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To Love, To Hate, To Live
by Rabbi Zvi Homnick
As I try to think back, I don't recollect exactly at what age I first encountered the story of Reb Zalman Zezmer and Reb Binyamin Kletzker, but I do know it was in my early teens and that the story made a profound impression on me.  Reb Binyamin Kletzker was traveling and ended up in the town of Reb Zalman Zezmer for Parashas Zachor (the Torah reading on the Shabbos before Purim recalling the Torah commandment to destroy Amalek).  That Shabbos, during the reading of Zachor, Reb Zalman noticed the stranger in town and was taken by the intense abiding hatred for Amalek that his countenance evinced.  Afterward, Reb Zalman approached him and inquired as to where he had acquired such animosity for Amalek and Reb Binyamin directed him to the Alter Rebbe in Liozna.  Reb Zalman did indeed go to Liozna and became the legendary Chassid known, besides for his own personal qualities, for having brought Reb Hillel of Paritch to Chabad Chassidus.
 
If you would have asked me to articulate why I found that story to be so powerful at the time, I would have been hard pressed to formulate any sort of coherent rationale, nor did I have the spiritual vocabulary to express myself in terms of a neshama/soul reaction.  Even as a self-styled Misnaged, I was never very good at hating, which made my strong inspired response ever the more mystifying to me.  Yes, I could be harsh and extreme when dogmatically inveighing against those whom I perceived to be on the wrong side of the theological or ideological divide, but I could never seem to rise to the occasion when dogma ostensibly sounded the call for animus towards actual persons of Jewish ancestry. 
 
Amalek, on the other hand, represented only a theoretical target for unmitigated hatred without any actual ramifications.  Sure, there was the pantheon of Nazi beasts whose names were branded in the consciousness of those of my generation who grew up on Holocaust literature, but that was a more rational hatred based on actual crimes against my people.  The same held true for the Arab leaders calling for, and trying to effectuate, the destruction of the Jewish population of Eretz Yisrael.  And yet, on some level, I could relate to Reb Zalman seeking out a spiritual mentor who could guide him in achieving absolute hatred for evil itself.
 
Ironically, that story was for me a clear indication that modern day Lubavitch was the not the place to find what Reb Zalaman went searching for, since it had turned into a feel good movement that no longer stood up against evil.  One world famous Rosh Yeshiva that had been considered close to Lubavitch was reputed to have said that when the Rebbe and the Chassidim did not participate in the public protests against compulsory national service for girls in the State of Israel, “they cut themselves off from Klal Yisrael” (the collective of the Jewish people). 
 
After a long and celebrated tradition of waging ideological war against the Enlightenment, government sponsored religious oppression, Zionism and Communism, the new administration in Chabad had decided to paint a smiley face on traditional Judaism so as to make it more palatable for public consumption.  To us, it smacked of granting legitimacy to Modern Orthodoxy.  When Rabbi J. B. Soloveitchik made his very well publicized appearance at the Rebbe's Yud Shevat farbrengen in 5740/1980 and was accorded great honors, it only served to bolster the prevailing impression.  Throughout the Seventies, as the Zionist leadership began to make more regular appearances in the Rebbe's court, we could only shake our heads in disbelief and marvel at how the Vilna Gaon must have foreseen these tragic developments.
 
TO LEARN TO LOVE
 
Although I grew up without any clear definition of what Ahavas Yisrael entails and how it is acquired, beyond the Biblical commandments to love and do acts of kindness for a fellow Jew, I always felt a strong affinity for my coreligionists.  Despite having been exposed to certain religious philosophies that encouraged antipathy towards those that were “outside the fold,” my natural inclination was towards feelings of kinship and brotherhood even towards those that I might keep a distance from on religious and ideological grounds.  Many friends over the years would tease me about the fact that I had “a Chassidic soul” (there were other grounds for this accusation as well).  Although I often protested that designation, the implicit underlying premise that love for a fellow Jew based on ancestry rather than a merit based system was a Chassidic trait, planted the seeds for my later identity shift.
 
Another personal quirk that I learned to keep to myself as I was growing up, was a strong sense of identification with Biblical characters.  One of the main players in our history and national identity is, of course, Moshe Rabbeinu.  Like every other Jewish child, I learned about his role in taking us out of slavery in Egypt and bringing us to Mount Sinai to receive the Torah, and ultimately to the border of the Promised Land.  Yet, somehow, inexplicably, I felt an almost personal connection as he faced each challenge along the way.  I remember being very distraught, as a young boy, when I discovered that the Jewish people mourned Aharon more than they did Moshe, because Moshe had to enforce the law even when it entailed causing pain, whereas Aharon was able to devote himself to resolving disputes and conflicts in a more loving manner.  Didn't they realize how much Moshe loved them and sacrificed himself for them?
 
As I got older and tried to puzzle out these feelings, I realized how little we actually know about the figures that populate our scripture and recorded oral teachings.  Who was Moshe Rabbeinu anyway?  What do we know about him?  How is he my teacher over three thousand years after his passing?  When I would throw these questions out to friends and fellow students, I either got the exasperated eye roll or else some well-meaning babble suitable for a three year old (as well as, on rare occasions, some quasi-mystical blather).  When I encountered the Chabad claim that the Rebbe is the incarnation of Moshe Rabbeinu in this generation, I was offended beyond belief, although in later years I found myself becoming intrigued by that very same idea. 
 
One of the parallels that I found particularly noisome (and later fascinating) was the idea of the Rebbe being born a leader just as Moshe Rabbeinu was born a leader.  Clearly, our Sages indicate that this was the case, as they taught that his birth was prophesied before he was born and the house filled with light upon his arrival.  An even more powerful expression of this idea is the fact that Haman rejoiced over the lots falling out in the month of Adar, the month that Moshe passed away.  The Sages point out that his mistake was that he didn't know that it was also the month of his birth, on the 7th of Adar, and the positive impact of his birth outweighed the negative effect of his passing.
 
Living in Eretz Yisrael in 1988/89, during the height of the elections controversy centered on the debate over the legitimacy of Chabad as a religious movement, I found myself driven to developing a better understanding of the issues so I could at least claim some degree of objectivity.  During that period, a new scandal erupted in the frum world in response to an article that appeared in one of the secular Israeli papers.  In that article, a Lubavitch Israeli Baal Teshuva was interviewed and he spoke authoritatively about the difference between Chabad and other ultra-religious groups, in that Chabad supported the State of Israel and even encouraged serving in the IDF. 
 
This created a huge firestorm and I was really curious to know what the Chassidim in general had to say about his comments.  I spoke to a certain Chassid who assured me that this fellow's assertions were absolutely false, and that the Rebbe was the fiercest opponent of any belief system that deviated one iota from Torah-true Judaism.  However, since the Rebbe is the leader of the entire Jewish people and has to bring them all closer to G-d and His Torah, it was tactically necessary to focus on drawing people closer with love rather than denouncing evil and falsehood.  Hence, it was no surprise that a recent Baal Teshuva, despite sporting a massive beard, might not have quite grasped the subtlety of hating evil while reaching out to the uneducated followers of that evil with unconditional love.  For further elaboration on this point, he referred me to an article written in a Chabad publication in response to this issue. 
 
In that article, the author explained the roles of both Moshe and Aharon in mystical (spiritual groomsman and bridesmaid between G-d and the Jews) and practical (judge and peacemaker) terms.  The author then went on to posit that in later generations these two roles were fused into one, and as such the Rebbe is the one who must lead the fight against evil and inspire the Jewish people with love for G-d and for each other.  According to his thesis, the modern day approach of Lubavitch did exactly that; there is no more effective way of triumphing over evil than by getting its own adherents to reject that evil. 
 
As a case in point, he cited an article written years earlier in an Israeli intellectual periodical, in which a certain highly regarded member of the Israeli intellectual elite bemoaned the fact that the political leadership of the country were all running to visit the Rebbe, as if he were a friend.  This highbrow secularist pointed out that the Rebbe posed a bigger threat than the most virulent anti-government demonstrators, “since they only make noise and embarrass themselves, whereas he is stealing away our children, and 'if there are no kids there will be no goats.'”
 
I wasn't quite convinced but it provided a glimpse of the world from a whole new perspective.
 
TO LEARN TO LIVE
 
In Tanya chapter 10, the Alter Rebbe explains that the determinant factor in defining someone as an “absolute Tzaddik” is the fact that he has completely expunged or transformed his Evil Inclination to the point that he is totally repulsed by the pleasures of this world and has an absolute hatred for evil or anything associated with evil.  This is a direct outgrowth of his great love for G-d and His Holiness and is therefore the only true measure if his love for G-d is absolute to the exclusion of all else.  Furthermore, his divine service in the sense of doing good is motivated exclusively by the desire to do for G-d as the Zohar says regarding Moshe Rabbeinu, “like a son who devotes himself to assisting his father and mother since he loves them more than his own body and soul...and he gives over his body to death for them to save them...”
 
Moshe Rabbeinu, as the all-inclusive soul of all Jews of all the generations, is the one who brings all of those souls to stand united and receive the Torah from G-d, face to face.  Before doing that, he empowers the Jewish people to go out and do battle with Amalek, the worldly manifestation of absolute evil.  However, before the giving of the Torah this battle cannot be fully won, as the war against Amalek is the “war of G-d with Amalek from generation to generation,” as the Targum Yonasan writes, “until the generation of Moshiach.” 
 
The Talmud tells us, “there is no generation whence there isn't someone like Moshe,” and the Zohar writes, “the extension of Moshe is in each generation.”  Thus, the Chabad Rebbes, the Moshe of each of their successive generations were the address to turn to whether one was inspired to search out love of G-d or hatred of Amalek/evil, the two being different sides of the same coin.  And that is why they led the way in fighting false ideologies and those who would do harm to the Jews.  In our generation, the generation of preparing the world for Moshiach, the Moshe Rabbeinu of our time is finishing the job of bringing the Jews to Torah and Torah to the Jews, as well as fighting the last remnants of evil by giving it no credence and substance and overwhelming it with good.
 
Through connecting with the Rebbe, one can actually translate these ideas and concepts into experiential reality.  What used to be a mystical and spiritual concept, becomes an obvious fact, namely that the birth of Moshe Rabbeinu on the 7th of Adar, his very existence, is the precursor of the downfall of Amalek-Haman and the renewed acceptance of the Torah as a result of the miracle of Purim.  Yes, throughout the year we are focused primarily on spreading light and we are not as conscious of the war against evil, which is why we remind ourselves individually each morning in the “six remembrances” and collectively once a year on Parashas Zachor.
 
As Chassidim of the Rebbe, we must remember that the focus on the positive and love for our fellow Jews is not about compromise with evil, G-d forbid.  In fact, as the Rebbe explains in the Maamar “Bila HaMavess...” edited for the shloshim of Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka (21 Adar 5748), absolute hatred of evil in the time of exile is a prerequisite for the eradication of evil in the times of Moshiach.  The Rebbe explains there how it is possible for all Jews to achieve this if they are far from being an absolute Tzaddik.  “Since each and every Jew has certain times – during prayer, or the time engaged in Torah study, or when doing the mitzva that he is exceedingly particular about, or even when engaged in permitted matters for the sake of Heaven, and even more so if in a manner of ‘in all your ways, know Him’ – which at that time, he gives over his entire being to G-dliness.  And through this, he has no connection to 'soiled garments' like the absolute Tzaddik.  Since this unification up Above is eternal, therefore, through this is drawn the revelation that does not allow for the nourishment of the outside forces, 'and death will be consumed forever.'”
 
The Rebbe, in his role as Moshe Rabbeimu of the generation of Moshiach, empowers us to unite with all Jews, devote ourselves entirely to G-dliness, and consequently reject evil entirely (even if only at certain times) so that we may do our part in assuring the destruction of Amalek/evil and gather to receive the “new Torah,” “the Torah of Moshiach,” and “we shall live before Him” in eternal life, immediately, NOW!
 
Positive comments and constructive criticism welcome:
rabbizvi@aol.com
 

 


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