By Alexander Zushe Kohn
2 of an upcoming new book
Park is a great place to spend a Sunday afternoon – great for kids, that is.
There are slides, swings, and all sorts of other energy outlets for children.
Adults, however, might find themselves twiddling their thumbs somewhat more than
usual. So, when we treated my then one-and-a-half-year-old Yosef to an afternoon
of fun at the park, I made sure to take along plenty of mivtzaim
material. I figured that sooner or later I’d get tired of the Monkey bars, so
I’d keep myself busy lighting up Jewish souls.
turned out to be a good move, as most of the playground facilities were either
too small for my adult body or too feeble to carry my adult weight. So after
playing some ball with my Yosef and watching him do all his cute tricks, I went
off to the entrance of the park while my wife continued to entertain the little
was a rather nice day, the sun was shining brightly and a crisp breeze was
blowing gently about. Yet there weren’t very many people around. I waited
patiently, spending the time reading the material I had brought. A quarter of an
hour passed before I had my first opportunity. A young boy, about twelve years
old, was coming my way from inside the park. When he got close enough, I asked
him if he was Jewish. "Yes!" he proudly confirmed my suspicion.
I said handing him a "L’Chaim" brochure. "You’ll enjoy
this, especially the interesting story on the back."
you," he said, looking genuinely interested.
your name?" I asked.
name is Zushe. Nice to meet you, David."
David continued on to the parking lot, paid a short visit to his parents’ car,
and then passed me again on his way back into the park.
ten minutes passed, during which I reached out to five Jewish souls. Four were
really open and pleasant to talk to, while a fifth was downright nasty.
could see David again now, hurrying toward me with a man appearing to be in his
mid-thirties tagging sheepishly behind while the boy pointed excitedly in my
direction. As they approached, I noticed that the man was holding my "L‘Chaim"
in his hand.
is the guy, Dad," David said with a smile. "Hello again, Rabbi. My dad
wants to meet you."
I’m Michael Schwartz," said David’s father as we shook hands. "I
was just wondering who gave my son the L‘Chaim... We’re a bit into this
stuff now, ‘cause David’s gonna be bar mitzva’d in a few
very nice. Mazal Tov."
We’re taking on religious observance slowly. We keep advancing, but y‘know,
we don’t want too grab too much at once. David and I attend services every
Shabbat now, at the Habad center."
great. Keep up the good work."
went on to tell me a little bit about the Chabad center. Then he said,
"Hey, you know, there’s something I’ve been wondering about. Maybe you
can shed some light."
the Torah source for considering the Rebbe to be the Messiah?’ he asked point
of them is Maimonides’ Laws of Kings," I said, proceeding to paraphrase
for him the now famous ‘halacha 4.’ As I briefly explained the Rambam’s
identifying qualities of Moshiach, Mr. Schwartz nodded, making the obvious
connections to the Rebbe on his own. Satisfied, he went on to his second
if the Messiah is here, then on some level or another the world must be
undergoing a transformation, right?
question then is: looking around us at the world today, where do we see
question." I said. "On many occasions the Rebbe stressed the
importance of understanding current events in the context of Redemption. In
fact, the Rebbe himself would often elaborate upon the Messianic context of
particular events taking place in the world, especially events that have taken
place within the last few years.
take the refinement of the gentile world for example. Throughout most of
history, gentiles treated each other – not to mention the Jews – with great
hostility. The more nations an emperor conquered, the more he was extolled by
his own people. In recent years, however, this has changed dramatically. Today,
for the most part, people view war with abhorrence, considering it to be
inhumane and irresponsible. Today, despots and dictators are, generally,
unwelcome in the international community.
is another area in which the transformation of the gentiles is clearly evident.
Although in the past kindness and charity had never been one of their strong
points – a little here, a little there, but nothing beyond that – this is no
longer true. Just a few years ago, to point out one glaring example, the U.S.
sent planeloads of food and medicine to the starving and sick, war-ravaged
Somalians. It was an expensive undertaking and the Americans had many domestic
needs for which the money could have been used."
Schwartz was nodding in approval.
change in attitude," I continued, "is the beginning of the realization
of an ancient prophecy. In Isaiah 2:4 it is written that in the Messianic Era
nations will "beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into
pruning hooks." This means that materials normally used for war-purposes,
such as warplanes, money, etc., will instead be used for the betterment of
the Jews, also, I should add, we’re seeing unprecedented heights in the realm
of charity. Of course, the Jewish people have always excelled in this area, but
the extent to which the mitzva is being performed today vastly exceeds
that of prior generations.
another significant display of the change among the gentiles, is their rapidly
increasing respect for the Jews, especially Jews with firm Jewish values. This
includes an unprecedented openness – sometimes even an eagerness – to hear
the Jewish message for them, that is, the role that they play in the Divine
scheme, the seven Noachide laws, and so on. In the past, it was not only
mortally dangerous for a Jew to try talking religion to a non-Jew – it was
virtually impossible! We were too busy dodging their attempts to talk religion
to us. So this is a very significant change in attitude.
Schwartz seemed impressed. "Yeah," he said. "It really is
interesting when you think about it."
are just a few examples," I said. "There are many more. In fact, if
you really think into it you can see phenomenal changes for the better in almost
every area of life. The advances in medicine, food production, financial
prosperity, and so on, are all a foretaste, and an actual beginning, of the
utopian Messianic Era."
interesting indeed. You really did shed some light on the subject, Rabbi."
Mr. Schwartz shifted his gaze toward the park. "It’s getting late and I’d
better get going. My wife’s waiting for me inside. It was really nice meeting
you. Oh!... here she comes."
introducing his wife, Mr. Schwartz mumbled something to her, only to receive an
indifferent shrug of the shoulder in response.
not?" His voice rose slightly.
I don’t believe in the whole thing anyway," Mrs. Schwartz replied.
maybe he can explain it," her husband prodded. "We’ve been talking
for a while and he makes a lot of sense."
consented, but didn’t seem convinced. "Is the Rebbe alive or not?"
she asked me grudgingly.
realized that I was being addressed by one of those individuals who would only
accept her own preconceived notion as an answer, but I felt obligated to try
anyway. I began to explain that according to Jewish mysticism life does not
necessarily end with cessation of breathing or the stopping of the heartbeat.
Mr. Schwartz, thinking that he had logged on to what I was saying, began to
defend me against the onslaught of his wife’s facial expressions.
the rabbi is saying," he explained, "is that the Rebbe’s soul lives
she insisted. "That’s not what he’s saying. The souls of all Jews
felt like applauding her for her common sense. Smiling, I said, "She’s
right Michael, we’re saying more than that. We’re saying that, in the Rebbe’s
case, his body is also alive."
see!" came the triumphant declaration. "Let’s go Michael, it’s
getting late. Bye, Rabbi." She headed for the parking lot.
called Michael, still standing at my side. "It’s not right! It’s only
fair to give the guy a chance to explain."
Schwartz turned around. "Okay," she said, acknowledging the truth of
her husband’s words, as she nonchalantly walked back to where Michael and I
were standing. "Let’s hear."
proceeded to inform her of the Talmud’s statements that "Yaakov, our
Forefather, never died" and "Moses never died." I explained that
some commentators understand this to mean that, unlike other human beings, the
souls of these exceptional tzaddikim never separated from their bodies. I
explained to her that this is also the meaning behind the popular declaration
(recited once a month by Jews throughout the world in the Kiddush Levana
prayer), "David King of Israel lives and endures."
could see that I was making some headway; some of the physiological barriers
were beginning to dissolve. "Well thank you, Rabbi," she said, "I’ll
have to think about it."
you," Michael echoed. "It was really nice talking to you."
here." I turned to David. "Nice meeting you. Have a happy bar-mitzva."
turned toward the parking lot, while I headed back into the park, where my wife
was already preparing to leave.
we walked toward the car, I marveled at the good things "boredom"
in your conversations about Moshiach to firstname.lastname@example.org.
They’ll be reviewed for inclusion in the new book.