From Above, Wisdom From Below
By Prof. Shimon Silman, RYAL Institute
and Touro College
the 600th year of the 6th millennium, the gates of wisdom above will open up and
the fountains of wisdom below, and the world will be set to enter the 7th."
(Zohar I, 117a)
honor of the yahrtzeit of the Alter Rebbe this week on 24 Teives, we begin this
series of articles on the revelation of the wisdom from Above, the Chassidus of
the Alter Rebbe, and the wisdom from below, modern science, which, as the Rebbe
Melech HaMoshiach explains, is a prelude to the Era of Moshiach.
I: A Long Chain
this section we review some of the history of the revelation and development of
Kabbala and Chassidus and the tzaddikim who brought this about.
we start with a story:
after the Spanish Inquisition, a Spanish Jew named Joseph Jospa arrived in
Krakow. He was a great scholar and a tzaddik, and was greatly respected
by the Jews of Krakow, who called him the Spanish Tzaddik. Being fifty years of
age and unmarried, he lived by himself.
years went by in this manner until a tragic event changed this. A young
businessman from Krakow was killed during a business trip to Prague, leaving a
widow with no children. The businessman’s brother performed a chalitza
ceremony in the beis din of Krakow. It was the custom of Krakow in those
days for the chalitza ceremony to be a community event, after which the
rabbi of the beis din would bless the woman that she should soon marry
and have children. Then the shamash would announce that if any man
present wished to marry the woman, he should present himself to the beis din.
one responded on that particular occasion, but about five months later, Joseph
Jospa, the Spanish Tzaddik, came to the beis din and announced that he
wished to marry the widow, if she would agree. He explained that he had not
intended to get married, but now, for certain reasons which he did not wish to
reveal, he wished to marry despite his advanced years.
beis din then sent for the widow. Immediately upon arriving in the beis
din, even before she had a chance to ask why she was summoned, she burst
are you crying?" they asked her.
have a terrible secret weighing me down, but I can’t make up my mind whether
to tell you about it," she replied.
said she had been having a recurrent dream in which her father, who passed away
many years before, appeared to her and asked her to do something. She could not
decide whether to listen to him. She was worried and asked the beis din
rabbis of the beis din told her that it would be best if she would tell
them what the dream was. She said that in her first dream, her father appeared
to her dressed in his Shabbos clothes, put his hands over her head, blessed her
and said, "And now I wish you mazel tov, for it has been decreed
that you marry the Spanish Tzaddik, Joseph Jospa."
had awoken from this dream trembling violently, but put it out of her mind. She
had the dream again, but again did not take it seriously. Then her father
appeared to her looking very serious and told her to that there was no way out
of it, as it had been decided in the Heavenly Court. She must speak to someone
to arrange the marriage. If she listened to him, he continued, she would be
blessed with a son. But if she refused she would come to a bitter end.
more times she had the dream, and she finally decided to go to the beis din
about it. She had just made the decision to go, when the shamash arrived,
informing her that the beis din had sent for her.
she finished her story, the rabbis of the beis din looked at each other
in amazement and told the woman that Joseph Jospa had come to them and told them
that he wanted to marry her. She now had no doubt that it was G-d’s will that
she marry the tzaddik, and the marriage was arranged. The wedding was a
great celebration for the whole community. Everyone in Krakow felt that this was
no ordinary wedding, but that it held an inner significance beyond their
the second year of their marriage, they were blessed with a son, whom Joseph
Jospa named Eliyahu, after Eliyahu HaNavi. When Eliyahu was two, Joseph Jospa
taught him Torah until he was of bar mitzva age, and he studied
two weeks before Eliyahu’s bar mitzva, Joseph Jospa told his wife that
he felt that he was about to pass away. He told her that after their son’s bar
mitzva, Eliyahu would tell her that he wants to go out into the world. She
should not discourage him from doing this, because he had been sent down to this
world to fulfill a special mission. He told her that when her first husband had
been killed, Joseph Jospa had received a Divine command to marry the widow, for
a son of very high stature would be born to them who would have a special
mission to fulfill for the Jewish people, to help them and uplift them. Eliyahu
HaNavi had been studying with their son Eliyahu to prepare him for this mission.
He was to be the first in a long chain of tzaddikim leading up to the
coming of Moshiach.
concluding these instructions, Joseph Jospa passed away. A few weeks after
Eliyahu’s bar mitzva, he told his mother that he wanted to go
out into the world. Having been prepared for this, she did not object. She gave
him her blessing and he left. Forty years later, in the year 5350 (1590) he
appeared in the city of Werms, Germany and became known as a miracle worker and
a healer. He also established a yeshiva there where he taught Kabbala,
particularly the Zohar, in addition to the Talmud. He was the famous Rabbi
Eliyahu Baal Shem.
Eliyahu Baal Shem was indeed the first in the long chain leading up to the
revelation of Melech HaMoshiach. Rabbi Eliyahu was the first of four Baal Shem’s.
He was succeeded by his disciple, Rabbi Yoel Baal Shem, then by Rabbi Adam Baal
Shem, who was succeeded by his disciple, Rabbi Yisroel, the famous Baal Shem Tov.
the Baal Shem Tov, two major changes occurred that would affect the rest of the
chain. Firstly, the earlier Baal Shem’s and their followers were, for the most
part, hidden tzaddikim – they did their work in secret. The Baal Shem
Tov, however, was instructed by his teacher, the prophet Achiya HaShiloni to
reveal himself as a tzaddik and to start doing his work openly. Secondly,
as the Baal Shem Tov wrote in a famous letter, his soul ascended to the Heavenly
chamber of Moshiach and he asked Moshiach, "When is the master
coming?" to which Moshiach replied, "When the wellsprings of your
teachings spread to the outermost reaches." From that time on, spreading
the teachings of the Baal Shem Tov and his successors became an integral
component of the chain, because it was known that this would bring Moshiach.
Baal Shem Tov was succeeded by his disciple Rabbi Dov Ber, known as the Maggid
of Mezeritch. After the Maggid of Mezeritch was nistalek, the chain
branched out in several directions with his disciples setting up centers in
different parts of Europe. The main link in the chain, however, was the Maggid’s
foremost disciple, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, the Alter Rebbe. A fellow
disciple of the Maggid once said of the Alter Rebbe, "We all ate from the
same bowl, but he got all the cream."
a seventh generation direct descendant from the Maharal of Prague, the Alter
Rebbe was a direct descendant of King David.
Alter Rebbe took a revolutionary approach to spreading the teachings of the Baal
Shem Tov and the Maggid. He maintained that it was not sufficient merely to
relate the teachings of Chassidus, because the concepts could be fully
understood only by scholars well versed in the Talmud and Kabbala. A system had
to be devised whereby the average Jew could actually learn and understand the
teachings of Chassidus. Thus he constructed the system of Chabad, a system of
Torah study which was based primarily on Kabbala, but which was actually a
synthesis of Kabbala, Talmud, and halacha. It had its own set of
definitions and concepts and could be studied by anyone in a progressive manner,
starting from introductory and elementary concepts and working up to the most
abstract and subtle ideas. This made Chassidus accessible to everyone.
new system encountered opposition, not only from those who were opposed to the
Baal Shem Tov and Chassidus, but a certain amount even came from some of the
Alter Rebbe’s colleagues, fellow disciples of the Maggid, who felt he was
doing too much too fast. (It should be noted that the Gaon of Vilna, considered
to be the head of the opposition to Chassidim in his time, wrote that one cannot
have a complete understanding of the Torah without studying Kabbala, and that
the coming of Moshiach depends on this. He was, however, against teaching it to
great Kabbalist, Rabbi Levi Yitzchok Schneerson, the father of the Rebbe Melech
HaMoshiach, explained that whenever there is an innovation in the world in the
area of holiness, there is opposition to it. The higher the level of holiness
being introduced into the world, not only the greater the opposition, but also
the holier the opposition; in other words, the opposition comes from
"closer to home." Thus, for example, when King David was first
anointed king, establishing the dynasty that would lead up to Melech HaMoshiach,
his main opposition was from the righteous King Saul. Similarly, the Alter Rebbe
encountered a certain level of opposition from his fellow disciples of the
Maggid, in addition to the intense degree of opposition from others.
of the Alter Rebbe’s opponents even tried to stop him by slandering him to the
Russian government, saying that the charity the Alter Rebbe was sending to Eretz
Yisroel was really being sent to the Turkish government, which controlled Eretz
Yisroel at that time, to finance a revolution against the Czar. This resulted in
his arrest on charges of treason.
in prison, the Alter Rebbe was visited by two illustrious tzaddikim from Gan
Eden – the Baal Shem Tov and the Maggid of Mezeritch. During their visit,
The Alter Rebbe asked them the reason of his imprisonment. They explained to him
that just as there was a controversy on earth regarding his innovation, there
was likewise a controversy in the Heavenly court on the matter, resulting in the
imprisonment. He asked if he should, therefore, stop teaching Chassidus to the
same extent as before upon his release from prison. "On the contrary,"
they responded. "Your release will be an indication that the Heavenly court
has decided in your favor and that you should teach Chassidus even more
extensively." And this he did. After his miraculous release, he developed
Chabad Chassidus even more extensively and taught it more intensely than before.