ESSAY: The Fifty-Sixth Century
was a time of great discovery and accelerated development,
both in the wisdom of Torah and in the secular sciences; indeed,
the two are deeply interconnected
A TELLING STORY: The Real Rebbe
Fantasy, too, has its limits
The Fifty-Sixth Century
In the six-hundredth year in the life of Noah... all wellsprings
of the great deep burst open, and the windows of heaven were
interprets this verse as a prediction that in the sixth
century of the sixth millennium, the gates of the supernal
wisdom will be opened, as will the springs of the earthly
wisdom, preparing the world to be elevated in the seventh
Indeed, the fifty-sixth century from creation (1740-1840
in the secular calendar) was a time of great discovery and
accelerated development, both in the supernal wisdom of Torah
and in the earthly wisdom of secular science. This was the
century in which the teachings of Chassidism were revealed
and disseminated by Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov and his disciples. The inner soul of Torah, which
until then had been the province of a select number of mystics
in each generation, was made accessible to all, imparting
a new depth to our understanding of the divine wisdom and
infusing vitality and joy into our observance of the mitzvot.
As these supernal revelations poured forth from windows of
heaven, the earthly wellsprings answered in kind. The same
century saw an unprecedented eruption of knowledge in all
fields of secular sciencein mathematics, physics, medicine,
technology and the social sciencesrevolutionizing all
areas of human life.
According to the Zohar, this dual revolution came to prepare
the world for the seventh millenniumthe
era of Moshiach, when the six workday millennia
of history will culminate in an age that is wholly Shabbat
and tranquillity for life everlasting.
The Downpour Before the Flood
The redemption by Moshiach is many things. It is the gathering
of the dispersed people of Israel to the Holy Land, the rebuilding
of the Beit HaMikdash (Holy Temple) in Jerusalem and
the re-establishment of the Temple service. It is mankinds
return to G-d and its recommitment to a life of goodness and
holiness. It is the end of hunger, war, jealousy and greed;
the removal of evil from the heart of man and suffering from
G-ds world. It is all of these things because of a basic
transformation that our world will undergo: the human mind
will comprehend the divine truth.
In its present state, the world conceals the face of G-d.
True, the workings of nature bespeak the wisdom and majesty
of the Creator, and the processes of history show the hand
of divine providence in the affairs of man; yet these are
but pinpoints of light penetrating the thick weave of natures
veil. Far more pronounced is the physical worlds concealment
of the divine truth with the regularity of its cycles, the
apparent amorality of its laws and the brute immanence of
its being. I am, it proclaims with every proton of its being;
I am an existence unto myself, absolute and independent; whatever
higher truth there might be to existence is just
thata higher truth, abstract and immaterial,
and quite apart from the real world.
But in the age of Moshiach, knowledge and wisdom will
increase to the point that the world will be filled
with the knowledge of G-d as the waters cover the sea.
The true essence of reality will be revealed; the physical
world will be experienced as an expression, rather than an
obfuscation, of the absolute, exclusive and all-pervading
reality of G-d. And when the world will cease to be perceived
as something apart from G-d, all other features of the messianic
world will fall into place. Man will endeavor only to know
G-d and obey His will, and the strife and conflict-ridden
existence we now know will be replaced with a perfect peace
and harmonyharmony between the various drives and forces
within the human soul, harmony between men and nations, and
harmony between the Creator and His creation.
This explains how the supernal wisdom that emanated from
the windows of heaven in the fifty-sixth century
served to prepare the world to be elevated in the seventh
millennium. The teachings of Chassidism offer a taste
of this futuristic awareness and understanding. Employing
the tools of human reason, Chassidism explains to the mind
of man and implants in his heart the truth that there
is none else beside Him, that G-dliness is everything and everything
it describes the origins, development and inner workings of
the soul of man, the souls relationship with G-d, and
the manner in which it finds realization and fulfillment through
the knowledge of G-d and the actualization of His will; it
expounds on mans role in creation and how our deeds
transform the very nature of reality, making it more receptive
Today, our ability to truly comprehend and assimilate these
truths is limited by the present state of the human mind and
the world that colors its thinking. Yet the revelation of
the inner soul of Torah was the drizzle that heralds the deluge,
the trickle that marks the beginnings of the great flood that
will fill the world with the knowledge of G-d as the
waters cover the sea.
Implement and Illustrator
Complementing the downpour of divine wisdom from the windows
of heaven was an upwelling of earthly knowledge, which the
Zohar also considers a prologue and preparation to the messianic
era of knowledge.
On the most elementary level, the scientific revolution prepared
the world for the coming of Moshiach by serving as a tool
for the dissemination of Torah. Three hundred years ago, a
teacher could communicate directly only with those who were
within range of his voice; today, his words (and even his
image) can be broadcast to billions of people in all parts
of the globe. In these and numerous other ways, the scientific
advances of the last three centuries have aided and enabled
the spread of the divine wisdom on a scale that could not
even be envisioned before the wellsprings of the great
deep burst open in the sixth century of the sixth millennium.
On a deeper level, the accelerated development of earthly
wisdom has not only brought knowledge of G-d farther, faster
and to more people, but has also enhanced the quality
of our understanding of our Creator. The scientific revolution
has actually enabled us to better appreciate and relate to
the divine reality.
For example: integral to our faith is the concept of specific
divine providence (hashgachah peratit): that
G-d observes our every act, word and thought and holds us
accountable for them; that He is aware and concerned with every event
in the universe, from the birth of a star in a remote galaxy
to the turn of a leaf in the wind in a distant forest, and
that they all figure in His master plan of creation and contribute
to its realization.
In earlier generations, the concept of an all-seeing eye
that simultaneously observes billions of actions thousands
of miles apart from each other, and of a consciousness that
is simultaneously aware of innumerable events and their effect
upon each other, were beyond the realm of reason. One could
believe it absolutely, for faith has the capacity to accept
even the most illogical of truths; but one could not rationally
relate to it and envision it with the minds eye. Today,
when we can converse with ease with someone ten thousand miles
away, when we can watch a spacecraft landing on Mars and use
a chip of silicon to compute millions of data a second, it
requires no great leap of faith to understand
that He who imparted such potential in His creation certainly
possesses it Himself, and in a far greater measure.
Modern science has done more than empower us to do things
that were impossible or extremely difficult in earlier times.
It has also transformed our very vision of reality, introducing
certain concepts into the lexicon of our minds which, in earlier
generations, had belonged exclusively to the realm of faith.
On to the Seventh Millennium
In both the examples cited above, we have seen how the earthly
wisdom of science serves the revelation of the supernal
wisdom, whether as a tool that aids its dissemination or as
a model that makes real and tangible what was previously abstract
There is, however, a third and more essential way in which
the eruption of the wellsprings of the great deep
has prepared the world for the seventh millennium. A way in
which the earthly wisdom is not only a facilitator of the
supernal wisdom of Torah, but is itself a revelation of G-dliness.
For science is discovering the face of G-d. For the past
three hundred years, it has been piercing the veil of nature,
to the point that the veil has become more and more transparent,
more revealing of the truths it both embodies and conceals.
Again we cite but one example of many:
In earlier generations, the study of nature yielded a picture
of a multifarious universe. The world was perceived as being
comprised of dozens of elements and driven by
a number of distinct forces. But the more science developed,
the more it uncovered the unity behind the diversity. A hundred
elements were revealed to be composed of a much
smaller number of fundamental building blocks;
diverse forces were shown to be but variant mutations of a
single, elementary force. Even the differentiation between
matter and energy was shown to be but an external distinction
between two forms of the same essence. Indeed, science is
rapidly approaching the point of being able to demonstrate
that the entirety of existence is a singular ray emanating
from a singular source.
Of course, the windows of heaven have already unleashed this
truthin the language of Torah thought and Kabbalistic
metaphor. Complementing this revelation, the scientist is
currently formulating this truth in mathematical equations
and demonstrating it in state-of-the-art atom smashers.
From above and from below, our world has been primed for
the Age of Knowledge.
Based on the Rebbes talks on various occasions in
5726 (1965-1966) and 5737 (1976-1977)
The Real Rebbe
Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Lubavitch (1789-1866) was once explaining
at a farbrengen (chassidic gathering) how reality
is a factor of learning and behavior. The Rebbe illustrated
his point with the following story:
Once there was a coachmana coarse and primitive fellowwho
did a great deed. When after his passing he came to stand
before the heavenly court, the celestial judges were at loss
at how reward him. Should he be admitted into gan eden,
where the souls of the righteous experience the sublime pleasure
of comprehending the divine wisdom of Torah? But what would
he do in such a place? He would be bored out of his mind!
Finally, it was decided to grant him the only reward that
would be meaningful to him: he would placed in the world of
fantasy, where he would be given a sturdy coach of the most
coveted make and model, four white horses in the prime of
health and vigor, and a well-paved highway, free of the ruts
and mudholes he had to contend with in his lifetime.
To this day, concluded Rabbi Menachem Mendel,
the coachman speeds along his imaginary highway with
his imaginary coach and horses. For every man creates his
own reality. One who leads a real lifelife as defined
by the wisdom and will of the Creatorwill ultimately
experience the divine reality. But one who for a lifetime
preoccupies himself with vain and frivolous matters is destined
to inhabit a world of fantasy, no matter how real
it seems to him.
One of those present at the farbrengen, who had a reputation
as a wiseguy, asked the Rebbe: But if this
is the case, perhaps this is a fantasy? Perhaps I am
only imagining all thisthe farbrengen, the food
on the table, the gathered Chassidim, and yourself speaking?
Replied the Rebbe: You can be rest assured that this
is no fantasy. In your fantasy world, you wont see me.
Adapted from the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe by
. The primary work of Kabbalah, authored in the 2nd
century by Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai.
. Zohar, part I, 117a.
. Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov first made public his
teachings in the year 5494 (1734); for 26 years, until his
passing in 1760, he expounded the inner secrets of the Torah,
gaining many followers and revolutionizing Jewish life.
Rabbi DovBer of Mezeritch, who led the Chassidic movement
in the years 1761-1772, continued and expanded on the Baal
Shem Tovs work. Rabbi DovBers disciples founded
the various branches of Chassidism; these included Rabbi
Schneur Zalman of Liadi, who founded the Chabad
branch of Chassidism, which fused the philosophical and
mystical streams of Torah into a unified, comprehensive
program for life. In 5557 (1796), Rabbi Schneur Zalman laid
the foundation for seven generations and thousands of volumes
of Chabad Chassidic teaching with the publication of his
Tanya; the publication, in 5597 (1837) and 5608 (1848),
of additional works by Rabbi Schneur Zalman which further
develop his Chabad doctrine, was heralded by his grandson,
Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Lubavitch (the Tzemach Tzedek,
1789-1866), as a revelation of divine wisdom akin to the
messianic redemption, when the world will be filled
with the knowledge of G-d as the waters cover the sea
. See Talmud, Rosh Hashanah 31a; Nachmanides
commentary on Genesis 2:3.
. Mishneh Torah, Laws of Kings, 11:1; ibid.,
. Indeed, the Hebrew word for world,
olam, means concealment.
. Isaiah 11:9; Mishneh Torah, Laws of Repentance,
. Igrot Kodesh Maharayatz, vol. III, p. 539.
. The Chassidic masters associated this with the
law that on Friday, one should taste from the dishes
prepared for Shabbat (Shulchan Aruch HaRav, Orach
Chaim, 250:8). By the same token, the cosmic Fridaythe
sixth millenniumexperienced a taste of
revelation of the inner essence of Torah in the seventh
millenniumthe Shabbat of the messianic
Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Lubavitch (the Tzemach
Tzedek) compared this taste of messianic
knowledge to the faint murmur of a conversation taking place
in another room. At the time, one understands virtually
nothing of what is being said; but when the conversation
is repeated to him, the eavesdropper recognizes it as something
that he had already heard. Aha! he exclaims,
Now I understand. By the same token,
said Rabbi Menachem Mendel, all that we presume to understand
today of the divine reality is but a faint murmur in relation
to the knowledge and understanding we will achieve in the
era of Moshiach. But those who toil today to study and comprehend
the teachings that have been revealed to us in these final
hours of galut, will then be able to say, Aha!
So thats what it means!
. Furthermore, when telecommunication technologies
are employed to disseminate Torah, the world literally becomes
filled with the knowledge of G-d: the radio
waves in which the words of divine wisdom are encoded permeate
the atmosphere, even where the words are not actually listened
. Know what is above you: a seeing eye, an
ear that hears, and all your deeds are written in a book
(Ethics of the Fathers 2:1).
. See Likkutei Sichot, vol. VIII, pp. 277-284,
and sources cited there.
. Likkutei Sichot, vol. XV, pp. 42-48.