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Train Journey

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A railway system offers two modes of travel: by express train, or via a local line. The express train takes its passengers swiftly and directly to their destination. The local train, which most passengers use (either because the express train does not stop at their station, or because they cannot tolerate its speed) travels more slowly and makes many stops along the way.

These stops are of two types. There are minor stations, at which the train stops for but a short while to take on passengers. And there are major stations that are of a much lengthier duration, for here not only human passengers are received into the train but also livestock and other cargoes. This is a time-consuming operation, for animals are frightened by the commotion (for good reason—they are on their way to being de-animalized and converted into human nourishment), and the cargo being loaded is heavy and bulky.

Before the train pulls out from the station, it sounds its whistle to notify the passengers who are busy with their bundles (or who have perhaps forgotten that they have a journey to make) that it is time to embark. Once, twice, thrice the whistle blows, and when this, too, is to no avail, the train begins to slowly move, to show that it means business and that this is the last chance to hop on before it picks up speed and leaves the station behind.

The Limitations of Haste

Regarding the ultimate Redemption and the era of universal peace and perfection it will usher in, the prophet prophesies: “I, G-d, will hasten it in its time.”[10] Whereupon the Talmud asks: If the Redemption shall come “in its time,” then, by definition, it has not been hastened; and if it is hastened, it is not “in its time”!

The Talmud explains that the prophet is speaking of two possible routes by which the Redemption may come about. If mankind is in a state of “merit,” it will be hastened; if, however, we are “not meritorious,” the Redemption will come “in its time.”[11]

Chassidic teaching adds that, in a certain sense, a redemption that comes “in its time” is greater than a “hastened” redemption. A hastened redemption is one that is imposed on a still-imperfect world from Above; the nature of reality has not itself changed, but has been overwhelmed by an infusion of divine light. On the other hand, a redemption coming “in its time” means that the world has been transformed from within, at its own pace, by its own internal processes. Thus it is deeper and truer than a “hastened” redemption.

Every person’s reality consists of three basic components. At the core of our being is our “G-dly soul,” the spark of divinity that drives our quest for self-transcendence. This is the “man” in man—that which distinguishes the human being from all other creations.

Enfolding the G-dly soul is an “animal soul,” whose drives and instincts man shares with all other living things. These include the drives for self-preservation, self-propagation and self-fulfillment. In man, these might take on more “civilized” and “sophisticated” forms, but they remain, in essence, animal drives and instincts.

Extrinsic to both the G-dly and animal souls is our physical body and physical environment. This is the third, most material and “lifeless” element of our reality, devoid even of the limited spirituality of the animal soul.

A hastened redemption embraces only the G-dly soul of man, which is by nature receptive to the divine. The other two components—the animal soul and the material world—are only affected from without. They might be “swept along” when the divine spark of the G-dly soul erupts into flame, but they themselves have not truly been redeemed.[12]

The Metaphor

Life is thus comparable to a railway. There are express trains that take the direct route to the end of the line. But these carry only passengers of the highest class. “Small-town” passengers, animals and inanimate cargo are too cumbersome for so speedy a ride.

The local train carries them all: stragglers, animals aspiring to be absorbed by the human, raw materials aspiring toward human utility. There are many stations on this journey, of longer or shorter duration according to need; there are second and third warnings for those lagging behind; there are many types of cars, designed for the particular needs of every type of passenger.

All this makes for a more laborious progress toward the ultimate destination. But while the express train achieves its objective more swiftly and smoothly, its achievements are narrower in scope and shallower in depth than those of the local train.

What is true of the railways of history also applies to our individual journeys. In our quest towards personal redemption, we also have a choice of these two routes. We can strive to stimulate what is highest and most G-dly within us, and assume that everything else will be “swept along.” Or we can take the slower, more laborious route of refining and developing also the “animal” and “inanimate” elements of our personality and world, toward a less speedy, yet more profound redemption.

Based on an address by the Rebbe, Tishrei 26, 5711 (October 7, 1950)[13]

Adapted from the teachings of the Rebbe by Yanki Tauber

 


[10]. Isaiah 60:22.

[11]. Talmud, Sanhedrin 98a.

[12]. Thus the Chassidic masters interpret the exchange between brothers Jacob and Esau following their meeting in Genesis 33. When Esau invites Jacob to join him in his mountain kingdom of Se’ir, the father of Israel replies: “My lord knows that the children are tender and that the suckling flocks and herds are a care to me; if they are driven too quickly for one day, all the flock will die. Please, let my lord go on, ahead of his servant. I will lead on slowly, according to the pace of the work before me and the pace of the flocks, until I come to my lord, to Se’ir” (Genesis 33:13-14).

Our sages explain that Esau was inviting Jacob to the grand finale of history, when “The saviors shall ascend Mount Zion to judge the mountain of Esau, and the kingdom shall be G-d’s” (Obadiah 1:21). Jacob’s reply was that while he, himself, was ready for the Redemption, his “children” and “flock” were not. So, though it might take many generations until “I come to my lord, to Se’ir,” Jacob did not wish to avail himself of the offer of a hastened Redemption, electing instead to “lead on slowly, according to the pace of the work before me and the pace of the flocks” (Torah Ohr, Vayishlach; see Rashi on Genesis 33:14).

[13]. Likkutei Sichot, vol. II, pp. 445-446.

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