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Chukat

Thursday, 11 July, 2019 - 5:56 pm

 The greatest spiritual height, we are taught, that a person can attain, is to offer his or her life for Torah.  (We used to use the term “martyr,” but since that term has been abused and coined for terrorists who kill people, the ultimate evil, the opposite of those who refuse to submit to evil, I don’t like to use it.)  For a saintly Tzaddik whose entire life was dedicated to holiness, one would imagine that the concept of Mesirut Nefesh, self-sacrifice in which the soul rises to the greatest possible spiritual levels, would be something that he or she would relish.  Of course we would never bring it upon ourselves, this would be a violation of the Torah’s laws of self-preservation, but if one was faced with this challenge, one who has Mesirut Nefesh is considered “Kadosh” – holy.

 Next Monday we celebrate the12th of Tammuz, the anniversary of the day that the previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneerson, father in law and predecessor of our Rebbe, was released from Soviet prison, where he had originally been sentenced to death for his activities of spreading Judaism.  The story of his arrest and liberation is fascinating, how he refused to submit to the Soviet authorities and how he managed to make it through the horrific ordeal in the clutches of the murderous communist “servants of the people.”  You can read about it here. 

 What I want to focus on is the previous Rebbe’s attitude toward the ordeal.  During the High Holidays of the year 1927, the previous Rebbe spoke at length about the Ba’al Shemtov’s teachings that every part of creation is controlled by Divine Providence.  Not only is it all created by Hashem, but every single aspect of creation is part of Hashem’s great plan for the universe.  If a single blade of grass blows in the wind, taught the Ba’al Shemtov, it is by design and part of Hashem’s plan for the world.  (Science has recently discovered the fact that every aspect of the planet is interconnected to the ecology of the whole planet, catching up to what has been written in the Torah for thousands of years.)  It was in the summer of 1927 that the previous Rebbe was arrested and almost murdered.  He himself later expressed that it was those teachings that helped him live through the terrible ordeal of his arrest.

 Our Rebbe was not only the previous Rebbe’s son-in-law, but also his closest student, chassid and confidant.  He commented on this sentiment of the previous Rebbe, based on what I wrote in the first paragraph.  With his intimate understanding of the previous Rebbe’s approach to life, he said, the previous Rebbe had no personal problem with any of the suffering or challenges that he went through.  In fact, on one level, this was the greatest level of holiness he had attained, as I wrote above.  What bothered him was the fact that he was not able to continue his work of spreading Judaism.  As a quintessential Jewish leader in the mold of Moshe (as I wrote last week), his only concern was the people.  Although the restrictions placed on him were not of his doing and beyond his control, he nevertheless felt the pain of the lack of spiritual inspiration that would negatively affect the community.  In that oppressive time, when it was a capital crime to study Torah and especially to teach it, the only way Torah continued was because of the previous Rebbe’s guidance and inspiration, and now that was lacking. 

 It was only by remembering the Ba’al shem Tov’s teaching that everything that happens is by Divine design that he was able to endure the pain.  He realized that since Hashem created and runs the world as part of His plan, this event was also part of that plan.  Indeed, while he was in prison, Chassidim intensified their work following his directives and strengthened the underground Torah activities.  More so after he was miraculously released, the chassidim received a great boost in these activities and their courage was strengthened to continue to risk their lives in order to perpetuate Judaism.

 We have seen the effects of the evil Soviet system on our people.  There are many who grew up in those countries who were afraid to admit they were Jews, and to whom, through no fault of their own, Torah observance is considered a negative and even frightening thing.  But at the same time, there was a powerful underground movement that flourished throughout the Soviet Union under the noses of the Soviet butchers that kept Judaism alive.  The moment the Soviet system collapsed, these Chabad institutions came out of hiding and today are flourishing, bringing faith back to so many from whom it was hidden.

 So the 12th of Tammuz is a celebration of not just one leader, but of the very survival of Judaism in the face of another horrible regime.  It is a day to think about how we can take this inspiration and internalize it, to help us overcome the relatively minor challenges that we face in our Torah observance. 

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