same bowl, but he got all the cream."

Being a seventh generation direct descendant from the Maharal of Prague, the Alter Rebbe was a direct descendant of King David.

The Alter Rebbe took a revolutionary approach to spreading the teachings of the Baal Shem Tov and the Maggid. He maintained that it was not sufficient merely to relate the teachings of Chassidus, because the concepts could be fully understood only by scholars well versed in the Talmud and Kabbala. A system had to be devised whereby the average Jew could actually learn and understand the teachings of Chassidus. Thus he constructed the system of Chabad, a system of Torah study which was based primarily on Kabbala, but which was actually a synthesis of Kabbala, Talmud, and halacha. It had its own set of definitions and concepts and could be studied by anyone in a progressive manner, starting from introductory and elementary concepts and working up to the most abstract and subtle ideas. This made Chassidus accessible to everyone.

This new system encountered opposition, not only from those who were opposed to the Baal Shem Tov and Chassidus, but a certain amount even came from some of the Alter Rebbe’s colleagues, fellow disciples of the Maggid, who felt he was doing too much too fast. (It should be noted that the Gaon of Vilna, considered to be the head of the opposition to Chassidim in his time, wrote that one cannot have a complete understanding of the Torah without studying Kabbala, and that the coming of Moshiach depends on this. He was, however, against teaching it to the public.)

The great Kabbalist, Rabbi Levi Yitzchok Schneerson, the father of the Rebbe Melech HaMoshiach, explained that whenever there is an innovation in the world in the area of holiness, there is opposition to it. The higher the level of holiness being introduced into the world, not only the greater the opposition, but also the holier the opposition; in other words, the opposition comes from "closer to home." Thus, for example, when King David was first anointed king, establishing the dynasty that would lead up to Melech HaMoshiach, his main opposition was from the righteous King Saul. Similarly, the Alter Rebbe encountered a certain level of opposition from his fellow disciples of the Maggid, in addition to the intense degree of opposition from others.

Some of the Alter Rebbe’s opponents even tried to stop him by slandering him to the Russian government, saying that the charity the Alter Rebbe was sending to Eretz Yisroel was really being sent to the Turkish government, which controlled Eretz Yisroel at that time, to finance a revolution against the Czar. This resulted in his arrest on charges of treason.

While in prison, the Alter Rebbe was visited by two illustrious tzaddikim from Gan Eden – the Baal Shem Tov and the Maggid of Mezeritch. During their visit, The Alter Rebbe asked them the reason of his imprisonment. They explained to him that just as there was a controversy on earth regarding his innovation, there was likewise a controversy in the Heavenly court on the matter, resulting in the imprisonment. He asked if he should, therefore, stop teaching Chassidus to the same extent as before upon his release from prison. "On the contrary," they responded. "Your release will be an indication that the Heavenly court has decided in your favor and that you should teach Chassidus even more extensively." And this he did. After his miraculous release, he developed Chabad Chassidus even more extensively and taught it more intensely than before.

(To be continued.)


While in prison, the Alter Rebbe was visited by two illustrious tzaddikim from Gan Eden – the Baal Shem Tov and the Maggid of Mezeritch...


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