Fifty years ago, as America was celebrating its “Summer of Love,” another type of summer, “The Summer of Awakening,” was heralded in by the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson.
That summer of ’67 Israel had won a miraculous victory. Despite all odds and dire predictions, in a mere six days, the small Israeli army obliterated six Arab armies. The incredible victory brought on a euphoric surge of hope and faith that affected people of all backgrounds. Believer and atheist, politician and laymen — all were suddenly touched to tears.
Let us take a trip back fifty years ago to the resounding words of the Rebbe that summer of 1967. In a most dramatic and revolutionary fashion, the Rebbe spoke at length about the spiritual awakening that consumed the world at the time. The following is a summary of what he said.
I was reading, the Rebbe began, a discourse from my father-in-law [the Rebbe Yosef Yitzchak (1880-1950)], titled “V’hoyo yitoka b’shofar gadol,” which was written in 1943 and published again in 1945. Studying the discourse, I realized that in it the Rebbe [Yosef Yitzchak] was addressing the events of our times.
At the time that the discourse was delivered its visionary message was not appreciated, as is often the case. But now, in perspective, when we witness current events and look closely at his words, we can see the amazing prescience of the discourse, how it foretells of things to come and sheds light on the deeper meaning and significance of global affairs and shifts.
This is not surprising because Torah is the blueprint of existence and, as such, it contains within it the patterns of events until the end of time. The Bible tells us (Deuteronomy 34:2, in Sifrei and Rashi), that G-d showed Moses all the events that would transpire “until the last day” of time. (1)
In the discourse the Rebbe Yosef Yitzchak explains that preceding the Messianic age there would be two stages that would help prepare the way for a new age of personal and global redemption, a new world of global peace and tranquility.
The first stage is alluded to in the book of Zechariah (9:15): The Lord G-d shall sound the shofar and march forth in a southerly storm-wind.
The “southerly storm-wind” refers to the major upheavals of the two World Wars which wreaked a terrible deluge of destruction upon the world.
Till this day no one can truly understand how events erupted into the explosive World Wars. First, World War I – sparked by the assassination of an individual in Sarajevo – disintegrated the entire world order, bringing on the demise of centuries-old empires, not to mention the death of over 9 million people. The storm of World War II was far worse and far more shocking. Who could have imagined that an incapable and incompetent social misfit would rise to power, bring on a reign of terror to the world never before seen in all of history, kill millions upon millions, to the point of threatening to swallow up the entire world with his demonic drive of global domination?
What conditions allowed for such a horrific storm to destroy hundreds of millions of lives and drive fear and dread into the hearts of nations, leaders and millions of world citizens – something so irrational and unpredictable?
According to the prophet Zechariah, the “storm-winds of the south” are a result of the dissonance between the nations of the world and their Divine calling. G-d created the material universe in order to give us the opportunity to recognize the Cosmic Hand at work and do everything in our power to reveal the spiritual within all matter. Mission: sublimate our wordly existence into a civilized home for the Divine. When a schism develops between existence and its purpose, between matter and spirit, between form and function – an inevitable storm will break out, demanding that the deep rift be repaired. In order to pierce the armor of this dissonance – the divide between a material universe that has lost touch with its higher purpose – the sound of the shofar rang forth and it brought on the “southerly storm-wind” which dove dread into the hearts of nations in the two World Wars.
The shofar is a wake-up call, beckoning us to recognize that something is terribly wrong. Without accountability to a higher purpose, humans can turn into beasts, destroying everything in their path – as the world wars demonstrated with such devastating impact.
Critical disclaimer: This is not to suggest that G-d caused the World Wars and all their destruction. Humans, terrible humans, were responsible and accountable for the devastation that they wreaked. The prophet is addressing the underlying cosmic roots that allow for such devastation and the consequences of such behavior.
The “southerly storm-wind” caused by the shofar’s call is meant to make us aware. By learning the proper lessons of the World Wars and rectifying the causes, the nations of the world can become refined and prepared to create a peaceful world – aligned with the Divine mission statement.
The second stage of preparation for the Redemption will not be a terrifying tempest, but a gentle awakening, like the loving call of a father to his child. This stage is described by Isaiah (27:13) in the verse that the discourse is based upon, V’hoyo yitoka b’shofar gadol: And it shall be on that day, that a great shofar shall be sounded, and those who were lost in the land of Ashur and those who were banished in the land of Mitzrayim shall come and bow down to G-d on the holy mountain in Jerusalem.
One of the most fundamental consequences of spiritual dissonance is called “galut” (exile) – displacement. Gulut is a physical and spiritual sense of not feeling “at home” in this world (“because of our sins we were exiled from our land”).
Therefore, one of the great developments at the end of days will be the “gathering of the exiles.” “G-d will bring back your exiles… He will gather you from all the nations, where He had dispersed you. Even if your exiles are at the end of the heavens, G-d will gather you from there” (Deuteronomy 30:3-4).
This is what the prophet Isaiah is telling us, in the previous verse (27:12), “And you will be gathered up, one by one, O children of Israel.” As Rashi explains, the “gathering of the exiles” will be such a monumental and difficult process, “that it is as though G-d Himself must literally take each individual with His very hands,” taking him out of his place in exile.
Spiritual displacement can occur in two ways: Through prosperity and through poverty. These are the two forms of exile that Isaiah refers to: 1) “Those who were lost in the land of Ashur and 2) those who were banished in the land of Mitzrayim.”
“Ashur” is the Hebrew word for pleasure, referring to all the material pleasures in which people indulge. Prosperity and success are blessings. However, when they lead to self-indulgence, they can cause a person to become “lost in the land of Ashur” – becoming utterly insensitive and complacent, lost in self-interest.
“Mitzrayim” means constraints, embodying all the oppressive forces in life that trap and overwhelm us. Diametrically opposed to the prosperity of “Ashur,” “Mitzrayim” denotes the suffering state to which some people may be “banished.”
Since souls on this earth “were lost in the land of Ashur” and others “banished in the land of Mitzrayim” – the question begs: How is it possible to reach people who are so locked and trapped in their own limited perception? Even if G-d Himself will gather His children up “one by one,” still, this gathering cannot be done through coercion. The process requires the cooperation and receptivity of those being gathered. They must have some interest in discovering their spiritual destinies.
If they are “lost” in their pleasures or “banished” in their oppression, how will they ever be reached?
Answers Isaiah: V’hoyo yitoka b’shofar gadol. “And it shall be on that day, that a great shofar shall be sounded, and those who were lost in the land of Ashur and those who were banished in the land of Mitzrayim shall come and bow down to G-d on the holy mountain in Jerusalem.”
A regular shofar cannot reach the hearts of the “lost” and “banished.” It can wake up those who are drowsy, but not completely asleep. It can also keep people semi-awake. But, they may fall back into sleep. There will be those who are in a deep slumber, utterly unaware of their own souls and inner spirituality, totally consumed with their lives – either in prosperity or in struggle. The only way they can be awakend is through the “great shofar,” an all-powerful call from above that pierces even the hardest armor and deepest levels of “loss” and “banishment.”
This explains why Isaiah says simply “yitoka,” without defining who is blowing the shofar, unlike Zechariah who says “The Lord G-d shall sound the shofar.” The names of G-d imply defined and revealed levels of Divine expression. they have the power to reach. A regular shofar reaches only those who are themselves conscious and sensitive (at least somewhat) to the world of spirit. But to reach the deepest recesses of the souls that are “lost” and “banished,” with no revealed spiritual consciousness and awareness, requires the call of the “great shofar.” The Great Shofar is rooted in the Divine Essence, beyond any name or definition.
The purpose of the “Great Shofar’s” call is to prepare the world for redemption by awakening the innermost levels of spirit embedded in the darkest corners of the world. The souls that are “lost in the land of Ashur” and “banished in the land of Mitzrayim,” after their initial inspiration, “shall come and bow down to G-d on the holy mountain in Jerusalem.”
The call of the “Great Shofar” is the second stage of preparation for personal and global redemption. It follows the first stage, “G-d shall sound the shofar and march forth in a southerly storm-wind,” which refers to the two World Wars.
In my humble opinion, the Rebbe declared, this second stage, the call of the “Great Shofar,” took place several days before Shavuot, in the summer of 1967.
Totally unexpected, the miraculous victory of the Six-Day War evoked an unprecedented spiritual awakening amongst people of all backgrounds. Religious and secular alike, believers and cynics, could not contain their tears when touching the stones of the newly reclaimed Western Wall. Regardless of their previous life choices, regardless of education or lack of education, people from all over the world – even those “lost in the land of Ashur” and “banished in the land of Mitzrayim,” even people who a moment earlier had no idea or interest in Israel – suddenly felt a surge of connection and were drawn to travel from the world over to “the holy mountain in Jerusalem,” ready to “bow down to G-d.”
The amazing thing is this: the powerful awakening did not come as result of any change of status in people’s lives. The challenges of the pleasures of “Ashur” and the oppression of “Mitzrayim” remained intact. The pleasures were not weakened and the difficulties were not alleviated. Still, a soulful awakening stirred the entire world.
What caused this sudden, unprecedented awakening – one far greater than any inspiration following the two World Wars? It would seem far more likely that the horrors of World War II would have brought on powerful spiritual revival and a profound sense of responsibility. The annihilation of six million Jews who died sanctifying G-d’s name in a most dreadful fashion – a Holocaust of unparalleled proportions – should have evoked the deepest awakening of all.
Instead, we find that initially many denied the extent of the tragedy. Then, when it was no longer possible to ignore the enormity of the losses, one would think that Jews all over would have been shaken to the core and that they would have been moved to do everything possible for our brothers and sisters, our own family, in Europe. Simple mentshlechkeit would have dictated as much.
The point is not to be negative, but rather to look honestly into our own hearts. Each person knows deep within what he or she did – or did not do – at the time. Some prayed and said psalms, others contributed money, others sighed. Some spoke out and wrote articles. But everyone, even those not “lost” or “banished,” remained “intact.” Regardless of what was done, people were not shaken to the extent that one might have predicted, given the terrible events taking place in Europe.
By contrast, the victory of the Six-Day war, affected not six million, but two and half million people, and only with fear and threats, not (G-d forbid) actual annihilation. Nevertheless, this victory shook up Jews all over the world.
The only explanation for this is that in 1967 the call came from the “great shofar,” which reaches far deeper and wider than the “plain” shofar that brought on the “storm-winds of the south” during the two World Wars.
Had we merited, we would have been blessed with the sounding of the “great shofar” immediately following the “storm-winds of the south” in World War I. This would have drawn those “lost in the land of Ashur” and “banished in the land of Mitzrayim” to “come and bow down to G-d on the holy mountain in Jerusalem.” In actuality, only a few were awakened by the “regular” shofar call of World War I.
Next, the even stronger “storm-winds of the south” of World War II blew in. This also failed to rouse the world sufficiently.
Now, in 1967, after the raging storms of the past, came the loving call of the “great shofar,” of a father calling to his children – reaching into the core and moving the essence of all his children. This time, even those “lost in the land of Ashur and those who were banished in the land of Mitzrayim were roused.” In G-d’s great mercy, this call came only with initial concerns and fears, not like the storms of both World Wars.
Now, the onus is upon us. The awakening itself is a gift of love that comes from on high. But then, each of us has free will to choose what comes next.
Will we utilize this awakening to its fullest? Will we act upon it and allow it to lead us to “come and bow down to G-d on the holy mountain in Jerusalem”?
Now that the “great” shofar has called to us, G-d implores, beseeches and asks us: Please, please use this great spiritual awakening for what it was intended. Channel it into your day to day activities. Transform your lives into Divine lives. Sanctify your corner of the material world. Recognize and reveal the spiritual energy embedded in all of existence – through living virtuous, moral lives, saturated with Torah and mitzvoth.
And by doing so, we prepare ourselves to be led by the hand, “one by one,” each one of us from our respective states of spiritual displacement, to the point of complete alignment of our bodies and souls, humbly bowing to the Divine presence on the holy mountain in Jerusalem.
These are the unforgettable words uttered by the Rebbe fifty years ago.
We are now in 2017. Fifty years have passed since the ’67 summer of awakening. Now, we can look back, blessed with the wisdom of experience that 50 years bring, and analyze what happened in the interim. Was the inspiration of the summer of 1967 actualized?
What deeper understanding do we have today about the events that transpired 50 years ago? Have we have become smarter or stupider?
Above all, will we learn the appropriate lessons of the past four decades, to chart a new course for the future?
What went wrong? And what can we do about it today?
The first question will answer your second one. By understanding what went wrong we can learn what we must do:
Yitoke b’shofar godol. The conquest and return to Jerusalem created a surge of unprecedented awakening. But now, as it is with every inspiration, the challenge is maintaining the inspiration. As the inspiration dissipates we tend to take our miracles and gifts for granted.
And therein lays the failure to achieve Middle East peace over last 50 years, as well as the key to how to solve the problem from here on.
This will be the theme of next week’s article.
(1) Interesting to note that during that summer of ’67 the Rebbe himself delivered the same discourse (on the abovementioned verse) not once, but three times (Rosh Hashana, Shabbat Shuva and Simchat Torah), in addition to several other discourses which he delivered during those months that address related themes (Im hoyo nidochacho on Shabbat Parshat Netzovim and Hineni mayvi oisom on Shabbat Parshat Noach).