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Preparing the Body for Moshiach
by Rabbi Zvi Homnick
BODY OR SOUL
 
One of the issues that any serious student of Judaism is forced to contend with is the relationship between body and soul.  In my studies, prior to immersing myself in Chabad Chassidus, the conclusion seemed obvious that the soul is primary and the body exists only to house the soul so that it may fulfill its purpose and mission in this world.  As such, the base, lowly drives and urges of the body are expressions of its inherent worthlessness, and these need to be completely subjugated.  The heroes of the spirit that we, as religious youth, were taught to look up to, were those who had not only achieved personal greatness in Torah but had also conquered their bodies.
 
In fact, a major focus of the early opposition movement to Chassidus centered on the issue that Chassidus seemed to glorify many aspects of the physical, attributing lofty significance to activities previously understood to be less than desirable indulgences.  And so, one can find diatribes against Chassidim excoriating them for the custom of imbibing strong spirits, as well as holding regular gatherings which included food and drink.  In the words of some of the early anti-Chassidic polemics, “They are people who eat, drink, and rejoice, and make all their days into holidays.”
 
What made things really confusing for me and just about anybody I ever discussed the issue with, is that many of those same ideas that Chassidus promoted have worked their way into the so-called mainstream of Judaism, and so you get very mixed messages.  On the one hand, the soul is everything and the body is worthless; on the other hand, what distinguishes Judaism from its usurper religions is that the focus is on elevating the body and all physical activities.  (When you get into the details and seemingly conflicting statements of the Sages it gets a lot more complicated than that but for the purposes of a brief article it will have to do).
 
As I started delving into general Chassidic works, I discovered that there were conflicting messages to be found there as well.  As an American boychik, who grew up on pizza and hot dogs (and much more) along with constant messages about the all importance of Torah study, that confusion was not simply an intellectual one, but played out internally.  I felt pulled to polar extremes without any clear guidance as to how to deal with it except, as I was told on those few occasions when I consulted a Mashgiach or Rosh Yeshiva, to “just sit and learn and don't think about these things.”
 
During my studies in Lakewood Yeshiva, I refused to attend the weekly underground Tanya classes or occasional farbrengens until one time I allowed myself to be convinced to make an appearance.  My friend worked on me for some time, raving about this wonderful Mashpia from Eretz Yisroel who learned and davened all day and night with hardly any sleep, and so on.  That is how I ended up at a farbrengen in the basement of one of the Chassidic rebels, with the featured guest being Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Offen.  Apparently, some of the participants thought that my showing up was a big deal and after the oohs and aahs told Rabbi Offen that he should work on me since I was a “real Misnaged.”
 
He invited me to sit up next to him which triggered some hooting and hollering, and I decided to be a good sport and did so.  He spoke very sincerely about how some of the greatest Chassidim were those who had previously been opponents, the reason being that if someone is passionate about things, when he ultimately discovers the truth, he will be passionate about that also.  He then returned to his original topic which was the significance of the revelation at Sinai as explained in Chassidus, namely the fusion between the highest spiritual realms and the lowest physical realms.  He expounded on this theme (while plying me with liberal doses of vodka), suggesting that due to my larger than average physical presence, I was more suited to connecting to the highest spiritual levels, which (surprise, surprise!) could only be accessed through the study of Chassidus.
 
I can't say that I walked (tottered) away convinced, but at least everyone there had a good time.
 
BODY AND BODY
 
Of course, the obvious denouement to all of the above would be that once I started learning Chabad Chassidus in depth (I hope), all my questions were resolved and we can all live happily ever after.  Alas, that was not meant to be.  In fact, I discovered that even learned Chassidim, and even more so those of limited background and knowledge, have a great deal of confusion in understanding the relationship between, and the roles of, body and soul according to Chassidus.  This confusion is even more pronounced when it comes to applying these concepts in practice as pertains to the degree and nature of involvement in and with the physical world.
 
It turns out that one can learn a great deal of Chassidus and glean a vast wealth of insights on the interplay and even interdependence of the spiritual and physical, far beyond what is available on this topic in any other area of Torah, and still not achieve personal clarity.  Chabad Chassidus turned out not to be a destination, but the beginning of a whole new journey on a whole new level.
 
“'And Esther was taken to the king, Achashveirosh...in the month of Teves...(Esther 2:16),' the month that the guf (body) derives pleasure from the guf (another body),” (Talmud, Megilla 13a).  Rashi explains that this is due to the extreme cold of the month of Teves, and this was planned from
Above to make her more dear to the king over the other candidates.
 
The mind boggles at the idea that although the great righteous woman and heroine, Queen Esther was instrumental in one of the greatest miracles in history, possessed prophetic sight and was deferred to by the Sages of her time including Mordechai HaTzaddik, and had her story included in the writings of Scripture under her name, yet – the first in the series of miracles that stretched over a period of years is attributed to the raw physicality of the body!?!
 
It was not her wisdom or her righteousness or her illustrious lineage, but the timing of the physical contact with the depraved Achashveirosh that foreshadowed the coming events?  And how does that fit with the basic premise that the miracle of Purim was a result of the mesirus nefesh, the total self sacrifice, of all the Jews of that time?
 
Chassidus cites this Talmudic description of the month of Teves and explains it to mean that it is the month that the Guf (the Essence of G-d) [Note: the word guf here is not understood as “body,” but in the context of the essence of a thing as in the Talmudic term gufei Torah] derives pleasure from the physical body of a Jew.  In the month with the longest nights and coldest days, indicating that the impact of the sun which represents divine revelation is at its lowest, that is when the true essence of the body of a Jew which is higher than the soul and is a direct creation of the Essence of G-d and was chosen by G-d at Mount Sinai, is revealed.  This will only be fully revealed in the time after the Resurrection when the body will not only be higher than the soul, but the soul will derive its “nourishment” of Divinity from the body.
 
To explain each point in the above paragraph requires many lengthy discussions, but what we need to address here is the idea that ultimately the body is higher than the soul and that this comes to the fore in the deepest, darkest spiritual times, when the soul's ability to assert itself is limited.
 
SOUL OVER BODY, BODY OVER SOUL
 
“Whoever goes out to the battle of the House of Dovid writes a divorce to his wife” (Talmud, Shabbos 56a, Kesubos 9b).
 
Rashi explains that the reason for this is that if he did not return from battle, she would be divorced retroactive to the day he gave the divorce, thus protecting her from later complications in remarrying.  On Simchas Torah of the year 5661/1901, the Rebbe Rashab gave an address to the students in Yeshivas Tomchei Tmimim in Lubavitch, citing this statement as an analogy for the students of Tomchei Tmimim who must “go out” and fight the spiritual battles of “the House of Dovid” against those “who mock the footsteps of Your anointed one.”  As such, they must “write a divorce” severing themselves from all worldly matters. 
 
This talk was transcribed and published for the first time over forty years later by the Previous Rebbe in America for the students of the fledgling yeshiva recently established in the Western Hemisphere, Tomchei Tmimim.
 
In the year 5718, 1957/8, the then relatively new Rebbe announced that the time for a defensive war (as the Rebbe Rashab defines it in that very talk) is over.  It is now the time to go on the offensive with the slogan of Uforatzta, “and you will spread forth,” bringing the light of Torah and Mitzvos and the wellsprings of Chassidus out to the larger Jewish world.  This represented a clear change of direction (see HaYom Yom 14 Elul – Avoid, to the absolute extreme, [engaging in] an offensive war...) from earlier generations, and also entailed a higher degree of involvement with the outside world in all its materialism and depravity.
 
Throughout that year (and countless times throughout the years), the Rebbe specifically addressed the conflict of leaving a completely spiritual environment and intentionally putting oneself “out there” for the purpose of reaching out to others on a large scale, often doing so in context of the dichotomy regarding the primacy of the soul or the body.
 
On Purim of that year, the Rebbe held a very intense farbrengen (ask anybody who was there and see how they are transported, “ahh, Purim Tav Shin Chai!”), some of which is published in volume 4 of Likkutei Sichos.  In the portion that was not published then, but first appeared later as an appendix to volume 11 (p. 326), the Rebbe explains that an analogy must be exact in its particulars relative to the lesson being learned.  Those soldiers who wrote divorces for their wives, when they returned from battle this selfless act of sacrifice led to an even greater love between the couple.  The same must hold true for those who “write a divorce from material concerns.” 
 
“Similarly in the analog, through the divorce from matters of the body and this world, subsequently, 'And Esther was taken in the month of Teves,' the body derives pleasure from the body, literally.  The Essence and Being (since Achashveirosh refers to G-d as the ReM”A explains – for those who require proof from Nigleh, the ReM”A was a posek) becomes invested into and chooses the physical body, and derives pleasure from that body as the ultimate intent of Essence is accomplished through mitzvos of action.”
 
The Rebbe goes on to explain that it is through mesirus nefesh, sacrificing one’s personal thoughts and  desires for anything of this world, whether it be for material benefit or just wanting to please others, for the sake of fulfilling the Divine Will, that he will ultimately have all the benefits of this world in larger measure.  “And then there is the promise of the guf derives pleasure from the guf - in the Future Time the soul will be nourished from the body.”
 
Although Chassidus is replete with ideas expressing the lowliness and corruption of the body and all things physical and the need to subjugate them, along with explanations of how the body and the physical exist to express the very Essence of G-d which is not expressed in even the loftiest of spiritual realms, this does not represent a contradiction.  It is through rejecting the calls and lures of the body and the physical world even while operating within their confines to carry out G-d's Will that we strip away the external negativity and reveal the true Essence of the physical body of a Jew.
 
Purim is the holiday celebrating the salvation of the Jewish body through mesirus nefesh.  That is why it will continue to be celebrated even after Moshiach comes, since that is when the true nature and superiority of the body will be revealed as a result of the mesirus nefesh in the time of exile.  And that is exactly why the story begins with the mesirus nefesh of Esther in allowing herself to be taken to the king and the impact of the body in that initial meeting to set off the entire chain of events.  The month of Teves, a month of cold days and even longer colder nights, is when the capacity for mesirus nefesh which transcends the rational is revealed and thus the true essence of the body of a Jew is revealed.  “And Esther was taken...in the month of Teves, the month when the body derives pleasure from the body.”
 
The Rebbe continues in that sicha, “And this is demanded from those who go out to the battle of the House of Dovid, and especially in the generation of Ikvesa D'Meshicha that it is certain they will be victorious, and through them will be fulfilled the promise of 'and the earth will be filled...and all will know Me...  And this will be done by the students from the original founding until the end of days, that they will accomplish that there will be a 'dwelling for Him' and they will triumph in the battle of the House of Dovid, until it will be 'and my servant Dovid will be king over them.'”
 
BODY AT THE READY
 
Thirty years later, in the year 5748, the Rebbe started talking in terms of the work being completed and the need to start making the necessary adjustments in anticipation of the final revelation.  This language became more pronounced and detailed in 5751 and 5752, when the Rebbe explained that this new adjustment period began in 5748 with the passing of the Rebbetzin (see sicha 22 Shevat 5752).  Now, it is no longer about fighting against the body and the material world as a means to revealing its true potential, but now we have to actually reveal how the body itself and the material world are manifestations of G-d's Essence existing only to carry out His Will and not as separate existences. 
 
In fact, the Rebbe offers this as a possible explanation for the “shocking delay” of the Geula due to the fact that we were lacking in the service of Hashem in such a manner, and goes on to say that now this “delay” no longer exists (see at length, sicha Simchas Torah 5752). 
 
We have already won the “battle of the House of Dovid,” through the work of “writing a divorce” to the materialism of this world, which leads to the “greater love” of “and Esther was taken to the 'King' in the month of Teves.”  May we merit to be “taken to the 'King'” in this very month of Teves, immediately, NOW!
 

 


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