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Past, Present, And Future

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Knowing Where We Stand And Where We Are Going

Do We Know Or Do We Believe?

Lighting Lamps

When One And One Come Together

Knowing With Calm Certainty

Becoming More Than Ourselves

A Tender Youth Will Lead Them

Facing Oneself And Facing Reality

Connecting The Dots

As Nature Becomes Miraculous

From Dawn to Daylight
A Chassid's thoughts on Mashiach and Redemption

Chapter One
Past, Present, And Future

by Rabbi Eliyahu Touger

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  ForewardBack To Basics  

Chassidic farbrengens take on a different tone between 12:00 and 1:00 at night. The people who are less committed to discussing personal change start to thin out. The niggunim become slower and more serious and the stories more pointed in nature. The mashpia leading the gathering begins to focus - in the manner unique to Chabad-Lubavitch - on each participant's personal spiritual striving.

It is impossible to recreate such an atmosphere in the printed word. And yet, every writer strives to capture the power of such a gathering. This book is meant to be a farbrengen on paper, and so, like at a farbrengen, let me begin with a story.

I was once going through the private gallery of the great chassidic painter Reb Hendel Lieberman. I was impressed by his art, but I had a question for him: "Reb Hendel, all of these pictures are of Jews of yesteryear, of the shtetl. Why don't you paint anything of Jewish life today?"

"This is today," Reb Hendel answered.

"What do you mean? These scenes must be at least 50-60 years old."

"No. They are alive and real. Take that picture of the cheder. That's my cheder. Here I am. Here's my friend Yankel, and here's Moshie, and Chayim. And the teacher, Michael der geller[1].... Each time I sat down to paint this picture, I didn't pick up the brush until I saw the scene vividly in my mind. I could see Reb Michael open the Mishnah and hear him intone its teachings. I remember the games Chayim played and what Yankel and I talked about. I wasn't painting a picture of the past. Everything was alive for me."

What was at the core of that interchange? I felt it was an artist's responsibility to speak to the people of the contemporary milieu and so I had wanted to see something current. If Reb Hendel wanted to communicate to a small, select group, then the shtetl pictures were fine. But if he wanted to reach people at large - and I feel that chassidic art has something to say to people at large - I felt that he would have to focus on the here-and-now.

Reb Hendel answered that his art was here-and-now, because for him the past was present.

Now let's fast-forward about thirty years. Recently, I was talking with one of my friends and he surprised me by saying: "We've become like Reb Nissan." He was referring to Reb Nissan Nemanov, the mashpia of the Lubavitcher yeshivah in Brunoy, France, whom the Previous Rebbe had referred to as a benoni as defined by Tanya. Reb Nissan was steeped in the day-to-day practice of avodah, the Divine service of working on, refining, and changing one's character. He would daven for hours, and iskafia-the endeavor to control one's natural desires and subdue the "I want" of the material world- was ingrained into his personality.

Not only did Reb Nissan live this way himself, he educated others to do so as well. One of my son's friends says his father will never forgive Reb Nissan. "Because of him," the youth says, "my grandfather can never walk into a pizza shop. He can't understand how anyone could go to a place which is built only for taivos, physical desires."

Now when a generation of chassidic youth familiar with pizza parlors started coming to study in Brunoy, Reb Nissan felt perplexed. For him, Chassidus was avodah; he knew no other lexicon. On the other hand, he realized that these students were far from the mode of avodah with which he was familiar, so far that speaking about the subject - let alone applying it in that way - would be foreign for them. He clearly faced a communication gap.

When my friend said that we have become like Reb Nissan, he was not accusing our generation of being engrossed in avodah like Reb Nissan was. He was saying that we have a message which, while relevant to us, may not be relevant to the new generation of Lubavitch youth emerging. We grew up with the Rebbe in flesh and blood. Daily, we faced a reminder that Elokus is a real factor in our lives, and that made the mission to bring Mashiach a dynamic and pressing purpose.

Today's generation does not have such a tangible, flesh and blood experience. My friend was suggesting that the generation gap between them and us is at least as great as that which existed between Reb Nissan and his later students.

I told him: "As long as Reb Nissan was fully alive in his avodah, it did not matter to him that others found it less relevant. And not only that, because he was fully alive, his message became relevant to others. For a truth that is alive cannot help but communicate.

"Similarly, with ourselves, as long as we live with the Rebbe, not only as a memory, but as a present force in our lives, we - and most important, the Rebbe - will be relevant to our students. It's when we ‘remember him and wish to immortalize his values' - i.e., ‘Make him past tense and his teachings history,' important and valuable history but history nonetheless - that our students will consider us as relics of the past and out of touch."

In other words, I gave Reb Hendel's answer: Make the past, present.

Before trying to tie together all the loose ends left above, let me explain why these concepts are being mentioned in connection with this book. This book was originally written in the past - about seven years ago. At that time, the Rebbe would take his place on the balcony above the hundreds of chassidim who would come to 770 to daven with him. Afterwards, all 770 would break out in singing Yechi Adoneinu and the Rebbe would encourage the singing, swaying back and forth to the melody.

At that time, we - myself and the other members of the editorial board of Sichos In English - felt it necessary to internalize that experience. After all, Chabad is identified with pnimiyus, understanding even one's deepest and most powerful experiences and integrating them within our understanding and character, making them part of ourselves. In this way, one will not merely be swept away on a wave of spiritual feeling, but instead will have the potential to "ride the wave" and control and focus its energy.

For this reason, after the Rebbe began to make these appearances and respond to the singing of the chassidim, we wanted to explain to ourselves - and in that way to others - what our connection with the Rebbe meant, what our desire for Mashiach meant, and why chassidim connected the two together.

The book was to be written in farbrengen style, i.e., filled with stories and with heart-to-heart talk, so that it wouldn't have to be accepted on faith, but the kind of truth that becomes apparent when one's values and principles are brought face to face with reality.

The first draft was prepared over the course of the year 5754 (1994) and published chapter by chapter in pamphlets. The last pamphlet was published electronically for Shabbos, 2 Tammuz of that year.

Afterwards, we got involved in other things, and years passed. Several months ago, Rabbi Yonah Avtzon, the director of SIE, was going through some old papers and saw a copy of this manuscript. He looked through it again and arrived at a conclusion: "There's a lot of good material there. Let's prepare it for publication."

So we set out to make the past present. As Reb Hendel said, and as I said about Reb Nissan, when the past is true, it is present, for truth is eternal. If something is true, the fact that time passes and situations change doesn't make it less true.

That said, there are ideas whose time has come and ideas whose time has passed. That does not make them less true and less valid, but they are less relevant. Let me put it bluntly: everyone agrees Reb Hendel's work possesses a certain charm. Even my children like his paintings. Nevertheless, people of my parents' age identify with the work more. I identify less and my children even less. Because it is a living work, it communicates, but the extent of the communication varies.

Heaven forbid that this should happen to the ideas here. These concepts should never be charming antiques.

Why does an idea become antiquated? Because every man lives in his own time and his own culture. A perceptive individual appreciates the broad span of his horizon; he sees beyond his subjectivity and therefore is able to communicate to others. Nevertheless, even his vistas are limited, because his understanding and insight are defined by his era.

And then there are timeless truths, fundamental core principles that are eternal, part of the inner rhythm which G-d engraved into His world. The waves of time break against them; they become the vortex around which the patterns of change shift.

Man does not invent such truths; there is nothing new to discover. What is necessary is to align oneself with the truths that are already here, to realize them and structure one's life around them.

Rebbe and Mashiach are eternal truths, part of the spiritual fabric of the world. These truths must not only be accepted on faith, but made part of our own conceptual framework. For that reason, almost every chassidic farbrengen since Gimmel Tammuz has focused or at least touched on these issues.

The process of realignment described above is the inner dynamic that lies at the core of a chassidic farbrengen. Farbrengens have always been made up of give and take. One person spoke. Since what he said did not relate to one of the listeners, that person objected. The first defended his position, the second made his objections clearer, and so they continued until the subjective trappings of the idea were stripped away and what remained was a clearer and more genuine picture.

We've tried to capture the fundamental thrust of these farbrengens in this book. The concepts have been thoroughly parried back and forth, both between ourselves - comparing our initial conception to our present understanding - and with others, the many to whom we have shown the book and asked for feedback.

It is our hope that we have provided our readers with a tool that will enable them to confront themselves and the issues, and translate them into terms that they can relate to. When they do that and live with these concepts in a real way, the ideas will also communicate to others and spread further, bringing the world closer to its ultimate purpose, the coming of Mashiach.

Rabbi Eliyahu Touger
5 Teves, 5761



  1. (Back to text) "The ruddy-haired one."

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