A Pre-Freudian Slip
With the specter of terrorism haunting the world and other threatening clouds on the horizon, this week bring us a piece of good news. It comes in the form of a prediction, which actually began as a type of positive “Freudian slip” (though it happened before Freud, and by a man who preceded Freud and offered us a far healthier psychological perspective on man, a man this column has deemed as the true father of psychology).
Though we are usually loathe to make predictions, at times it can be uplifting to be shown the bigger picture, providing, of course, that these predictions are channeled into responsible action, lest they be rendered as superficial moments of sensationalism, or juvenile spurts of temporary glee, which wear off like a sugar high.
About two hundred and fifty years ago this week, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi — the Alter Rebbe – surprised the community with a seemingly different type of Freudian slip. The first leader of Chabad was reading from the Torah scroll in the synagogue, and a word slipped from his mouth pronounced differently to the way it was written in the scroll he was reading from, but the word that he said did not come not from his subconscious. It came from his supra-conscious.
Here is how the episode is documented in a book called Konanto M’Oz authored by Rabbi Avrohom Moshe Rabinovitz. He heard the story from his grandfather, HaRav HaChassid Yehuda Aryeh Leib Tziviak, who related that when he lived in Warsaw he in turn heard the story from the elder Chassidim of the Rebbe Rashab. They told the story in the name of the actual chassid who was called up to the Torah section when the Alter Rebbe “mispronounced” this word in Parshat Pekudei.
Rabbi Schneur Zalman was reading this week’s Torah portion of Pekudei in the book of Exodus, which enumerates the various contributions that the Jewish people had eagerly made toward the building of the portable temple in the desert and the total sums that had been given. The Torah relates that 301,775 shekels of silver were donated, and that 300,000 of these were molten and manufactured into 100 support pieces which made up the portable foundation upon which the walls of the traveling Temple were assembled whenever the Jews camped between their travels. Addressing the remaining silver from the contributions that was not used in the manufacture of the support pieces, the Torah continues: “And the one thousand seven hundred and seventy-five shekels…”(Exodus 38:28), and it was in this verse that The Alter Rebbe pronounced a word differently to the way it was written.
“The one thousand” in Hebrew is pronounced “Ha’elef.” The Alter Rebbe was widely known as supreme master of Hebrew grammar, and there was great surprise when he read this verse aloud for the entire community to hear and pronounced the word “hei’elef.” In addition to sounding different, the unusual pronunciation changed the meaning of the verse dramatically, to “And the five thousand seven hundred and seventy-five shekels…”.
In spite of the people’s shock, someone pointed out to the Alter Rebbe that he had not pronounced the word the way it was written, and he proceeded to reread the entire verse several times, but repeated the same pronunciation four times in a row. After the fourth attempt at reading the verse the traditional way, the Alter Rebbe enter a trance-like state for several moments and when he came out of it he whispered that the pronunciation that had slipped from his mouth was a divine hint as to the time of the coming redemption.
We are presently in the Hebrew year of 5775 – the year the Alter Rebbe as referring to when he read He’elef (instead of ha’elef) – five thousand seven hundred and seventy-five!
Yes, my friends, we are now in an historical year – earmarked by none other than the Alter Rebbe as a time of redemption more than two centuries in advance.
This is exciting to be sure, but for us to be able to take part in the excitement, and indeed to be empowered to prepare to experience this event in the fullest possible way, we must be well informed of what exactly it is that we are anticipating, and what we can do to help usher in the redemption.
Because, after all is said and done, the redemption – both personal and global – is dependent on our actions. As the same Alter Rebbe males clear in his classic Tanya (opening of chapter 37). So, the prediction is only as powerful as the efforts we generate in manifesting the prediction.
In other words: 5775 is a year of awesome responsibility on our part. We can’t lay back and relax, saying, hey, the Alter Rebbe took care of business by declaring this year as the year of redemption. On the contrary: His pronunciation tells us what great gift and responsibility we carry to make this a tangible reality.
But wait! Is redemption even a Jewish concept?!
Redemption is an integral part of Judaism. It is as central to Torah as the very belief in G-d. The question is why?
Because redemption, the way Judaism sees it, is the purpose of all of existence; it is the realization of the divine plan – a world that is in total harmony with its Creator and His design. Think of a machine that is in sync with the engineer who designed it.
Moreover, redemption is actually not so much a novelty as a return to the quintessential nature of existence – one that is aligned with the soul of existence in its entirety and every detail in particular. The universe has a collective body and soul, and every individual component within the universe has its own body and soul, and they match each other with exquisite perfection.
In the truest and most natural state of existence, each body-soul entity is a unique seamless continuum of matter and spirit that resonates with purpose. In the real ‘real world’, there is no tension or angst; dissonance and contradictions do not exist in a world that is in touch with itself and aligned with its purpose.
But in the world as we know it, our bodies can lose their conscious awareness of our souls — as matter today is out of sync with spirit, and it is this misalignment between matter and spirit that is the source of the constant tension between our bodies’ desire for material satisfaction and our souls’ thirst for spiritual growth. The classic battle between survival and transcendence. As every animal does, we want to perpetuate our own existence and look after our own best interests, but we also feel yearnings to be able let go of our self-centeredness and to be bigger than the sum of our own self. Selfish versus selfless; it is the catch-22 of a soul living in a body in a world that is out of sync.
But our world out of sync also shows signs of hope. Only a few decades ago, living to be middle aged was good luck, and now, humanity has time and resources to research what can increase the well-being and quality of life of a population that lives more than double as long—on average—as its predecessors did one hundred years earlier. Human rights and equality are prized in an unprecedented manner, and our fingertips have instant access to more information that we could possibly integrate in a lifetime. A world once defined by fragmented components is now increasingly discovering its inherent unity.
The world is giving us the tools we need to be able to get back in sync. The same technological advances that have given us all the gadgets that steal our attention, have given us a deep and comprehensive understanding of the deceptive simplicity of the universe. As the body of scientific knowledge has continued to grow, we have become progressively more aware of the uniformity that lies beneath the surface of all the bewildering variety with which we are surrounded. All the different shapes and sizes, all the different textures and colors, are made of the same two ingredients — mass and energy, presented in ways that we perceived as being completely different.
At the same time as the world bombards us with more stimuli than we can handle, it sends us a message that beneath the superficial disparity and tension lies unity. It helps us understand that despite the contradictions that surround us and despite the global body-soul dichotomy, everything in the universe is part of the same singular master purpose that pervades all of existence and has infinite different manifestations.
The world is moving back to its true natural state and it is moving fast, but it will not complete the job on its own for the job is ours to finish.
As we increase our awareness of our own individual body-soul reality and the barriers between the elements that make us who we are become less defined, we become increasingly aligned with our true purpose and it can start once again to resonate throughout our being.
The more we get in touch with who we truly are and with what is true and important, the closer we get back to our natural state of being and the closer we get to our own individual redemption.
And the more we increase this awareness globally, the more aligned the world becomes with its true nature, and the closer we bring it to the ultimate universal redemption.
So in this year of hei’elef ushva hame’ot vachamishah veshiv’im – 5775 – may the Alter Rebbe’s pronunciation of the words resonate within us and motivate us to act.
Every utterance of a tzaddik, especially on the caliber of the Alter Rebbe, perpetually echoes through the chambers of history. And now that are in the year 5775, we carry a great responsibility and obligation to do our part in being aware that the redemption is upon us, and acting on that awareness in our daily lives, by introducing more unity in everything we do.
No doubt that if we fulfill our in this unfolding drama, we will set the stage for the final redemption when, in the words of the Rambam at the conclusion of his magnum opus, Mishne Torah:
There will be no famine or war, envy or competition . . . The occupation of the entire world will be solely to know G-d . . . as it is written “The world will be filled with the knowledge of G-d as the waters cover the ocean bed” (Isaiah 11:9)”’
— Maimonides, Laws of Kings 12:5