THE ESSENCE OF LEADERSHIP
Moses is Israel and Israel is Moses.… For the leader of the generation is as the entire generation, for the leader embodies them all Rashi, Numbers 21:21
WHAT IS LEADERSHIP?
We expect our leaders to be wise: to be able to discern right from wrong and make the proper decisions on issues that affect our lives. To provide us with a vision of where we stand and where we are headed, and guide us toward the realization of our goals.
We expect our leaders to be caring and committed: to empathize with our needs and aspirations and devote themselves to their fulfillment.
We expect our leaders to be strong: calm and decisive in times of crisis, capable warriors and diplomats in the furtherance of our aims. We expect our leaders to be individuals of high moral character and integrity, bearers of an ethical standard for young and old to emulate.
But the most important (and probably the most overlooked) function of the leader is to unite us: to knit diverse individuals into a single people and to inspire diverse–and often conflicting–wills to coalesce into a common destiny. A Chorus in Three Versions destruction of their former enslavers when the Red Sea split, to allow them passage and drowned the pursuing Egyptians. The Torah relates how, upon beholding the great miracle. 100
100 Deuteronomy 4:34.
One of the first things we did together as a people was sing. The nation of Israel was born on the 15th of Nissan in the year 2448 from creation (1313 bce)–the day that G-d “extracted a nation from the bowels of a nation,1 freeing the children of Israel from Egyptian slavery. Seven days later, the Israelites witnessed the
Moses and the children of Israel sang this song to G-d, saying:
I shall sing to G-d for He is most exalted;
Horse and rider He cast in the sea.
G-d is my strength and song; He is my salvation
This is my G-d, and I shall glorify2 Him
The G-d of my fathers, and I shall exalt Him…101
This song, known as Shirat HaYam–“Song at the Sea,”–goes on to describe the great miracles that G-d performed for His people, G-d’s promise to bring them to the Holy Land and reveal His presence among them in the Beit HaMikdash (Holy Temple) in Jerusalem, and Israel’s goal to implement G-d’s eternal sovereignty in the world. Its forty-four verses express the gist of our relationship with G-d and our mission in life, and thus occupy a most important place in the Torah and in Jewish life.102
101. Exodus 15. Rabbi Chaim ibn Attar points out in his Ohr HaChaim commentary that the words “I shall sing” are in first person singular, implying that the people of Israel sang the “Song at the Sea” “as a single man, without difference and separation.”
102 The Song at the Sea is recited daily in the morning prayers. The annual Shabbat on which this song is read in the synagogue as part of the weekly Torah reading is given the special name of Shabbat Shirah, “The Shabbat of Song.”
Our sages also focus on the prefatory line to the Song at the Sea, in which the Torah introduces it as a song sung by “Moses and the children of Israel.” Moses was obviously one of the “children of Israel,” so the fact that the Torah singles him out implies that Moses took a leading role in the composition and delivery of this song. Indeed, the nature of Moses’ role is a point of much discussion by our sages: the Talmud 103 relates no fewer than three different opinions on exactly how Moses led his people in their song of praise and thanksgiving to G-d.
According to Rabbi Akiva, it was Moses who composed and sang the Shirat HaYam, while the people of Israel merely responded to each verse with the refrain “I shall sing to G-d.” Moses sang, “For He is most exalted,” and they answered, “I shall sing to G-d”; Moses sang, “Horse and rider He cast in the sea,” and they answered, “I shall sing to G-d”; and so on with all forty-four verses of the song. Rabbi Eliezer, however, is of the opinion that the people repeated each verse after Moses: Moses sang, “I shall sing to G-d for He is most exalted,” and they repeated, “I shall sing to G-d for He is most exalted”; Moses sang “Horse and rider He cast in the sea,” and they repeated, “Horse and rider He cast in the sea,” and so on. A third opinion is that of Rabbi Nechemiah: according to him, Moses simply pronounced the opening words of the song, following which the people of Israel all sang the entire song together. In other words, each of them, on their own, composed the entire–and very same–forty-four verses! 104
103 Talmud, Sotah 30b.
104 Rashi on Talmud, ibid., as per Mechilta on Exodus 15:1.
These three versions of how Moses led Israel in song express three different perspectives on unity, particularly the unity achieved when a people rally under the leadership of their leader. 105
Rabbi Akiva describes an ideal in which a people completely abnegate their individuality to the collective identity embodied by the leader. Moses alone sang the nation’s gratitude to G-d, their experience of redemption, and their vision of their future as G-d’s people. The people had nothing further to say as individuals, except to affirm their unanimous assent to what Moses was expressing.
At first glance, this seems the ultimate in unity: 106 more than two million hearts and minds yielding to a single program and vision. Rabbi Eliezer, however, argues that this is but a superficial unity–an externally imposed unity of the moment, rather than an inner, enduring unity. When people set aside their own thoughts and feelings to accept what is dictated to them by a higher authority, they are united only in word and deed; their inner selves remain different and distinct.
105 Cf. Mechilta ibid.: “Moses being the equivalent of the children of Israel, and the children of Israel being the equivalent of Moses”; See also Rashi on Numbers 21:21 (quoted at the beginning of this essay) and Tanya, end of ch. 2.
106. The census taken one year after the Exodus counted 600,000 males between the ages 20 and 60; a rough demographic estimate makes for a total of 2-3 million Jews.
Such a unity is inevitably short-lived: sooner or later their intrinsic differences and counter-aims will assert themselves, and fissures will appear also in their unanimous exterior.
Thus, says Rabbi Eliezer, if the people of Israel achieved true unity under the leadership of Moses at the Red Sea, then it must have happened this way: that the people of Israelrepeated each verse that issued from Moses’ lips. Yes, they all submitted to the leadership of Moses and saw in him the embodiment of their collective will and goals, but they did not suffice with a “blind” affirmation of his articulation of Israel’s song. Rather, they repeated it after him, running it through the sieve of their own understanding and feelings, finding the roots for an identical declaration in their own personality and experience. Thus, the very same words assumed two million nuances of meaning, as they were absorbed by two million minds and articulated by two million mouths.107
This, maintains Rabbi Eliezer, is the ultimate unity. When each repeats the verses uttered by Moses on his own, relating to them in his individual way, the singular vision of Moses has penetrated each individual’s being, uniting them both in word and in essence. AND UNITIY
107 Talmud, Sotah 30b.
Rabbi Nechemiah, however, is still not satisfied. If Israel repeated these verses after Moses, argues Rabbi Nechemiah, this would imply that their song did not stem from the very deepest part of themselves. For if the people were truly one with Moses and his articulation of the quintessence of Israel, why would they need to hear their song from his lips before they could sing it themselves?
No, says Rabbi Nechemiah, the way it happened was that Moses pronounced the opening words of the song, following which each and every Jew, including “the infant at his mother’s breast and the fetus in the womb,”9 sang the entire song themselves. Indeed, it was Moses who achieved the unity of Israel, as evidenced by the fact that their song could not begin until he sang its opening words. Were it not for his leadership, they could not have risen above the selfishness that mars the surface of every character. Had not the people of Israel abnegated their will to his, they could not have uncovered the singular core of their souls. But once they made that commitment, once they unequivocally responded to Moses’ opening words, each independently conceived and articulated the very same experience of the historic moment in which they stood.
Each and every individual Jew, from the octogenarian sage to the unborn infant, expressed his deepest feelings and aspirations with the very same 187 words. For in Moses they had a leader in whom the soul of Israel was one.(Based on an address by the Rebbe, Shabbat Beshalach, Shevat 11, 5748 January 30, 1988) 108
108 At a farbrengen (gathering) marking the passing of the previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, on the tenth of Shevat, 5710 (1950), and the Rebbe’s formal assumption of the leadership of Chabad-Lubavitch on the same date, one year later. Likkutei Sichot, vol. XXXI, pp. 69-76.
And G-d said to Moses: “…Go to Pharaoh… and say to him: G-d, the G-d of the Hebrews, has sent me to you, saying: Let My people go, that they may serve Me.”
Our sages call Passover “The Season of Our Freedom.” For the Exodus from Egypt was more than one of the many salvation’s of Jewish history; it was the first and ultimate bestowal of freedom upon man. Before the Exodus, there was no true freedom; and having experienced the Exodus, the Jew is forever and invariably free, and no force on earth can enslave him.109
“Freedom,” in the most basic sense of the word, is the removal of all constraints on a person’s development and self-expression. In other words, we assume that freedom is the natural state of man; that if we liberate a person of all external forces that limit and inhibit him, we have a free human being.
But if that were all there was to freedom, Passover would hardly qualify as “The Season of Our Freedom.” For while the Exodus freed us from Pharaoh and his taskmasters, it committed us to a greater, more embracing servitude. “When you take this nation out of Egypt,” G-d said to Moses from the burning bush at the foot of Mount Sinai when He first revealed Himself to him and commissioned him to redeem the people of Israel, “you shall serve G-d at this mountain.”110
109 Gevurot Hashem, chapter 61.
110 Exodus 3:12.
Standing before Pharaoh, Moses did not merely demand in the name of G-d, “Let My people go,” but, “Let My people go, that they may serve Me.” 111 The raison d’être of the Exodus was to bring us to Mount Sinai to be bound in a covenant with G-d as His “nation of priests and holy people”112 —a covenant delineated by the 613 commandments of the Torah.
Thus, the festival of Shavuot, which marks the day on which we received the Torah at Sinai, is the only festival that has no calendar date: the Torah designates it not as a certain day of a certain month—as it does all other festivals—but as the 50th day after Passover. This is to emphasize that Shavuot is an extension and fulfillment of Passover, for the purpose of the Exodus was realized only on the day we stood at Sinai.
Why, then, is freedom the defining quality of Passover? Granted, servitude to G-d is preferable to servitude to Pharaoh, and every moral person will insist that servitude to G-d is preferable to a hedonistic “freedom” in a lawless world. But servitude and freedom, by definition, are diametric opposites. So why is Passover the quintessential season of freedom? If anything, it should be called “The Season of Our Servitude”!
To understand the freedom achieved by the Exodus, we must examine the nature of Israel’s enslavement in Egypt.113
111 Ibid., 7:16, et al.
112 Ibid., 19:6.
113 Exodus 1:14.
Our sages state that “All galuyot (exiles and persecutions) are called by the name of Egypt.” The very name Mitzrayim (Hebrew for “Egypt”) means “boundaries” and “constraints.” Every time we are limited—by a foreign power, by a hostile or merely alien environment, by the corporeality of our bodies, the subjectivity of our minds or the shortcomings of our character—we are in Mitzrayim. If freedom means the absence of constraint, Mitzrayim is the limitation of man on all levels —physically, emotionally, intellectually, morally, or spiritually.
But there is more to galut than constraint and limitation. To refer to the Egyptian prototype, our galut in Egypt entailed more than an imprisonment of the body and a stifling of the spirit; we were slaves in Egypt, whose “lives were embittered with hard labor, with mortar and bricks and in all manner of work in the field—all the work to which they subjected them was crushing labor.” 114
The phrase “crushing labor” (avodat perech) appears repeatedly in the Torah’s account of the Egyptian galut, the text of the Passover Haggadah, and the symbolism of the seder observances. What is “crushing labor”? Maimonides defines it as “work that has no limit and no purpose.”115
114 Karpas, the vegetable dipped in salt-water at the beginning of the seder, alludes to samech perech—”sixty myriads (600,000) enslaved by crushing labor.”
115 Mishneh Torah, Laws of Servitude 1:6; see Hagahot Maimoniot, ibid.
Work even most difficult work—that has a defined end-point and a defined objective is not as demoralizing as endless, futile work. The Egyptians, whose aim in enslaving the Jewish people was to break their spirit, refused to impart any schedule, logic, efficiency or utility to their work. They worked them at the most irrational hours, gave to each of them the task most ill-suited to his or her abilities, and repeatedly destroyed what they had built only to order them to rebuild it again and again.116
Pharaoh had whip-wielding taskmasters to enforce his work-edict. Today, our world has “progressed” to the point that millions voluntarily subject themselves to “work that has no limit and no purpose”: work that spills over from its five-day, forty-hour framework to invade every moment and thought of the week; work that is dictated not by the capabilities and resources of the worker but by status, profitability and vogue; work that is not the means to an end but a self-perpetuating labor that becomes its own aim and objective.117
116 See Midrash Tanchuma, Vayeitzei 9; Midrash Rabbah, Shemot 1:14-15.
117 Tanya, chapter 2; et al.
Ultimately, the capacity for such labor can have only one source: the “spark of G-dliness” that is the essence of the human soul. 118 The physical self is finite and pragmatic; how, then, is it capable of “work that has no limit and no purpose”? What can be the source of the drive to scale mountains because they are there or to search for centuries for a way to turn lead into gold? Only the infinite well of divinity at our core. From where stems the bottomless commitment to the ever-receding goal of material “success”? Only from a soul that possesses limitless vigor and fortitude, from a soul whose commitment to its Creator is not contingent upon envisionable goals and calculable objectives.
The soul of man is thus subjected to a galut within a galut: not only is it prevented from expressing its true self, but it is forced to express itself in ways that are completely opposed to its true desires. Not only is it constrained by a material self and world—it also suffers the usurpation of its quintessential powers to drive the material self’s mundane labors. Not only is the soul’s capacity for infinite and objectiveness commitment inhibited and repressed—it is distorted into an endless quest for material gain.
118 Exodus 20:9 (as per Rashi’s commentary).
The road out of Egypt passes through Sinai.
The Torah regulates our involvement with the material world. It commands that we may, and should, create, manufacture and do business six days a week, but that on the seventh day, not only must all work cease, but we should assume a state of mind in which “all your work is concluded.” On a daily basis, it tells us to set aside inviolable islands in time devoted to Torah study and prayer. And at all times, a multitude of Torah laws define the permissible and the forbidden in business and pleasure.
The Torah also enjoins us to “eat of the toil of your hands”—to invest only our marginal faculties in the business of earning a living, leaving our choicest talents free to pursue more spiritual goals.119 And it insists that all material pursuits should be but a means to an end, but a vessel to receive G-d’s blessings and a tool to aid us in our life’s work of bringing sanctity and G-dliness into our world.120
In so restricting our physical lives, Torah liberates our souls. By limiting the extent and the nature of our material involvement’s, Torah extricates our capacity for infinite commitment from its material exile, freeing it to follow its natural course: to serve G-d in a manner of “no limit and no purpose”—in a manner that transcends the parameters of self, self-gain and our very conception of “achievement.” Based on the Rebbe’s talks on Passover 5719 (1959) and 5720 (1960) 121
119 Psalms 128:2. See Beyond the Letter of the Law (VHH, 1995), pp. 188-189.
120 See Bread From Heaven, WIR, vol. VI, no. 20.
121 Likkutei Sichot, vol. III, pp. 848-852
HOLY LAND AND SEE
And Moses sent them to spy out the land of Canaan; and he said to them: “Go up this way by the south, and go up into the high land. And you shall see the land—what it is…”
One of the greatest tragedies of Jewish history was the debacle of “The Spies.” Fifteen months after the Exodus from Egypt, as the people of Israel camped in the Paran Desert poised to enter the Holy Land, Moses dispatched twelve men—each a leader and representative of one of the twelve tribes of Israel—to spy the land that G-d had promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Forty days later the spies returned praising the fertility of the land and bewailing the military might of its inhabitants. “But the people who dwell in the land are strong,” they said, “and the cities fortified and very great; we saw giants 122 there… We won’t be able to go up against these people, for they are mightier than we.”
The Spies incited panic among the people, who wept that entire night in terror and despair. “Why is G-d bringing us to this land,” they cried, “to fall by the sword, and that our wives and children be put to prey? Why, it would be better for us to return to Egypt!”
That night of faithless tears became “a weeping for generations.” 123 G-d delayed Israel’s entry into the Holy Land for more than 38 years, until that entire generation had died out and a new generation, more trusting of G-d’s promises, had grown up to replace them. When the people of Israel entered the land of Canaan, it was not Moses who led them but his disciple, Joshua, who was but a pale moon to Moses’ sun.124
122 Numbers 13:27-31.
123 Talmud, Taanit 29a; see note 6 below.
124 Ibid., Bava Batra 75a; Rashi on Numbers 27:20.
Our sages point out that Moses’ achievements were all eternal: the Torah he transmitted to us transcends the vicissitudes of time; the Sanctuary he built was never destroyed (unlike the Temples built by King Solomon and Ezra in Jerusalem). If Moses had brought us into our land, we would never have been driven from it; if Moses had built the Holy Temple, it would never have been destroyed. 125 Thus, all the travails and defeats of Jewish history are descendent from the night that Israel wept for lack of trust in the divine promise.126
The Reality of Sight
Where did the Spies go wrong? Why did their mission, dispatched by Moses with G-d’s approval, fail so miserably? 127
Before their departure, Moses had instructed the Spies to observe the nature of the land, the quality of the soil, and the strength of its inhabitants. Of these they gave an honest account, reporting on these realities as they saw them. But Moses had prefaced his instructions with the injunction: “You shall see the land.”
125 See Talmud, Sotah 9a; Megalleh Amukot, Ofan 185; Ohr HaChaim on Deuteronomy 1:37 and 3:25; Ohr HaTorah, Va’etchanan, pp. 65, 93 and 2201; et al.
The reason that Moses’ work is eternal is that his every thought, word and deed was done in a state of utter attachment to G-d. Thus, the angel who appeared to Joshua to aid Israel’s conquest of the land said, “Now I have come” (Joshua 5:14)— “Now,” since in the days of Moses, when G-d proposed to send an angel to accompany them, Moses had insisted: “If Your own self is not going [with us], do not take us out of here” (Exodus 33:15; Midrash Tanchuma, Mishpatim 18).
(The difference between Moses and Joshua is alluded to by the Talmudic saying that compares Moses to the enduring sun and Joshua to the fluctuating moon, whose light waxes and wanes and, on the darkest of nights, is completely concealed.)
126 The night following the return of the Spies was the night of Av 9—the day that saw the destruction of both the first and second Temples and numerous other tragic events in our history.
Sight is more than a faculty, more than just another sensory tool. To hear, smell, taste or touch something is to “perceive” it, to collect data that informs us about its nature and characteristics; to see something is to experience it. When we say, “I saw it myself,” we are really saying: “This is a truth I have experienced absolutely. So there is no way that you can convince me otherwise. This is not something that has been ‘proven’ to me and which might therefore be ‘disproved’ with stronger, more compelling arguments and proofs. This is something I have seen. This, to me, is reality.”
“You shall see the land,” said Moses to the Spies. I am not sending you as mere gatherers of data; I am sending you as spies in the most literal sense of the word: as those whose mission is to see.
I am sending you, Moses was saying, to serve as the eyes of Israel: the eyes through whom the nation would achieve an absolute and unequivocal identification with their divine heritage; the eyes through whom they would experience its reality in a way that cannot be swayed by mundane data, however adverse or threatening.
This was where the Spies failed their mission. They traversed the land, examined and probed it, sniffed about and sounded it out, and analyzed the facts they had garnered. But they failed to see the land, and failed to bring back sight of the land to the people of Israel. Before his passing, Moses pleaded with G-d: “Please, let me cross over and see the good land across the Jordan; the goodly mountain and the Lebanon.”128
128 Deuteronomy 3:23-25. “Lebanon” refers to the Holy Temple.
G-d did not allow Moses to “cross over,” but He did grant him his request to see. “Ascend to the summit, and lift your eyes westward, northward, southward and eastward, and see with your eyes…. I have shown it to you so that you see it with your eyes, though you shall not cross over to there.” 129 Our sages tell us that every soul possesses a spark of the soul of Moses. 130 Moses’ sight of the land empowers each and every one of us to “see” the holiness and perfection of G-d’s native home and make it an unequivocal reality in our lives. 131
And G-d spoke to Moses, saying: “Send you men that they may spy out the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the children of Israel. One man, one man, per tribe shall you send, each a prince among them… Numbers 13:1-2
And you all approached me, and said: “Let us send men before us, that they may search out the land and bring us back word regarding the road by which we shall go up and the cities into which we shall enter.” And the thing was favorable in my eyes; and I took twelve men from amongst you, one man per tribe… Deuteronomy 1:22-23
The commentaries reconcile these two accounts of the sending of the Spies by explaining that the initiative indeed came from the people of Israel. Moses then consulted with G-d, who said to him, “Send you men…” to imply: “Send them as dictated by your understanding. I am not telling you what to do. Do as you see fit.” 12 Thus, the Spies’ mission, while receiving G-d’s consent, was a purely human endeavor, born of the desire of the people and dispatched because “the thing was favorable” in Moses’ eyes.
129 Ibid. v. 27; 34:4.
130 Tanya, ch. 42.
131 Torat Menachem—Hitvaaduyot, vol. III, pp. 164-173.
The result was a tragic setback in the course of Jewish history. The Spies brought back a most demoralizing report and caused the people to lose faith in G-D’s promise of the land of Israel as their eternal heritage. The entire generation was then deemed unfit to inherit the land, and it was decreed that they would live out their lives in the desert. Only 40 years later did Moses’ successor, Joshua, lead a new generation across the Jordan River and into the Promised Land. (Joshua and Caleb were the only two spies to speak in favor of conquering the land, and the only two of that generation to enter the land.)
Up until that time, G-d had imparted specific directives to Moses and the people of Israel virtually every step of the way. The case of the Spies was the first instance in which G-d said, “I’m not telling you what to do—do as you see fit.” Should this not have set off a warning light in the mind of Moses?
Indeed it did. Our sages tell us that Moses sent off Joshua with the blessing, “May G-d deliver you from the conspiracy of the Spies.”132 So why did he send them? And if, for whatever reason, he thought it necessary to send them, why did he not at least bless them as he blessed Joshua? Even more amazing is the fact that a generation later, as the Jewish people finally stood ready (for the second time) to enter the land, Joshua himself dispatches spies(!) This time, there are no adverse results; but why did he again initiate a process which had ended so tragically in the past?
132 Rashi, Numbers 13:16.
Obviously, Moses was well aware of the risks involved when embarking on a course of “Do as you see fit.” For man to strike out on his own, without precise instructions from On High and with only his finite and subjective judgment as his compass, is to enter a mine-field strewn with possibilities for error and failure. Yet Moses also knew that G-d was opening a new arena of human potential.
Choice: A most crucial element of our mission in life is the element of choice. Were G-d to have created man as a creature who cannot do wrong, then He might as well have created a perfect world in the first place, or no world at all. The entire point of G-d’s desire in creation is that there be a non-perfected world, and that we should choose to perfect it. It is precisely the possibility for error on our part that lends significance to our achievements.
The concept of choice exists on two levels. When G-d issues an explicit instruction to us, we still have the choice to defy His command. This, however, is choice in a more limited sense. For, in essence, our soul is “literally a part of G-d above”133 and, deep down, has but a single desire: to fulfill the divine will. In the words of Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi: “A Jew is neither willing, nor is he able, to tear himself away from G-d.” When it comes down to it, each and every one of us desires only to do good, as defined by the will of G-d. The only “choice” we have is whether to suppress our innate will or to express it in our daily life.
133 Tanya, ch. 2, after Job 31:2.
Up until the episode of the Spies, this was the only choice offered the Jewish people. G-d provided unequivocal guidelines for each and every issue that confronted their lives. They had the choice to disobey, but to do so would run contrary to their deepest instincts.
The second level of choice was introduced with G-d’s reply to Moses regarding the Spies. When Moses heard G-d saying, “Do as you see fit,” he understood that G-d was opening another, even deeper and truer, dimension of choice in the life of man. By creating an area in which He, the creator and absolute master of the world, states, “I am not telling you what to do,” G-d was imparting an even greater significance to human actions. Here, and only here, is the choice truly real; here, and only here, is there nothing to compel us in either direction. 134
When we enter this arena, the risks are greater: the possibility to err is greater, and the consequences of our error more devastating. But when we succeed in discovering, without instruction and empowerment from Above, the optimum manner in which to “enter the Holy Land” and actualize the divine will, our deed is infinitely more valuable and significant.
134 Exodus 33:11.
The Self of Joshua
This was why Moses dispatched the Spies, though fully aware of the hazards of their mission, without so much as a blessing that they be safeguarded from the pitfalls of human endeavor. Were he to have blessed them—to have imparted to them of his own spiritual prowess to succeed in their mission—he would have undermined the uniqueness of the opportunity that G-d had granted by consenting that their mission be “by your understanding.” The entire point was that both Moses (in deciding whether to send them) and the Spies (in executing their mission) would be entirely on their own, guided and empowered solely by their own understanding and humanity.
The only one to receive Moses’ blessing was Joshua, who was Moses’ faithful “servant… never budging from [Moses’] tent.”135 The unique relationship between Moses and Joshua is described in the Talmud with the following metaphor: “Moses’ face was like the face of the sun; Joshua’s face was like the face of the moon.”16 On the most basic level, this expresses the superiority of Moses over Joshua, the latter being but a pale reflector of the formers light; on a deeper level, this alludes to the depth of the bond between the greatest of teachers and the most devoted of disciples. As the moon has no luminance of its own but receives all of its light from the sun, so had Joshua completely abnegated his self to his master, so that everything he was and had derived from Moses.
For Moses to bless Joshua was not to empower Joshua with something that was not himself: Joshua’s entire self was Moses. Armed with Moses’ blessing, Joshua was truly and fully “on his own”—this was his essence and self, rather than something imposed on him from without.136
Thus it was Joshua, who had successfully negotiated the arena of true and independent choice, who led the people of Israel into the landof Canaan. For the conquest of Canaan and its transformation into a “Holy Land” represents man’s entry into a place where there are no clear-cut divine directives to distinguish good from evil and right from wrong, and his independent discovery of how to sanctify this environment as a home for G-d.
The Doorway of Choice
And when Moses would enter the Sanctuary to speak with [G-d], he would hear the voice speaking to him from above the cover of the Ark of Testimony, from between the two kruvim; and it spoke to him [only]. Numbers 7:89
One might think that this (the fact that only Moses heard the voice of G-d) was because the voice was low. So the verse stresses that it was “the voice”’—the same voice that spoke to him at Sinai. But when it reached the doorway it stopped, and did not extend outside of the Sanctuary. Rashi, ibid.
A basic tenet of the Jewish faith is that man has been granted the freedom to choose between good and evil, between adherence to his divinely ordained mission in life and rebellion against, or even denial of, his Creator. 137
136 Talmud, Bava Batra 75a; Rashi on Numbers 27:20.
137 Sefer HaSichot 5749, vol. II, pp. 536-540.
As Maimonides writes, “Were G-d to decree that a person be righteous or wicked, of if there were to exist something in the essence of a person’s nature which would compel him toward a specific path, a specific conviction, a specific character trait or a specific deed…how could G d command us through the prophets ‘do this’ and ‘do not do this,’ ‘improve your ways’ and ‘do not follow your wickedness’…? What place would the entire Torah have? And by what measure of justice would G-D punish the wicked and reward the righteous…?”
This is the deeper significance of the divine voice’s “short stop” at the doorway of the Sanctuary. At Sinai, the words “I Am G-d your G-d” resounded throughout the universe, permeating every creature and creation. 138 At that moment, there was no possibility of doubt in G-d’s reality or of nonconformity to His will.139 But then the world fell silent, and the voice retreated to hover about the “Ark of Testimony” that contains G-d’s Torah and confine itself to the four walls of the Sanctuary that houses it.
138 Midrash Rabba, Shmot 5:9-10; see An Absorbant World, WIR vol. III no. 49
139 Indeed, for this reason our sages have said that we were, in effect, ‘forced’ to accept the Torah: what other option was there in face of a divine revelation of such magnitude? It is only when we reiterated our commitment under conditions of divine self-concealment that this potential ‘contest’ on our covenant with G-d was refuted (Talmud, Shabbat 88a, as per Torah Ohr, Esther 98d; see The Thousand Year Difference, WIR vol. III no. 28).
The volume was not lowered—the voice is no less infinite and omnipotent than it was at Sinai. One who enters the Sanctuary hears a voice that penetrates and permeates all, a voice that knows no bounds or equivocations. But one can choose to remain outside of the domain of Torah, to deny himself the knowledge and the way of life in which G-d makes Himself heard. One can choose to remain outside, in the field of G-d’s self-imposed silence. It is this choice that creates the challenge of life, making our every moral victory a true and significant achievement. 140
140 Likkutei Sichot, vol XIII p. 22-23. Based on an address by the Rebbe, Shabbat Naso 5725
I came down from the mountain, and the mountain burned with fire; and the two Tablets of the Covenant were in my two hands. And I saw that, behold, you had sinned against the L-rd your G-d, and had made yourselves a molten calf; you had quickly turned from the path which G-d had commanded you. I grabbed hold of the two Tablets and threw them from my two hands; and I broke them before your eyes. Deuteronomy 9:15-17
Since Moses already held the Tablets of the Covenant in his hands, why did he have to “grab hold” of them in order to break them? The Midrash explains that Moses was not the only one holding onto the Tablets:
The Tablets were each six handbreadths long and three handbreadths wide. Moses held two handbreadths [of the Tablets’ length], G-d held two handbreadths, and in between were two handbreadths of space. Moses’ hands prevailed, and he grabbed hold of the Tablets and broke them.141
No human being is more deeply identified with the Torah than Moses. “Remember the Torah of Moses My servant,”142 declares the prophet Malachi, and our sages explain: “Because he gave his life for it, [G-d’s Torah] is called by his name.”143 “Moses our Teacher” we call him, for the very essence of his life was the mission to receive the divine law at Mount Sinai and deliver it to humanity. What, then, prompted him, as he carried the Torah down from the mountain, to literally wrest it from G-d’s hands and smash it to pieces?
141 Midrash Tanchuma, Eikev 11; Jerusalem Talmud, Taanit 4:5.
142 Malachi 3:22.
143 Midrash Rabbah, Shemot 30:4
“Before Your Eyes” The “punch line” is a common device by which to lend import and prominence to an idea: a speaker or writer will position the crux of his message, or its most emphatic point, in his closing words. The Torah, too, employs this device, and a general rule of Torah law and exegesis is that “Everything goes by the ending.”144
It is therefore most surprising to discover that, according to the greatest of Torah commentators, the Torah’s own closing words are in praise of Moses’ decision to break the Tablets.
The last chapter of the Torah (Deuteronomy 34:1-12) describes the last day of Moses’ physical life. Indeed, this is a most apt “ending” for the “Torah of Moses,” since Jewish tradition regards the moment of a righteous person’s passing as the high point of his or her life—the point at which “all his deeds, teachings and works” attain their ultimate fulfillment and realization.145 But then, after describing Moses’ survey of the Holy Land from the summit of Mount Nebo, his passing, and burial, the Torah’s final verses recount the highlights of Moses’ life and his greatest achievements:
And there arose not since a prophet in Israel like Moses, whom G-d knew face to face; [who performed] all the signs and wonders which G-d sent [Moses] to do in the land of Egypt… [who equaled] that mighty hand, those great fearsome deeds, [and] that which Moses did before the eyes of all Israel.146
144 Talmud, Berachot 12a.
145 Tanya, part IV, section 27; cf. Ecclesiastes 7:1: “Greater is … the day of death than the day of birth.”
146 Deuteronomy 34:10-12.
To what deed of Moses does the Torah refer with its closing words, “which Moses did before the eyes of all Israel”? Employing a method of Torah interpretation known as “identical phraseology,” 147 Rashi, the greatest of commentators on Torah, sees these words as an allusion to the breaking of the Tablets, which Moses describes in a previous chapter as something which he did “before the eyes” of Israel:
“That which Moses did before the eyes of all Israel”—that his heart emboldened him to break the Tablets before their eyes, as it is written, “[I grabbed hold of the two Tablets and threw them from my two hands] and I broke them before your eyes.” 148
At first glance it would seem that this act of Moses, however necessary or even desirable it may have been, was antithetical to his role as conveyer of Torah, as well as detrimental to the Torah’s own role of serving as G-d’s instruction to humanity. Yet the Torah makes this the final item in its account of Moses’ life, as well as its own “ending.” In other words, if we assume that indeed “everything goes by the ending,” not only is the Torah saying that it regards the breaking of the Tablets as the most important deed of Moses’ life, but also that the most important thing it has to say about itself is that it regards the breaking of the Tablets as the most important deed of Moses’ life!
147 Gezeirah shavah; i.e., an identical phrase (in this case, “before the eyes”) appearing in two places in the Torah points to a similar meaning in both cases; The gezeirah shavah is one of the “Thirteen Methods of Torah Interpretation.”
148 Rashi on Deuteronomy 34:12.
The Marriage Contract
There was once a king—relates the Midrash—who went off on a distant journey and left his bride with her maidservants. Because of the promiscuity of the maidservants, rumors began circulating about the king’s bride. The king heard of this and wished to kill her. When the bride’s guardian heard this, he tore up her marriage contract, saying: “Should the king say, ‘My wife did such and such,’ we shall say to him, ‘She’s not your wife yet.'” 149
The king in this parable—the Midrash goes on to explain— is G-d, the bride is the nation of Israel, the corrupt maids are the eirev rav the “mixed multitude” who had joined the Jewish people at the Exodus and were responsible for the making of the Golden Calf), the bride’s guardian is Moses, and the marital contract is the Torah. When G-d wished to destroy Israel because of their involvement in the worship of the Golden Calf, Moses broke the Tablets upon which G-d had transcribed the essence of His covenant with them, thereby dissolving the marriage-bond that Israel had allegedly violated and leaving G-d no grounds on which to punish His bride’s unfaithfulness.
149 Midrash Tanchuma, Ki Tissa 30 (a slightly different version is cited by Rashi in his commentary on Exodus 34:1).
The Midrash continues the metaphor to explain why G-d instructed that Moses himself carve the Second Tablets, which replaced the ones he broke (the First Tablets were “the handiwork of G-d”):
“The king subsequently investigated and found that the corruption came from the maidservants, and was reconciled with his bride. Said the bride’s guardian to the king: ‘Sir, make her another marriage contract, for the first one was torn up.’ Said the king to him: ‘You tore it up, so you supply the paper and I shall write on it with my hand’ … Thus, when G-d forgave [the Jewish people], He said to Moses: ‘Carve, yourself, two tablets of stone [like the first ones, and I shall write on these tablets what was on the first tablets, which you have broken].'”
And this the Torah considers to be Moses’ highest virtue: his unequivocal loyalty to the Jewish people, a loyalty even greater than his loyalty to the Torah. When the very existence of the Jewish people was threatened, Moses tore up the wedding contract in order to save the bride.
When the existence of Israel was in jeopardy, Moses did not consult with anyone, not even with G-d. When Moses had to choose between the Torah and Israel, his devotion to Israel superseded all—including that which defines the very essence of his own being.
It is for this reason that Moses’ breaking of the Tablets was the greatest deed of his life. In everything else he did, he was acting on a clear mandate from G-d: G-d had instructed and empowered him to take the Jews out of Egypt, to split the Red Sea, and to transmit His wisdom and will to humanity. Always it was G-D’s desire that he followed. Here, it was his own initiative. Here, he wrestled with G-d, “grabbing hold” of the Tablets to save the people of Israel.
In breaking the Tablets, Moses was acting on his own, contrary to his divine mission to deliver G-D’s Torah to the world. In breaking the Tablets, Moses, who could not presume that G-d would replace the first Tablets with a second pair, was eradicating his very being, his very raison d’être, for the sake of his people.
And Moses did not go off to a corner to carry out the most painful and potentially self-destructive act of his life. He broke the Tablets “before the eyes of all Israel”—a fact which the Torah repeatedly emphasizes, and then reiterates in its concluding words.
For Moses wished to demonstrate to all of Israel, and to all generations to come, the duty of a leader of the Jewish people: to be prepared not only to sacrifice his physical life for his flock, but his very soul and spiritual essence as well.
First Among Firsts
Not only does the Torah record that G-d endorsed Moses’ breaking of the Tablets; not only does it proclaim that Moses’ greatest deed was his placing the preservation of Israel above the integrity of their “marriage contract”; it also chooses to make this its own culminating message. With its closing words the Torah establishes that it sees its own existence as secondary to the existence of the people of Israel.150
The Midrash says it thus: Two things preceded G-d’s creation of the world: Torah and Israel. Still, I do not know which preceded which. But when Torah states ‘Speak to the Children of Israel…,’ ‘Command the Children of Israel…’—I know that Israel preceded all. 151
150 Tana D’vei Eliyahu Rabbah chapter 14.
151 Thus, the entire Torah is set aside to save a Jewish life. In the words of the Talmud, “Desecrate a single Shabbat for his sake, so that he may observe many subsequent Shabbatot” (Talmud, Shabbat 151b). Here, too, a “violation” of the Shabbat is seen as its ultimate preservation.
On the other hand, “Israel, though he has transgressed, is still Israel” (Talmud, Sanhedrin 44a). The intrinsic bond between G-d and His people is actualized through their observance of Torah, but is not dependent upon it; even when a Jew violates the Torah, G-d forbid, his identity as a Jew is unaffected. Thus we have the concept of teshuvah (“return”): also when a Jew has damaged his relationship with G-d as defined by Torah, he can supersede Torah’s definition of the relationship and reawaken it through the yearning, regret and resolve of teshuvah.
In other words, since the purpose of G-d’s creation of the universe is that the people of Israel should implement His will as outlined in the Torah, the concepts of “Israel” and “Torah” both precede the concept of a “world” in the Creator’s “mind.” Yet which is the more deeply rooted idea within the divine consciousness, Torah or Israel? Does Israelexist so that the Torah may be implemented, or does the Torah exist to serve the Jew in the fulfillment of his mission and the realization of his relationship with G-d?
Says the Midrash: if the Torah describes itself as a communication to Israel, this presumes the concept of Israel as primary to that of Torah. Without the people of Israel to implement it, there cannot be a Torah, since the very idea of a Torah was conceived by the divine mind as a tool to facilitate the bond between G-d and His people.
Hence, when the Torah speaks of the shattering of the Tablets, it speaks not of its own destruction, but, ultimately, of its preservation: if the breaking of the Tablets saved Israel from extinction, it also saved the Torah from extinction, since the very concept of a “Torah” is dependent upon the existence of the people of Israel. 152
152 Exodus 4:13.
Pressing for Redemption
Moses’ self-negating devotion to his people characterized his leadership from its very start. When G-d first appeared to Moses in the burning bush and commanded him to take the Jewish people out of Egypt, Moses refused. For seven days and nights Moses argued with G-d. Don’t send me, pleaded Moses, “Send the one whom You will send.”153
“G-d’s anger raged against Moses,” the Torah tells us. Understandably so: the people of Israel are languishing under the Egyptian whip, and G-d’s chosen redeemer is refusing his commission? Still Moses argued with G-d to “Send the one whom You will send” instead of himself. Why did Moses refuse to go? Was it his humility? True, the Torah attests that “Moses was the most humble man on the face of the earth.”154 But surely Moses was not one to allow his humility to interfere with the salvation of his people.
153 Ibid., verse 14.
154 Numbers 12:3
Our sages explain that Moses knew that he would not merit to bring Israel into the Holy Land and thereby achieve the ultimate redemption of his people.155 He knew that Israelwould again be exiled, would again suffer the physical and spiritual afflictions of galut. So Moses refused to go. Do not send me, he pleaded; send now the one whom You will send in the end of days. If the time for Israel’s redemption has come, send Moshiach, through whom You will effect the complete and eternal Redemption.156 For seven days and nights Moses contested G-d’s script for history, prepared to incur G-d’s wrath upon himself for the sake of his people.
Nor did Moses ever accept the decree of galut. After assuming, by force of the divine command, the mission to take Israel out of Egypt, he embarked on a lifelong struggle to make this the final and ultimate Redemption. To the very last day of his life, Moses beseeched G-d to allow him to lead Israel into the Holy Land, which would have settled Israel in their land, and G-d in Israel’s midst, for all eternity; to his very last day he braved G-d’s anger in his endeavor to effect the ultimate Redemption.
155 See note Ibid.
156 Rashi on Exodus 4:13; Midrash Lekach Tov, ibid 17 “The deeds of Moses are eternal” (Talmud, Sotah 9a; thus the Mishkan, the sanctuary that Moses built in the desert, was never destroyed). If Moses would have settled the people of Israel in their land, there would have been no subsequent exiles (Megalleh Amukot, section 185; see Alshich and Ohr HaChaim commentaries on Deuteronomy 4:23).
In Moses’ own words: “I beseeched G-d at that time, saying: …’Please, let me cross over and see the good land across the Jordan, the good mountain (Jerusalem) and the Levanon (the Holy Temple).’ And G-d grew angry with me for your sakes… and He said to me: ‘Enough! Speak no more to Me of this matter.…'”157
G-d said “Enough!” but Moses was not silenced. For Moses’ challenge of the divine plan did not end with his passing from physical life. The Zohar tells us that every Jewish soul has at its core a spark of Moses’ soul.158 So every Jew who storms the gates of heaven clamoring for redemption continues Moses’ struggle against the decree of galut. 159
157 Deuteronomy 4:23-26.
158 Tikkunei Zohar 69, pp. 112a and 114a; see Tanya ch. 44.
159 Hitvaaduyot 5747, vol. I, pp. 349-359; Sefer HaSichot, vol. II, pp. 728-730. Editor’s note: The Rebbe wept profusely during the Simchat Torah address, describing Moses’ breaking of the tablets in a voice choked with tears. Based on the Rebbe’s talks on Simchat Torah of 5747 (1986) and on other occasions
THE NUMEROLOGY OF REDEMPTION
And G-d called to him from the thornbush: “Moses! Moses!” And he said: “Here I am.”
…And G-d said: “I have seen the suffering of My people… Go, now, I shall send you to Pharaoh, and you will take My people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt.”
And Moses said to G-d: “Who am I, that I might go to Pharaoh, and that I might take the children of Israel out of Egypt? … Please, my Lord, send by the hand of he whom You will send.” Exodus 3:4-4:13
“Send by the hand of he whom You will send”—by the hand of Moshiach, who is destined to be revealed. Midrash Lekach Tov on Exodus 4:13
Our sages state that “the first redeemer, he is the final redeemer.”160 This is not to say that Moses, who delivered the Jewish people from their first exile, and Moshiach, who will bring about the final redemption, are the same person. Moses was from the tribe of Levi, while Moshiach is identified as a descendent of King David,161 from the tribe of Judah. Rather, it means that the redemption achieved by Moses is the source for the redemption by Moshiach.
The purpose of the Exodus, as G-d told Moses when He revealed Himself to him in the burning bush, was that “when you take this nation out of Egypt, you will serve G-d at this mountain”162—that the Jewish people should receive the Torah at Mount Sinai. The final redemption represents the full and ultimate implementation of the Torah, G-d’s “blueprint for creation,” in the world. Thus, “the first redeemer, he is the final redeemer”—Moses’ Torah is the essence of Moshiach’s perfect world.163
160 Cf. Midrash Rabbah, Shemot 2:4; Zohar, part I, 253a; Shaar HaPesukim L’HaAriZal, Vayechi; Torah Or, Mishpatim 75b.
161 Isaiah 11:1; Mishneh Torah, Laws of Kings, 11:5; et al.
162 Exodus 3:12.
163 Midrash Rabbah, Bereishit 1:2.
Yet when Moses begged that G-d send Moshiach and make the Exodus the first and final redemption, G-d did not accept his plea. First the Jewish people must be taken out of Egypt and given the Torah—a task that only Moses can achieve. Then they can embark on their mission to “perfect the world as the kingdom of G-d” 164 via the Torah, until its ultimate realization through Moshiach. Two Shades of One :
The relationship between Moses and Moshiach is reflected in the numerical value of their names. (In the Holy Tongue every letter is also a number, so that a word is also a string of numbers; the sum of these numbers is the word’s numerical value, or gematria. The gematria of a word represents a deeper stratum of significance than its linguistic meaning, so the fact that two different words have the same numerical value indicates that they are variant expressions of the same truth.) The numerical value of “Moshe” (Moses) is 345, 165 and that of “Moshiach,” 358 166 So the difference between Moses and Moshiach is represented by the number 13; otherwise stated, Moses plus 13 makes Moshiach. 167
164 Siddur, Aleinu prayer.
165 Mem=40, shin=300, hei=5.
166 Mem=40, shin=300, yud=10, chet=8.
167 The same concept is also expressed in the verse “The scepter shall not depart from Judah … until Shiloh will come.” The gematria of “Shiloh,” an appellation of Moshiach, is 345, expressing the idea that “the first redeemer, he is the final redeemer.” The word yavo (“will come”) has a numerical value of 13, so that the words yavo Shiloh (“Shiloh will come”) equal 358, the gematria of “Moshiach.”
Thirteen is the numerical value of echad,168 a word that is the keystone of the Jewish faith. Every morning and evening of his life, the Jew recites the verse Shema Yisrael, Ado-nai Elo-hei-nu, Ado-nai echad—“Hear O Israel, the L-rd is our G-d, the L-rd is echad.”169
The Jewish people are called “an echad nation on earth” because they reveal the echad of G-d in the world.170 And the era of Moshiach is described as “the day that G-d will be echad, and His name echad.”171
Echad means “one.” The Shema proclaims the oneness and unity of G-d, which the people of Israel are charged to reveal in the world, and which will be fully manifest in the era of Moshiach. But is echad the ideal word to express the divine unity? Like its English equivalent, the word does not preclude the existence of other objects (as in the sequence “one, two, three…”), nor does it preclude its object being composed of parts (we speak of “one nation,” “one forest,” “one person” and “one tree,” despite the fact that each of these consists of many units or components). It would seem that the term yachid, which means “singular” and “only one,” more clearly expresses the “perfect simplicity”14 of G-d and the axiom that “there is none else beside Him.”
168 Alef=1, chet=8, daled=4.
169 Deuteronomy 6:4.
170 Siddur, Amidah for Shabbat afternoon; Tanya, Iggeret HaKodesh, ch. 9.
171 Zechariah 14:9.
Chassidic teaching explains that, on the contrary, echad represents a deeper unity than yachid.172 Yachid is a oneness that cannot tolerate plurality—if another being or element is introduced into the equation, the yachid is no longer yachid. Echad, on the other hand, represents the fusion of diverse elements into an harmonious whole. The oneness of echad is not undermined by plurality; indeed, it employs plurality as the ingredients of unity.
As one Chassidic thinker once put it, G-d did not have to create a world to be yachid. He was singularly and exclusively one before the world was created, and remains so after the fact.173 It was to express His echad-ness that He created the world, created man, granted him freedom of choice, and commanded him the Torah. He created existences that, at least in their own perception, are distinct of Him, and gave them the tools to bring their lives into utter harmony with His will. When a diverse and plural world chooses, by its own initiative, to unite with Him, the divine oneness assumes a new, deeper expression—G-d is echad.174
171 I.e., the fact that there are no parts, components or aspects to His being (The Second Principle, Maimonides’ introduction to Perek Chelek; Mishneh Torah, Laws of the Fundamentals of Torah, 1:7).
172 Deuteronomy 4:35
173 “Prior to the world’s creation, He was one alone, singular and unique, filling all the ‘space’ in which He created the world. Now, too, this remains the true reality… The change is only from the perspective of those who receive the life and light emanating from Him, which they receive via many ‘garments’ which conceal and obscure His light”—Tanya, ch. 36.
174 This is expressed in the three letters/numbers that comprise the word Echad—alef, chet, daled, or 1, 8, 4: that the oneness of G-d be made to pervade the “seven heavens and the earth” (8) and the four points of the compass.
The Limits of Revelation
Moses plus echad equals Moshiach.
Moses revealed the divine wisdom and will to man. But this was a revelation, a burst of light from Above. It was not something the world understood or agreed with, but something imposed upon it by the force of a higher truth. It was a display of the divine yachid, of the exclusive, all-obliterating reality of G-d.
Moses wanted that G-d should send Moshiach to take the Jewish people out of Egypt—that the Exodus should lead to the inculcation of the divine echad in the world. But an echad-oneness, by definition, must come from below, when a diverse world chooses, by its own initiative, to merge into an integral whole. Moses could provide the key, the formula—but the process had to unfold in the course of the thirty-three centuries in which the world absorbed the divine truth and implemented the divine will.
In the words of Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi: “The era of Moshiach … is the culmination and fulfillment of the creation of our world—it is to this end that it was created… In the future [world of Moshiach], the light of G-d will be revealed without any obscuring garment, as it is written: ‘No longer shall your Master be shrouded; your eyes shall behold your Master’175.
“A semblance of this was already experienced on earth at the time that the Torah was given, as it is written: “You have been shown to know that the L-rd He is G-d, there is none else beside Him”176 … [But] then their existence was literally nullified by the revelation, as our sages have said, ‘With each utterance [the people of Israel heard from G-d at Mount Sinai], their souls flew from their bodies…’177 Yet in the end of days the body and the world will be refined, and will be able to receive the revelation of the divine light … via the Torah.”178
Based on an address by the Rebbe, Passover 5729 (1969) 179
175 Isaiah 30:20.
176 Deuteronomy 4:35.
177 Talmud, Shabbat 88b.
178 Tanya, loc. cit.
179 Likkutei Sichot, vol. XI, pp. 8-13.
THREE SOURCES OF MOSHIACH
And Bilaam said to Balak: “…Come, let me advise you what this people shall do to your people in the end of days…. I see it, but not now; I behold it, but it is not near. A star shall go forth from Jacob, and a scepter shall arise from Israel; he will conquer the ends of Moab, and rule all the children of Seth…. And Israel shall be valiant… Numbers 24:12-17
The prophets of Israel describe a future in which a great leader shall arise in Israel, awaken his people to return to G-d, restore them to their homeland, rebuild the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, and bring about an age of universal enlightenment, harmony and perfection. As Maimonides describes it, “In those days there will be no hunger or war, no jealousy or rivalry; for… the sole occupation of the entire world will be to know G-d.”1
The coming of Moshiach is also referred to, though less explicitly, in the Torah proper-the Five Books of Moses. Thus Maimonides writes: “Whoever does not believe in him, or does not anticipate his coming, not only denies the other prophets – he also denies the Torah and Moses our Teacher.”2 Maimonides goes on to cite three instances in which the Torah itself speaks of the Messianic Redemption:
- a)Deuteronomy 30:1-10: “And the L-rd your G-d … will return and gather you from all the nations amongst whom [He] has scattered you. If your dispersed be at the ends of the heavens, from there will the L-rd your G-d gather you, from there He will take you. [He] will bring you into the Land which your fathers have possessed and you will possess it, and he will do you good and multiply you, more than your fathers. [He] will circumcise your heart and the heart of your children, to love the L-rd your G-d with all your heart and with all your soul…. G-d will again rejoice over you as He rejoiced over your fathers, for you shall hearken to the voice of the L-rd your G-d, to keep His commandments and statutes which are written in this book of the Torah.”
- b) Mishneh Torah, Laws of Kings, 12:5.
- b) Numbers 24:17-19: “I see him, but not now; I behold him, but he is not near. A star shall come forth from Jacob, and a ruler shall arise fromIsrael; he will conquer the ends ofMoab, and rule all the children of Seth…. And Israel shall be valiant…”
- c) In Deuteronomy 19, the Torah commands to set aside “cities of refuge” to serve as a place of exile for “one who shall unintentionally kill his fellow. ” Then the Torah adds: “And when G-d shall broaden your borders … and give you the entire land that He promised to give to your forefathers -for you shall keep all these commandments which I am commanding you today, to love the L-rd your G-d and walk in His ways forever-then you shall add another three cities….” Maimonides notes that, “This never yet came to pass, and G-d did not command it in vain” – so that here we have a further reference in the Torah to the Messianic Era, when “the entire land that He promised to give to your forefathers” shall be given to the Jewish people. 180
These three “proofs” are all necessary, for they establish three principles that are fundamental to the Jewish concept of Moshiach: the redemption of Israel, the person of Moshiach, and the integrity of Torah.
180 In the covenant He made with Abraham, G-d promised: “To your descendants I shall give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates.” These borders include lands never conquered or settled by the people of Israel throughout their history.
The first citation, from the 30th chapter of Deuteronomy, contains the most explicit reference to the final Redemption in the Five Books of Moses. However, there is no mention there of the person of Moshiach as the divine agent of its realization. From these verses alone we can only infer that there will be a redemption (Israel’s return to G-d, their restoration to their homeland, etc.), but not that a human leader will bring it about.
Yet the Jew’s belief in Moshiach is not in some abstract “historical process” by which the world progresses to perfection, but that “There will arise a king from the house of David, who studies the Torah and fulfills its precepts as David his ancestor … and he will prevail upon all of Israel to follow it and repair its breaches, wage the battle of G-d … build the Holy Temple on its site, gather the dispersed of Israel … [and] rectify the entire world to serve G-d together.” 4 While many of the prophets speak explicitly of the person of Moshiach, Maimonides wishes to show that this principle is also contained in the Torah itself. It is for this purpose that he cites his second proof, from Numbers 181.
Moshiach and the Mitzvot
Moshiach achieves many great things: he liberates the people of Israel and restores their true independence and sovereignty; he teaches the divine wisdom of Torah, illuminating the intricacies of the human soul and the divine essence of all reality; he is a prophet of the highest order, communicating the word of G-d to man. But the most important thing that Moshiach does is to bring about the perfect and absolute implementation of the entire body of mitzvot, the divine commandments of the Torah, in the world.
181 Mishneh Torah, ibid., 11:4.
Today, we are capable of achieving only a very limited actualization of the divine program for life. More than half of the Torah’s commandments (343 out of a total of 613) can be observed only when the Holy Temple is standing in Jerusalem and/or when the entire community of Israel resides in the Holy Land. And even the Mitzvot that we can observe in our current state of galut (exile) are but pale “models” of the real thing, for the divine commandments can be optimally fulfilled only in a post-redemption of Isreal 182.
Furthermore, while we might do everything in our power to fulfill the Mitzvot that are available to us today, we are daily confronted with a world that is still at odds with the will of its Creator. The Torah commands, “Do not kill,” yet people are killing each other all over the world; the Torah commands, “Love your fellow as yourself” “Honor your father and your mother,” “Remember the day of Shabbat to sanctify it,” and “Do not cook a kid in its mother’s milk,” yet a great portion of those to whom these commands are addressed are indifferent to, or even ignorant of them.
In our present-day reality, the Torah seems more like a “religion” or an “ideal,” than the cardinal law of reality. So the coming of Moshiach, the man who brings about the universal commitment to the divine law, is not just another event predicted by the Torah or another of its concepts and principles; it is the validation of the very essence of Torah as the divine blueprint for life – as the ultimate description of what the world can, ought to, and inevitably will, be.
182 The Midrash goes so far as to consider the mitzvot observed in galut as mere “reminders” for the true mitzvot, those observed in the Holy Land. Quoting the prophet Jeremiah, “Set for yourself markers” (Jeremiah 31:20), it says: “
This is the significance of Maimonides’ third source for Moshiach in the Torah. When the Torah commands us to add three “cities of refuge” upon establishing Jewish sovereignty over the entirety of the Promised Land, it is not only predicting the future Redemption, but also stating that the advent of Moshiach is required for the implementation of a divine command. Here is an example of a mitzvah, commanded by G-d at Sinai, whose conditions for fulfillment have never existed, and will exist only upon the arrival of Moshiach.
These verses establish the third principle that is fundamental to the Jew’s belief in Moshiach: that the Torah’s commandments are the ultimate blueprint for life on earth, and that there will come a day when the divine plan for creation will be fully realized in our world. For certainly, as Maimonides puts it, “G-d did not command it in vain.”
Based on talks by the Rebbe in the summers of 5738 (1978) and 5746 (1986) and on Shavuot of 5751. 183
183 Likkutei Sichot, vol. 34, Shoftim (5749); Sefer HaSichot 5751, pp. 574-576.
THE MOSHIACH ERA
“ It should be proclaimed and publicized that we are living in a special time, when only one solitary thing remains to be done “Stand ready, every one of you,” for the forthcoming rebuilding of the Beis HaMirdash with the coming of David, the King Moshiach” From a talk of the Rebbe Shabbos Parshas Vayigash, 5747 , 1987.
Moses’ uncompromising identification with his people, no matter to what depths they might have fallen, that ensured that each and every Jew, regardless of his spiritual station and moral circumstances, possesses, and can readily access, the “Moses” within him—his quintessential source of faith and oneness with his Creator. And his self-sacrifice for the children of Israel remains legendary as discussed.
The sequential similarity of the first redemption from Egypt and the last redemption in our days is as explicit as the similarities between Moses and Moshiach and between the miracles of the exodus and the wonders of the final geulah (redemption). These two redemption are one, for the redemption from Egypt was the beginning of a process, and our redemption is the end. Therefore, the prophet connects them, pledging the “Like the days of your coming out of the land of Egypt will I show the nation marvelous things” (Michah 7:15). Similarly, “ The first redeemer is the final redeemer” (Shemos Rabbah 2:4) . So too, When G-D promised, “ I will surely bring you up again (from Egypt)” (Gen 46:4). By repeating the verb bring up, once for the redemption from Egypt and once for the future redemption. Conversely, Even in the messianic era, we will recall the liberation from Egypt. 184
184 Talmud Berachos 12b
the Arizal is of the opinion the generation of the footsteps of Mashiach (Ikvesa Dimeshicha ) a reincarnation of the generation of the wilderness.185
The Chasam Sofer writes; Just as Moses our Teacher, the first redeemer, reached eighty but still did not know or sense that he would redeem Israel… so will it be with the final redeemer…. And when the time comes, G-D will reveal Himself to him, and the spirit of Moshiach, which has been hidden in the higher worlds until his coming, will light upon him. The Tzaddik himself dose not realize. However, when, please G-D, the time comes, G-D will reveal Himself to him as he did to Moses in the bush. 186
The eminent Rabbi Yisreal Salanter once explained “ The face of the generation will be like the face of a dog” as follows. A dog by nature runs ahead of its master, always turning around to see where he heading, whatever that direction may be, the dog arrives there first. Now in common Hebrew and Yiddish parlance, the phrase Pnei Hador “ the face of the generation” signifies those who are supposed to be the leaders of the generation. In our time, however, on the eve of the Redemption, these ostensible leaders merely look around to see where their congregates would like to head, and they run there first…. This statement is addresses the ordinary Rabbi. 187
185 Menachem M Brod. Days of Moshiach ( Chabad Youyh Org. 1993) p 122
186 Likkutm, responsa Choshen Mishpat, ch. 98
187 Igros Kodesh of the Rebbe Rayatz, Vol. VII, p59
The Rebbes Rabbi M. M. Schneerson legendary leadership has inspired Jews from every corner of the world from Yemen to the physical devastation of Europe to the spiritual devastation of Russia in every walk of life from the intellectual to the simple Jew, all continue look to the Rebbe to their guidance and inspiration.
The Jewish people have been challenged over that last 1900 years in many ways just as Moses realized the hardship that the Jewish nation will have to go thou and pleaded with G-D to allow him to enter the land of Israel as there will be no more exiles if he was permitted to enter the land of Israel. The Rebbe has taken the Jewish people out of our apathy and indifference and has said “ we must welcome Moshiach with acts of goodness and kindness”. The Rebbes pioneering vision from Israel policy not to trade land for peace, to his prophetic regarding the former USSR and everyday matters over the last century can provide us with a taste as to what it will be like when Moshiach will fill the world with the divine light.
The day the Rebbe became head of Chabad Lubavitch 10 day of Shevat 5711 1951 he presented his first Chassidic Discourse “ behold, this is what is demanded of every one of us, the seventh generation…. For although we are not the seventh generation by choice, and it has not resulted from our efforts- and in certain aspects, it is perhaps are beloved. We find ourselves at the end of Ikvesa Dimeshicha, (Footsteps of Moshiach) and we must finish drawing down the Shechinah ( divine light)- and not just the Shechinah but the essence of the Shechinah- into the lower worlds.” Sefer HaMa’amarim, Basi LeGani 5711.
In these few lines, the Rebbe summarizes the objective of our generation. We did not choose to be in this generation., and had we been asked, perhaps we would not even have wanted to be here, but it is a fact we are living through the conclusion of Ikvesa Dimeshicha, (Footsteps of Moshiach) and we must complete the dwelling of the Shechinahin this world and bring Geulah ( redemption).
All the Rebbe’s actions in the last fifty-two years have served this purpose. He has turned to every Jew the world over, lest anyone be unprepared for redemption. The Rebbe emphassizes repeatedly, “It depends on us” The more we prepare, and the more we expedite the dissemination of the light of Torah and Mitzvos, the faster and easier redemption will be.
As far back as in the times of the Talmud our Sages taught the “all the appointed times have passed” How much more of must this be today, after all the divine service of our people throughout this long and bitter exile, for over 1900 years. Moshiach must most certainly come immediately” The rebbe Shaboss Vayechi, 5751 ( 1990)
Over the years, the Rebbe’s proclamations have become more explicit, slowly raising expectations and awareness of Moshiach and redemption. The Rebbe leaves no room for doubt he speaks about redemption as a concrete reality that has already begun.
What is the core of the Rebbe’s message, that Moshiach coming should not be regarded as a dream of the future, but as a cogent factor that influences the way we live our lives today: moreover, that living one’s life in this manner will actually bring about the fulfillment of these promises?
Our sages point to Moshiach and redemption as the ultimate purpose for the creation of the world. For G-D created the world in order that he have” a dwelling place among mortals” and this goal will be realized in the Era of redemption. 188
However, G-D desired that mortals themselves should fashion this dwelling, for man has a natural tendency to appreciate the fruits of his own labors. If instead this dwelling were to be granted as gift from above. For centuries the Jewish people have been consciously or unconsciously constructing G-D’s dwelling, and now it is emerging before our very eyes.
To explain by means of an analogy, a builder is hired to build a complex mansion, from the moment he designs it, and throughout the building process, a clear picture of the final structure remain intact before his minds eye. His workers may monetarily lose sight of the goal, yet ultimately, as it takes shape they begin to envisage the edifice that their own hands are transforming from a blueprint into a reality. And as it progresses, the building itself shows its builders the goal of their endeavors
188 Touger Eliyahu, Sound the Great Shofer (Kehot Publication NY USA 1992)p12
In our generation, at last the Jewish people can begin to see the edifice, G-D’s dwelling, which has been constructed by our actions and divine service throughout the period of exile, and which will be consummated by the coming of Moshiach.
Our Sages 189 describe Moshiach as waiting anxiously to come. In previous generations, however his coming was prevented by the fact that the Jews had not completed the tasks expected of them. At present, however those tasks have been accomplished, there is nothing lacking. All we have to do is accept Moshiach.
This is the challenge facing our generation. To make the world conscious so Moshiach, and create an environment that will allow his mission to be fulfilled. Every element of our study of the Torah and our observance of its Mitzvots should be permeated by this objective, and directed towards it.
189 Friredman Alter .Eliyahu, from Exile to redemption (Brooklyn, New York, Kehot Publication Society. 1992) p1