Body & Soul
By Alexander Zushe Kohn

Chapter 2 of an upcoming new book

Woodmere 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.

It 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 guy.

It 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.

"Good," I said handing him a "L’Chaim" brochure. "You’ll enjoy this, especially the interesting story on the back."

‘Thank you," he said, looking genuinely interested.

"What’s your name?" I asked.


"My name is Zushe. Nice to meet you, David."

"Same here."

Young 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.

Another 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.

I 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.

"This is the guy, Dad," David said with a smile. "Hello again, Rabbi. My dad wants to meet you."

"Hello, 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 months."

"Oh, very nice. Mazal Tov."

"Thanks. 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."

"That’s great. Keep up the good work."

Michael 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."

"I’ll try."

"What’s the Torah source for considering the Rebbe to be the Messiah?’ he asked point blank.

"One 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 question:

"So if the Messiah is here, then on some level or another the world must be undergoing a transformation, right?

I nodded.

"My question then is: looking around us at the world today, where do we see this?"

"Good 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.

"Let’s 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.

"Benevolence 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."

Mr., Schwartz was nodding in approval.

"This 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 society.

"Among 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.

"Yet 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.

Mr. Schwartz seemed impressed. "Yeah," he said. "It really is interesting when you think about it."

"These 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."

"Very 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."

After introducing his wife, Mr. Schwartz mumbled something to her, only to receive an indifferent shrug of the shoulder in response.

"Why not?" His voice rose slightly.

"Because I don’t believe in the whole thing anyway," Mrs. Schwartz replied.

"But maybe he can explain it," her husband prodded. "We’ve been talking for a while and he makes a lot of sense."

She consented, but didn’t seem convinced. "Is the Rebbe alive or not?" she asked me grudgingly.

I 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.

"What the rabbi is saying," he explained, "is that the Rebbe’s soul lives on eternally."

"Michael!" she insisted. "That’s not what he’s saying. The souls of all Jews live eternally."

I 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."

"You see!" came the triumphant declaration. "Let’s go Michael, it’s getting late. Bye, Rabbi." She headed for the parking lot.

"Shirley", called Michael, still standing at my side. "It’s not right! It’s only fair to give the guy a chance to explain."

Mrs. 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."

I 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."

I 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."

"Thank you," Michael echoed. "It was really nice talking to you."

"Same here." I turned to David. "Nice meeting you. Have a happy bar-mitzva."

"Thank you. G‘bye."

They turned toward the parking lot, while I headed back into the park, where my wife was already preparing to leave.

As we walked toward the car, I marveled at the good things "boredom" could produce.

Send in your conversations about Moshiach to They’ll be reviewed for inclusion in the new book.


"What the rabbi is saying," he explained, "is that the Rebbe’s soul lives on eternally."





"Michael!" she insisted. "That’s not what he’s saying. The souls of all Jews live eternally. He’s saying that, in the Rebbe’s case, his body is also alive."


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