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Netzavim: Existence Unplugged

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It was in midst of the Great Depression; FDR was introducing the New Deal; Hitler had just come to power; Stalin had begun ravaging the Soviet Union with his reign of terror; the world was about to be thrust into history’s bloodiest period, shaking the universe to its core.

75 years ago, 1933, was a momentous time; major transitions – mostly tragic but some positive – were underway, and mankind would never ever be the same.

Meanwhile, in Warsaw, Poland – the city that would several years later be destroyed by the Nazis – a great Rebbe began delivering a series of profound Chassidic discourses, which would become known as “Hemshech Tzaddik-Dalet,” literally “the series of 94,” referring to the series of discourses delivered by the Rebbe, Rabbi Yoseph Yitzchak Schneerson, in the Hebrew year 5694, September-November 1933.

These discourses were so dense and complex that the Rebbe abruptly discontinued their delivery right in middle of the series, after one of the listeners complained to him, to the chagrin of us all, that they were too deep for the audience… What a fool: if you can’t follow along, go home. Why spoil it for the rest of us?

As a result, we are now left with an unfinished symphony. The good news, however, is that this discourse was based on an earlier one delivered by this Rebbe’s father, the Rebbe Sholom Dovber, 18 years earlier, in 1915 (5676), and there we can study the general thread and continuing flow of these discourses to their conclusion, albeit without the elaboration and explanations that the Rebbe Yosef Yitzchak would surely have added.

The series, as it is, consists of nine discourses, the first one delivered on Rosh Hashana 1933, and concluding – aborted, as it were – with the last discourse delivered on Shabbos Parshat Toldot. These discourses, delivered by the Rebbe both orally and in writing, were subsequently published.

To honor the 75th anniversary of this significant series, this column will offer a summary and analysis of the core ideas discussed in these discourses (in the same spirit that was done for Hemshech Samach-Vav several years ago).

Hemshech Tzaddik-Dalet dissects the very nature of existence, indeed, the very nature of reality itself. It’s central and most remarkable theme is that existence as we see and experience it is not real at all.

What is real? is the big question posed in this series. Is something real because you can touch and see it? Or is that simply a circumstantial reality, which has no validity outside of the world of our senses. If something were to be truly real, wouldn’t that dictate that it be real even if and when we don’t see or touch it? In other words its reality is based on it being fundamentally and essentially necessary, not because it just happens to exist.

Think of it this way: What is reality – the sub-atomic forces that energize and define all of matter, or the matter itself; the DNA that shapes your entire being, or your being; the electricity that runs through our appliances, or the appliances.

What is more real: The cause or the effect? The peel or the fruit? Your body or your soul?

Is existence energy or matter? And if you were to find out that matter was just a form of energy, and should that energy cease to flow all of matter would simply vanish – how real is that matter even while it looks so formidable?

Is power defined by its immediate or by its enduring strength? How much credence do we give to something that is powerful today but will disappear tomorrow?

How would you look at yourself and your vanities if you were to know that it is all based on a state of blindness: Our inability to see behind the curtain? What would feel like if you were to discover that the things we worship and control our lives are nothing more than a shell concealing a fruit within?

Hemshech Tzaddik-Dalet explains that material existence and even – which is more astonishing – spiritual existence has no true validity of its own. Nothing dictates that matter or spirit must exist. And even when they do exist, their entire being has no self-contained power; it is driven entirely by Divine energy. The only true Reality is the Divine Essence of all, which exists because it must exist. In the words of the Tanya: Everything has a cause. But G-d has no cause other than Himself; nothing preceded Him; His being derives from His own self. G-d’s existence must exist, for it is true reality. G-d is an existence that is unlike any existence, “a non-existential existence.” It is real because it is real; a reality that exists because it exists.

This all may sound too esoteric to some of us. In truth, however, by understanding and appreciating the emptiness and hollowness of material existence, we begin to loosen its seductive stranglehold on us. As long as we give credence to the superficial realities around us we remain part of the problem instead of the solution.

By recognizing what is truly real, we stop feeding the illusion that people and materialism have power over us, allowing us to access the true power of the Essence, which in turn allows us to begin healing this ailing world. – A vital lesson today as many face the challenge of our collapsed financial markets.

Perhaps, as the universe was being annihilated in 1933 and no person would be spared from the devastation, the Rebbe felt the need to dissect and revisit the “engineering room” that wires all of existence. When the world around you is being destroyed, a certain measure of solace can be attained by transcending its mechanics and traveling into its core. But perhaps even more importantly, by recognizing the folly of all existence and, in effect, invoking the source of all of existence, we have the power to renew our contract with the Cosmic Architect and “rewire” the dynamics of existence.

Over the past seven weeks I have been writing about the exact opposite extreme end of the spectrum – child abuse – the lowest end of human degradation, which can’t get much farther from the nature of Divine reality.

Yet, in an interesting way, by lifting ourselves to the highest places we can both escape and ultimately redeem our most demeaning of experiences. When you are mired and covered in manure, sometimes the only way to go is high up above the clouds.

We thus are comforted by this week’s Haftorah – the final one of the seven weeks of comfort:

I will greatly rejoice in G-d, my soul will exult in my G-d; for He has clothed me with the garments of salvation; He has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom puts on a priestly garland, and a bride adorns herself with her jewels. For as the earth brings forth her growth, and as the garden causes its seeds to grow; so G-d will cause righteousness and glory to spring forth before all the nations.

For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent; and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not be still, until her righteousness shines forth like radiance, and her salvation like a burning torch. The nations will see your righteousness, and all the kings your glory; you will be called by a new name, which G-d’s mouth will give. You will also be a crown of beauty in G-d’s hand, and a royal diadem in your G-d’s palm. You will no longer be termed Forsaken, and your land will no longer be termed Desolate. But you will be called, ‘My delight is in her,’ and your land, ‘Espoused’; for G-d delights in you…

Go through, go through the gates, clear the way of the people; build up, build up the highway, clear the stones; lift up a standard over the peoples. Behold, G-d has proclaimed to the end of the earth: Say to the daughter of Zion: Behold, your salvation come.

And when a universe – or a child – is violated, we read on:

Who is this who comes from Edom, with crimsoned garments from Basra? Why is Your apparel red, and Your clothing like one who treads the winepress? I trod them in My anger, and trampled them in My fury. Their blood is sprinkled on My clothing, and I have stained all My raiments. For the day of vengeance was in My heart, and My year of redemption has come. I looked, but there was no one to help; I gazed in astonishment, that there was no one to uphold… So He became their deliverer. In all their affliction He was afflicted…

In His love and compassion He redeemed them; He lifted them up and carried them all through the years (Isaiah 61:10 – 63:9)

As the curtain of this year 5768 comes down, may we raise ourselves to the highest of heights, bringing down all forms of abuse and hurt, incapacitating the oppressive forces that feed off of our giving them authority and power over us.

As the universe retreats to its source and its batteries prepare to be recharged, we have the ability to rise up to the very essence of reality, from whence we derive new hope and new possibilities.

May this new year draw from the Essence and bring you revealed blessings of life, health, livelihood, children and all that you need, materially and spiritually.

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Chana Gitel Ghanooni
12 years ago

This is very powerful. We are really empowered to change the bad into good.
that is amaizing, we can rise up to the heavens. wow!

alan fliegel
12 years ago

May you shine in the light of Truth and may peace and happiness prevail….