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Talking Lots

Some societies are oriented towards the past, and some towards the present. The modern western society is oriented to the future. If we want to set our children on the path to success, the process starts at birth: Getting them into the right preschool. Applying for college. Getting on the right career track. Then people spend their entire working lives saving money for retirement. There is little emphasis on present goals, present achievements - whatever we accomplish today is just a stepping stone to a future goal.

Chassidic thought has a different orientation. Since the beginning of time we have been working towards a goal - to perfect the world and bring the Shechinah down into the physical world, in the era of Moshiach. But the process of getting there is meaningful in itself. “It is not on you to complete the work,” says Rabbi Tarphon in Ethics of Our Fathers. Our job is to dedicate each day to serving G-d and bringing holiness into this world. Every step in the process must be done with the same care and reflection, regardless of whether we live to see the end result.

In this week's Torah portion, Pinchas, we read of the process of dividing up the land and assigning each tribe its portion. The land was apportioned by lots - the name of each tribe was drawn, together with its assigned boundaries. Rashi in his commentary writes that the lot itself would speak - when it was drawn it would announce, “This portion goes to this tribe.”

The question is why Rashi holds that G-d would perform a seemingly unnecessary miracle - to make the lot speak. What did this add to the process that was not already clear from the lot itself? The Lubavitcher Rebbe explains that the purpose was to confirm in the minds of the people that the lottery was indeed conducted by will of G-d - the portion of each tribe was not by chance but a reflection of His desire. In addition, because G-d decreed that this system be used, this indicates that the lottery itself has a certain holiness to it, because it is the means by which a mitzvah is performed.

The Jews entered Israel to begin the process of making the world into a dwelling place for G-d. After we were exiled from Israel, we carried that mission to all ends of the earth. And just as the process of dividing the land was permeated with holiness, the same applies to our work today, of transforming the world into a fit place for the Divine. Not only the end goal, but every step of the process, must be permeated with holiness.

A chassid of the Tzemach Tzedek, the third Chabad Rebbe, once approached the Rebbe and asked his permission to make aliyah from his home in Russia to Palestine. The Rebbe's answer to him was, “Make Israel over here.” In other words, as long as G-d has decreed that you be “here,” in this particular place and situation, it is your obligation to make “here” into Israel - by bringing holiness into that time and place. We cannot always be focused on future goals at the expense of our current situation. When we complete this phase, fully and completely, we will move on to the next phase - to live in Israel with the revelation of Moshiach, when the world will be entirely permeated with the Divine.

(Based on Sefer Hasichot 5751, pp. 695-703)

 

 


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