20 years in the Twilight Zone — In Honor of Gimmel Tammuz —
How powerful is the sun?
Do you ever find yourself basking in the sun and thinking that the same sun is shining on and warming billions of other people? You may be sunbathing on your porch or in some far flung corner of Earth, while someone thousands of miles away – or even an astronaut millions of miles into space – is staring at that very same ball of light. Even after the sun sets, this very sphere will continue to bring light to people on the other side of the planet.
One sun – touching and affecting so many different people, each in their own personal way. As one person lays tanning on the beach, another is ruminating over a beautiful sunrise or staring at a mesmerizing sunset, while yet another is warming his shower or powering an appliance by tapping the sun for its solar energy.
Indeed, the same sun which sustains life in one place, especially on a cold desolate morning on the frozen tundra, can be the source of misery and even death in the scorching heat of the Sahara Desert.
Rarely do we find one luminary simultaneously affecting so many different entities, in so many different ways.
No wonder some primitive peoples worshipped the sun. And for one fleeting moment even Abraham considered the sun as a deity until realizing that the sun is just another part of creation.
In truth, there is only one G-d, Who created the sun, the earth and all of existence. Yet, even as a creation the sun serves as a metaphor for the divine: “Shemesh u’mogen Hashem Elokim,” the sun and a shield is the revelation of G-dliness (Havaya) manifesting, through the filter and shield (of Elokim), in existence.
Interestingly, Moses – the quintessential leader – is also compared to the sun: “the face of Moses is like the face of the sun,” meaning that due to his utter and absolute selflessness he is able to mirror the Divine sun.
The sun, therefore, offers us many lessons in life. It helps us understand G-d and His divine secrets (the sun and the shield), as well as appreciate the nature of true leaders like Moses (who is “like the face of the sun”).
Simply put: The sun that shines on every one of us, wherever we may be and whatever we may be doing, teaches us how divine energy animates each of us. It also demonstrates for us the role of a true leader – one who selflessly serves as a shining role model of what it means to be a man of G-d. A leader who, like the sun, illuminates and warms each one of our souls, motivating and igniting our spark to live up to the divine image in which each of us was created. Instead of being self-centric, driven by our own short-sighed self-interests, we should be G-d-centric, dedicated to serving others with love. To be givers instead of just takers.
But what happens when that sun stops shining? After ceaselessly casting its light on existence, faithfully serving day in and day out as a source of energy and warmth, one day this sun suddenly falls silent, stopping in its tracks. What to do then?
This is what happened on Gimmel Tammuz, the third day in the Hebrew month of Tammuz, when the sun stopped not once, but twice.
Personally, I find it difficult to speak about Gimmel Tammuz, twenty years to the day (July 1 this year) when the soul of my Rebbe, our Rebbe, stopped shining through his body, when the sun ceased radiating through its shield, illuminating everyone and anyone, the way it did for 92 years, since his birth in 1902.This difficulty is not merely an emotional one, due to the physical loss of someone that can be considered closer than a parent. The primary difficulty for me is the sad reality that mortality can and has impacted the immortal. You see for me the Rebbe, even as I knew and recognized him soul within body, represents the immortal Torah. I for one am repulsed by the idea of worshipping any human being. Judaism categorically and unequivocally rejects that notion. If I am going to worship a mortal, I might as well worship myself. Long ago G-d declared “you are my servants not the servants of my servants.” My relationship with the Rebbe was not to the person; but to the non-person. Not to his body but to his soul: To the divine sun that emanated through his selfless life; to the immortal Torah that he embodied; to the cause he represented; to the all-pervasive divine he exuded.
Of course I loved the man. I loved the way he gazed at children with such adoration, recognizing their innate innocence. I loved how he smiled and empowered every person he met, every fiber of his being emanating love. How he danced on Simchat Torah and sounded the shofar on Rosh Hashana. How he laughed and cried about the sheer insanity of life. How he persistently invested thousands of hours hammering and chipping away at the complacent hearts of his listeners, drilling into them the message that you can change the world – now. How he unceasingly waged war against apathy, even as his audiences were consumed by apathy. I loved and continue to love the man because his “human” self was completely aligned with his “divine” self. But the total dedication to the Rebbe was not to the “man” but to the divine cause he manifest.
Indeed, the Rebbe’s predecessor and founder of the Chabad Chassidus, Rabbi Schneur Zalman known as the Alter Rebbe, writes in a consolation letter published in Tanya (Iggeret HaKodesh epistle 27), that the true life of a Tzaddik is not one of flesh, but one of spirit – his awe, faith and love of the divine.
That is a remarkable statement. Imagine, a person whose life is not his beating heart, blood flowing through his veins, mind and central nervous system, but his faith! A man driven not by biological life but by spiritual life.
What is even more extraordinary is that this spirit manifests in a human body, who looks, talks and acts like the rest of us, yet his life is pulsating with love and awe of G-d.
There were certainly people who connected to the charisma and physical presence of the Rebbe. But this writer always connected to the spirit of the Rebbe. And therefore the very disconnect that happened on Gimmel Tammuz – calling the day by its date is perfect for dissonance and ambiguity – is difficult for me to speak about. How does one speak of mortality and immortality in one breath?
So when I see various attempts at commemorating the “20th anniversary” of Gimmel Tammuz – with no disrespect to anyone – I simply don’t relate. I understand that everyone is trying to honor the Rebbe. But how do you mark a day like this? Every person is entitled to their way of honoring this day. Indeed, the Rebbe’s brilliance, like the sun, meant something unique to anyone he touched. I am simply articulating about my own personal and subjective reaction.
I say this also as an answer to many questions I have received whether I am writing a book or doing some other special activity in connection with Gimmel Tammuz. I simply have nothing to say – except a call to action: That the best way to connect to the Rebbe is to connect to his core essence – his teachings and life lessons, in which he poured and engraved his soul. That lives on and is indeed immortal.
Actually, if I were to say anything I would repeat what I wrote in my epilogue to Toward a Meaningful Life.
On a Personal Note:
I initially titled this book Reality because, for myself, “reality” is the one word that embodies the Rebbe. And the Rebbe is, in one word, reality. When speaking to, listening to, or reading the words of the Rebbe, I — like most people — became transfixed by something that was truly real. No superficiality, no vanity, no gossip. There was a constant sense of urgency, a sense that actions truly matter, that people really matter — that you and I, and everything we do, is of vital importance. And in a climate of cynicism and selfishness, it was more than revitalizing to experience a taste of such reality.I believe that beneath the surface, many of us are just plain complacent. The pressures of society have convinced us that any one person hardly matters — that we will live and die and, ultimately, the world will remain unchanged. More than anything, the Rebbe taught that such an attitude is simply wrong. Like a good teacher, he communicated this through his actions as well as his words — through his ability to speak from heart to heart well into the wee morning hours; through his sensitivity to our frailties and insecurities; through his patience as a teacher in repeating an idea over and over until it was absorbed; through his unending pleas with G-d to alleviate human pain and suffering. In all these ways, the Rebbe embodied an unyielding commitment to virtue and an unwavering confidence in the human spirit. In our mercurial world, such confidence creates a security that can never be shaken; it gives a person something truly meaningful to live for.I miss the Rebbe. I cry for the Rebbe, a true man of G-d. In my heart and mind, he still speaks for hours upon hours, his countenance shining, sharing a taste of reality with us. And I am committed to sharing the Rebbe with everyone with whom I come in contact. There is no doubt in my mind that the Rebbe and his message will prevail. Reality always does; such is its nature.I wrote that 19 years ago. And my feelings have not changed.
So you see, my dear friends, why Gimmel Tammuz – 20 year ago and today – remains an enigma. Reality – embodied by the Rebbe – doesn’t change. And yet something did happen on that fateful Saturday night 20 years ago… On one hand, nothing has changed; nothing changes reality. On the other hand, something has changed. Or perhaps not?
What that is, I cannot tell you.
But then I am consoled when a colleague shows me a new manuscript.
As a preface, let’s look closer at this day, Gimmel Tammuz, in history – one that remains a mysterious and enigmatic day in the calendar.On this day, over three millennia ago (exactly 3287 years ago), Joshua miraculously stopped the sun. Joshua was leading the Jewish people in one of the battles to conquer the Land of Israel. Victory was imminent, but darkness was about to fall. Shemesh b’giveon dom. “Sun,” proclaimed Joshua, “be still at Giv’on” (Joshua 10:12). The heavenly bodies acquiesced, halting their progress through the sky until Israel’s armies brought the battle to its successful conclusion. Commentaries explain that the suns’ movement is due to its singing praise to G-d. This song causes the sun in heaven to bow from east to west. In order to stop the sun’s movement, Joshua commanded the sun to be silent and cease singing, causing it to remain standing still in its place.
The verse continues and tells us (10:14): “There has never been a day like it before or since, a day when G-d listened to a man. Surely G-d was fighting for Israel.”
3204 years later, on this same day in 1927, the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, was released from prison with his death sentence being commuted first to 10 years and then to 3 years in exile. This turned out to be the “beginning of his redemption,” since nine days later (12-13 Tammuz) he was completely released.
And then 20 years ago, in 1994, another voice ceased. A brilliant sun stopped in its tracks. Leaving a new battle to be fought.
Was it redemption, or the beginning of an exile? In 1927 the commuted sentence ended up being a complete redemption. But where do we stand in regard to the events in 1994? Was it a sun being silenced and stopped, or was it allowing us to continue battling to victory?
Gimmel Tammuz 1994 was a dark Saturday night, when we had just concluded reading the chapter in the Torah called Korach, and beginning to read Chukat. Korach is the story of a challenge to a Rebbe and the reaffirmation of the importance of a Rebbe. In his uprising against Moshe Rabbeinu Korach challenged the very need for a Rebbe. Moses turns to G-d Who then reaffirms and demonstrates the vital role of a Rebbe. Chukat is the story of death and how we heal from death. Juxtaposed between these two narratives – the need for a Rebbe and the healing of death – is Gimmel Tammuz… Teetering on a thin line between darkness and light, between death and life, between a Rebbe and his people, Gimmel Tammuz both challenges and empowers us to define the meaning of a Rebbe and our relationship with him.
Yet another enigma.
As you see, we have more questions than answers. Gimmel Tammuz remains unresolved – for now.
But then appears a newfound manuscript – from the recently discovered Schneerson Library in Moscow, Russia (a library that the Rebbe passionately fought to restore to its rightful place in the Agudas Chassidei Chabad Library). This manuscript was penned by the second Chabad Rebbe (Rabbi Dovber Schneerson, the Mitteler Rebbe), and it includes the conclusion of a discourse delivered by his father, Rabbi Schneur Zalman on Shabbat Parshat Va’eirah 5568, which until now has ever been published or seen by the public!The beginning of the discourse is printed in Ohr HaTorah of the Tzemech Tzedek Parshat Va’eirah p.165-166, and what follows below is the continuation of the discourse loosely translated from the Mitteler Rebbe’s transcript – published here for the very first time – and apropos to Gimmel Tammuz (view a facsimile of the Mitteler Rebbe’s manuscript. Here is the original Hebrew text).
The level of Moses [the quintessential leader] is the uppermost tier in each and every world, i.e. the interface within each and every world that draws from the world above it. As illustrated by the name Moshe, which means to extract, like the act of drawing water from a well, as in the verse “He drew water for us, and gave our sheep to drink” (Exodus 2:19). This first stage in each world is deserving of this name for it ‘draws’ and ‘gives to drink;’ it draws from the higher world and gives to drink to the lower world which receives from it, and it serves as an intermediary to bring from the higher to the lower. For this reason he is called Moshe — draws — in the present tense, for this level constantly draws from that which is higher to that which is lower.
This is the deeper mystical meaning of that which it says [the reason given for the name Moshe] “For I drew him out of the water” (Exodus 2:10). It refers to drawing from the supernal waters which precede Atzilus which is the tier of ‘Tikkun’ (the systematic and aligned consciousness of reparation) that follows ‘Tohu’ (the chaotic consciousness of misalignment). These supernal waters are drawn down into Atzilus to effect reparations, not for their (the waters’) own ends, for their origin is far higher that Atzilus and they have nothing to gain by descending into Atzilus. Similarly there is an equivalent level called Moshe that serves to mediate the communication from Atzilus to Briah and from Briah to Yetzirah etc. In the same vein, the source of the level called Moshe within the world of Briah is higher than the world of Briah – its source is in Atzilus. It is this stage called Moshe (within the world of Briah) that draws from Atzilus into Briah etc. This is also the case from Briah to Yetzirah, and from Yetzirah to Asiyah etc.
And as it says in Zohar that “there is an extension of Moshe in every generation,” so too is there a level called Moshe in every world even in this inferior world and it is called Moshe for it draws and ‘gives to drink’ from the higher to the lower.
The archetypal instance of this function, and the context in which it is commonly described is the drawing from the essence of the Emanator (G-d as the original source of Atzilus — the world of emanation) to the emanations (the beings of the world of Atzilus). This is the level of Moshe that is referred to in mystical texts as ‘The Chaperon of The King’, implying that it draws from the revelation of infinite light from higher to lower, in each world in its particular context. Like — as an analogy — a chaperon who serves as an intermediary who mediates communications from the groom to the bride i.e. from the provider to the recipient, so too this stage called Moshe mediates communication from the King (Emanator) to His emanations.
Taking all this into account makes more easily understood the fact that we find among the words of The Sages expressions such as “Moshe did not pass away”, as it says in Zohar in reference to the verse “And no person knows the place of his burial…” (Deuteronomy 33:6).
[Here is where the discourse ends in Ohr HaTorah. The following is the conclusion of this subject in the recently discovered Mitteler Rebbe’s transcript:]
For the source of Moshe is this archetypal intermediary that draws from higher to lower, and therefore his radiance must radiate constantly because of the recipients which must continuously receive from higher worlds by means of this intermediary. This is why it is absolutely imperative that the extension of Moshe is in every generation.
Considering the abovementioned, the “gathering” (a biblical euphemism for the passing of the righteous) which is mentioned in reference to Moshe [Jacob] is not the conventional form of gathering and complete termination G-d forbid, it is merely like the illusion of gathering away of light that prevents it from illuminating the earth, such as that which occurs at night, as it is written “And when the sun has set (lit. come)…” (Leviticus 22:6). This illusion of bringing in and gathering away occurs because the sun has departed to illuminate the sky on the converse side of the earth, however in terms of the sun itself, no change has occurred whatsoever, for it radiates light when it is night just as it radiates when it is day.
Yet, there is a difference in the way in which its light radiates in the context of the earth: By day the sun radiates directly upon that place; by night its light is gathered away in the context of that particular location on earth, and illuminates that part of the earth by means of the moon and the stars which receive the light of the sun and reflect it to the earth. This reflected nighttime light is also entirely from the sun, for without the sun the moon has no light of its own with which to illuminate the earth, as stated in Zohar that “The moon has no light of its own at all.”
The description of being gathered away which is made in reference to the archetype of Moshe, can be similarly understood. The gathering away of Moshe is such that his radiance illuminates the Jewish people through his disciple Joshua who is like the “face of the moon,” with Moshe’s face being like the “face of the sun” as stated in the teachings of the Sages and in Zohar. In contrast, complete gathering away (total termination) cannot be described in reference to archetype of Moshe because he is the intermediary who ‘draws and gives to drink’ continuously.
This is what the Sages mean when they say that “Moshe did not die.” Death describes a scenario in which light is completely gathered away from the world in which it was previously found, and this is impossible to say about Moshe for the reason explained above. What did happen to Moshe’s presence among the Jewish people is analogous to the illusion of the sun’s absence, which is in fact illuminating at night by means of the moon and the stars, as explained above.
This extraordinary manuscript, with the fascinating example of the sun always shining day and night, can perhaps shed some “light” on the stoppage of the sun on Gimmel Tammuz: The sun may be silent (in ways that we can’t hear it), and its movement may have paused, but it continues to shine one way or another – either directly or through its reflection in the moon and the stars. In that sense, these past 20 years are like a form of twilight.
My dear friends, we are this moon and stars: Our light comes from the sun, even when we may not see the sun.
“There has never been a day like it before or since.”
20 years ago, in 1994, the sun was silenced and everything seemed to have changed for us. And yet we are still here – driven to fulfill the Rebbe’s mission. The sun is shining – yet it is still, waiting. We are in the twilight zone, the sun shines through our moon and stars, waiting for the battle to be finished.
We do not have a direct answer or explanation for Gimmel Tammuz. A paradox: We don’t know why. But we know what we must do: Serve as the moon and the stars to channel the sun and illuminate the night. Forge ahead and bring the Rebbe’s message and inspiration, the Rebbe’s light and redemption to everyone we meet.
The Rebbe provided us with a comprehensive blueprint and charged us with a mission and tools. Now more than ever we must illuminate and transform the world – spreading the wellsprings outward, until we fill the world with Divine knowledge as the waters cover the sea.
Just this past week alone I was personal witness to over 8,000 people gathering together to celebrate and embrace the Rebbe’s teachings — from a unity gathering in the streets of Crown Heights to a panel discussion in the gorgeous forest of Rancho Sante Fe (outside of S. Diego) titled The Rabbi and the CEO’s, to another panel discussion in Houston discussing the Rebbe’s contributions. The sun is clearly shining, albeit it through our moon and stars.
Just as in times of Joshua, “G-d listened to a man” and stopped the sun, now too, our actions can surely entice G-d to listen to us and allow the sun to sing again, to continue its journey, and finally pierce the night with direct, instead of refractive, light.
We can finish the battle, cause the sun to begin singing and moving again; we can bring on the full and complete redemption, when sun and moon will be reunited in total fusion.
Remember: The sun may be silent, but it continues to shine – through each one of us.
Is then the sun truly silent?
The best way to honor Gimmel Tammuz is by sharing the Rebbe’s teachings, his sunlight, in which he imbued and engraved his core essence, his very soul. We have created an easy way to share the Rebbe’s sun with everyone you meet. Please join us in honoring the Rebbe, our Rebbe—by sharing his teachings and inspiration with your friends and acquaintances who have yet to be exposed to these life-changing ideas through sharetherebbe.com.
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1. Seder Olam Rabba chapter 11.
2. Compare with Tanya, Iggeret HaKodesh end of the biur of epistle 27.