I want to get your perspective, having heard Rabbi Angel, a former
Rabbi Silman: Well, first of all, Zev, let me say that he
wasnít exactly a classmate. Heís a little older than me, and he was my dorm
counselor. Itís been a good thirty years since Iíve seen him, but I hear him
again tonight, for the first time in thirty years.
Z. Brenner: And what were your thoughts when you heard
what he had to say regarding Chabad?
Rabbi Silman: Well, first let me say this: When you deal
with any intellectual matter, the first thing you have to do is make sure that
your assumptions, your axioms, are in order. Because you can make one slight
error at the foundation, and that blows up into a major error when you
start drawing conclusions from your assumptions. And I think thatís what
I hear he says that Lubavitchers believe that the Rebbe MH"M
is Moshiach, and believe that heís G-d.
These are two entirely different things. We certainly believe
that the Rebbe MH"M is Moshiach, but we donít say that heís G-d. These are two
entirely different concepts that are not connected.
So when it comes to believing that the Rebbe MH"M is
Moshiach, and an orthodox Jew is interested in knowing how he should relate to
the matter, I would say, first of all, the following: One of the major leaders
of orthodox Jewry in this generation is, unquestionably, Reb Aharon Soloveitchik,
zichrono livracha. I think everyone knows him, and certainly the whole
orthodox and yeshiva world are familiar with him. He already made a
statement on this, and he published a letter on this in the Jewish Press,
back in 1996. Iím really surprised that in all these discussions - Rabbi Angel,
and Berger and everyone else - everyone seems to ignore his letter. For the sake
of the listeners, I think that it would be appropriate to read a few lines from
that letter -okay?
Z. Brenner: Go ahead. By the way, I think it was
discussed - on this program. I think there are some who say that Rabbi
Soloveitchik either changed his mind, or retracted his letter. Youíve heard
thatÖ I think Dr. Berger himself may have said that.
Rabbi Silman: Well, let me read his letter andó
Z. Brenner: Sure. Letís hear the letter directly.
Rabbi Silman: Okay. In the letter - I wonít read the
whole thing, but whatís relevant to us is the following: He says, "Insofar as
the belief held by many in Lubavitch, based in part on similar statements made
by the Rebbe himself concerning his predecessor, the Previous Rebbe, including
prominent rabbanim and roshei yeshiva, that the Rebbe can
still be Moshiach, in light of the Gemara in Sanhedrin, the
Zohar, Abarbanel, Kisvei HaArizal, Sídei Chemed and
other sources, it cannot be dismissed as a belief that is outside the pale of
Now really, I have to say, I donít understand what all this
excitement is, if there is a clear statement with sources. He gives Sífarim,
sources, and weíre familiar with these sources, [which show] that this is a
belief that Orthodox Judaism - not just Lubavitch, but Orthodox Judaism - should
accept. So why is everyone ignoring this? For Orthodox Judaism, I think this
should be something that puts the matter to rest. No one should have any problem
with Reb Aharon Soloveitchikís písak.
Z. Brenner: I think nobody has problems with it. But as I
said, I think there are some who say that he may have changed it. But again, Iím
not privy to that.
Rabbi Silman: He did issue a letter following this up,
but he did not retract his original letter by any means. And I personally know
the people who were involved, who went to him to speak to him when he wrote this
Z. Brenner: Let me say this: You know, I think there are
two separate issues over here. It is a minority opinion, and the fact is
that most Jews believe that the Messiah will come from the ranks of the living.
Even Lubavitch believed that until Gimmel Tammuz. Youíll admit that Professor
Silman, right? Until Gimmel Tammuz, you yourself, or any other member [of
Lubavitch], said the Rebbe is Moshiach, heís here from the ranks of the living.
When Gimmel Tammuz occurred, the thinking changed to accommodate the
reality... That, I think, made people uncomfortable, because for
thousands of years, in debates - if you look at the great debates between Jews
and Christians, regarding the savior and Messiah - I think that one distinction
that has been made clear is that Jews believe the Messiah will come from the
ranks of the living, and at the end of days, whereas the Christians believe that
he came already, and is going to come again, which means that heís coming from
the ranks of the dead.
So thereís been a change - although Lubavitch certainly has a
basis on which to hang their hat on, and point to certain opinions - but thereís
been a change in how they themselves view it, and thatís made other Jews
uncomfortable, because itís a change from the normative Jewish view, thatís held
today, and for thousands of years. And I think you can appreciate that.
Rabbi Silman: No. I disagree with that - on two levels.
Number one, the idea, or the possibility that Moshiach can come from someone who
has passed away, has never been a minority opinion. Itís something thatís
discussed in the Gemara. And the Abarbanel - who is, obviously,
well known as one of the major commentaries on the Tanach - wrote an
entire seifer on Moshiach, called Yeshuos Meshicho, and based on
this Gemara he says, "Donít be surprised if Moshiach comes from one who
has passed away." In certain sifrei kabbala it even says explicitly that
that is what will happen. Okay, there are other sifrei kabbala
that say otherwise, but itís always been in sífarim that such a thing is
The second point I want to make is that what we believe goes
beyond that. We do not believe that he passed away, we believe that - just like
we say tonight in Kiddush Levana, "Dovid Melech Yisroel chai víkayam,"
which is something that is established in the Gemara, just like "Yaakov
Avinu lo meis" - so too we believe that the Rebbe MH"M is chai víkayam.
Z. Brenner: Are you saying the Rebbe didnít die?
Rabbi Silman: Thatís correct. Just like weíre saying that
Yaakov Avinu didnít die, Dovid HaMelech did not dieÖ Some people even say al
derech haítzachus, that thatís why right after "Dovid Melech Yisroel chai
víkayam" in Kiddush Levana, all of a sudden we turn to each other and
say, "Shalom Aleichem," and everyone says "Aleichem Shalom."
Whatís the connection? Because when you go ahead and say, "Dovid Melech
Yisroel chai víkayam," people say, "what do you mean, youíre saying he
didnít die?" People get nervous and upset, so we say Shalom Aleichem to
everybody, and make friends and make sure that no one is upset.
Z. Brenner: Well, Dovid HaMelech died on Shavuos -
thatís why we read Megillas Rus. But his words live on, his legacy lives
on, his Torah lives on. All the great sages, we say, live on even after death,
because we keep them alive. The fact that we read Rus and we talk about
Dovid, means that heís still alive for us, but heís not alive in the physical
sense. When Moshiach comes, he certainly is of the Davidic line, or it could be
Dovid HaMelech himself, it could be King David himself, but certainly Dovid
HaMelech is not physically here.
Rabbi Silman: Iíll tell you Zev, thereís a whole
discussion on this in the Alshich. The Alshich, again, is one of
the major commentaries on the Tanach, just like the Abarbanel, and
he explains at length the Gemaraís statement that "Yaakov Avinu
lo meis." Because like you said, in a sense, all tzaddikim continue
to live. So the Alshich says, what does the Gemara mean by saying,
"Yaakov Avinu lo meis," if all tzaddikim are
considered living? And he explains a technical difference between one [type of]
tzaddik and another. He says, in general, tzaddikim are called
yeshenei afar ["those who dwell in the dust," rather than "meisim"]
for the following reason: The neshama has three parts. When a regular
person dies, all three parts - the nefesh, the ruach and the
neshama - leave the body. Thatís called death. Now, by tzaddikim -
all tzaddikim the Alshich says - the nefesh
remains in the body. Therefore, all tzaddikim are, to an extent, alive
even after they pass away. Thatís why - he says - theyíre not called meisim
- theyíre called yeshenei afar. Now, how is Yaakov Avinu different? The
Gemara makes a point of saying Yaakov Avinu lo meis,
i.e., Yaakov Avinu is different from all tzaddikim in this respect,
because with Yaakov Avinu, the Alshich says, the Nefesh, the Ruach
and the Neshama all stayed in the body, together with all the kochos
of the Nefesh. Everything stayed in the body; it remained unchanged.
So, Yaakov Avinu is alive, and even though we donít see it.
We donít see Neshamos in the first place. There are certain limitations
to what the physical eye can see.
Z. Brenner: Well, every soul is alive to a certain
degree. We believe in the Resurrection of the Dead. Thatís a basic tenet of
Judaism. And thatís why I think people are uncomfortable, because the Rebbe is
no longer among the ranks of the living. And even in Lubavitch, I think, there
are probably different points of view as to the degree of what exactly happened
- if heíll come back, or not. Your position is that he didnít really die, that
he just is not visible right now. Thatís what youíre saying to me.
Rabbi Silman: Yes. Iíll tell you something else. Every
Jew says, "Shma Yisroel Hashem Elokeinu Hashem echad." Do you know the
meaning of Shma Yisroel? I mean, we want to declare the unity of Hashem,
so why do we say, "Shma Yisroel"? Why donít we just say, "Hashem
Elokeinu Hashem Echad"? Iíll tell you what the Midrash says about
that. The Midrash Rabba says that when we say Shma Yisroel weíre
talking to Yaakov Avinu, just like his sons said to him, "Shma Yisroel Hashem
Elokeinu Hashem Echad," when he gave the brachos to them. He asked
them if their emuna in Hashem was complete, and they said, "Shma
Yisroel" - they were talking to Yisroel, their father - "Hashem Elokeinu
Hashem Echad." To this very day, says the Midrash, weíre saying, "Shma
Yisroel Avinu bíMeíaras HaMachpela." Weíre talking to Yaakov Avinu.
So, this thing of "Yaakov Avinu lo meis," is not a
poetic thing, itís not an allegory. This is something that is real - real life.
The same is true when we make a point of saying "Dovid Melech Yisroel chai
víkayam." And the sifrei kabbala, and even the Gemara, say
that about Melech HaMoshiach - that he doesnít pass away. Whether it
looks like that, or it doesnít look like that, the fact of the matter is that he
doesnít pass away.
I think that whatever a personís point of view on this matter
is - Iím going back to your original question - this is all, for sure,
within the realm of Torah. Whether you go with the sífarim that say that
Moshiach is alive, just like Yaakov Avinu is alive, or you go with the
Abarbanel, or those sifrei kabbala that say that "something else"
Z. Brenner: I want to get back to what Rabbi Angel
(To be continued.)