About three years ago, I was approached by a friend who is a cantor in a local shul. He told me that a group of men with whom he had been studying Jewish law had expressed an interest in Chassidism, and he wondered whether I would be willing to teach them. I agreed, and we began a weekly shiur (class) in the Lubavitcher Rebbe's maamarim (discourses) at the home of one of the participants. With G‑d's help, the class was successful and in time, the attendance grew.

About six months ago, a new face appeared that immediately caught my attention. It was a very non Jewish face, that, as it turned out, was attached to a very non-Jewish name. I assumed that the newcomer was most likely a convert and I gave him little thought, until I was informed by our host, sometime later, that the man was an Episcopalian of undiluted Christian lineage, who happened to be related to the present Archbishop of Canterbury.

Moreover, my new student was a well-known entertainer and television personality in Canada. Apparently, he had been brought to the class by one of our regulars who was a friend of his. I did not respond to these disclosures with unmitigated joy. Although simple curiosity might have motivated this individual to attend one or two classes, I could not imagine what kept him coming back, and I became suspicious and uneasy. The fact that he is very bright, personable, enthusiastic, and articulate only fueled my wariness. After a few weeks, however, our new member related his "story", which explained his interest in the inner dimensions of Torah and consequently, his presence at the shiur - sort of.

While a teenager growing up in Toronto, our friend, whom we shall call Winston (not his real name), was invited to visit an aunt, living in Manhattan. For a young boy living in drab, restrained, provincial Canada, a trip to New York was a ticket to life. During his vacation, Winston spent a day visiting another relative who lived in Brooklyn. His aunt had arranged transportation for him, and Winston was to connect with his ride back to Manhattan in front of a building near the corner of Eastern Parkway and Kingston Avenue in Crown Heights.

As he sat waiting on the bottom stoop of 770 Eastern Parkway, he heard a commotion and turned around. The door to the building had opened, and out walked an extraordinary, august, rabbinical figure, surrounded by a crush of black-coated attendants. Winston had no knowledge of anything Jewish, much less Chassidic, and he could not have appreciated that the regal individual approaching him was the illustrious Lubavitcher Rebbe.

Winston moved aside to let the procession pass. The Rebbe, however, did not move by, but rather halted on the step just above the one on which Winston was sitting. Winston turned around. The Rebbe looked at him, smiled and asked him what he would like to know. The Rebbe told him that he could answer any question that Winston might have. Winston was stunned. He told the Rebbe that what he would like to know was how was it possible for the Rebbe to tell him whatever he wanted to know. The Rebbe looked intently at Winston for what seemed to him to be a very long time, and answered "Kabbalah". The Rebbe than continued down the steps and entered his waiting car. Winston was fascinated and bewildered. He had no idea who this remarkable man with the piercing blue eyes was, nor did he know what was meant by the term Kabbalah. However, it did not take him long to find out.

Since that day, more than 30 years ago, Winston has been a devotee of "Kabbalah". He has sought out Kabbalists (with little success), he has read extensively, and he attends lectures and study sessions that meet his requirements for authenticity, which explains his appearance at our shiur. He told me that of the many gifts that the Jewish people have bestowed upon humanity, he feels that Kabbalah is one of the greatest and the least appreciated. Ironically, our shiur was his first encounter with the Chassidism of the great tzaddik and kabbalist who triggered his interest so many years before.

What is the meaning of the Winston affair? Why had the Rebbe planted a seed of Jewish mysticism in the mind of an ultra-Anglo-Saxon Canadian kid? Where is all of this leading? The truth is I don't know. The story isn't over yet. Nonetheless, it is clearly leading somewhere. We have expectations for this story. It captures our interest. We have no doubt that the Winston episode is moving toward some lofty, hidden objective perceived or conceived by the Rebbe more than three decades ago.

But what if Winston had, for whatever reason, not related his encounter with the Rebbe? Winston's appearance at the shiur would have simply been catalogued as one of the many isolated, meaningless oddities that constitute so much of our experience. It is the involvement of the Rebbe, or rather, our awareness of the involvement of the Rebbe, that suffuses this story with life, purpose and direction. Paradoxically, our awareness of the Rebbe's role in no way affects the objective significance of the story. However, we need to know of the Rebbe's involvement because we are singularly poor at sensing life, purpose and direction altogether.

Being vs. Becoming

The Winston incident illustrates a serious aberration that afflicts Jews in galut ("exile"), particularly in these chaotic times. Our lives are fragmented. Our days are composed of bits and pieces of time, dissociated fragments of experience, that share no common purpose and that appear to lead nowhere. We do not feel the dynamic of life. We are capable of identifying occasional shards of time, such as Shabbat or Yom Kippur, as significant. We know that time spent on mitzvah campaigns or in raising money for the yeshiva is important. But these little bits of purposeful life are no more than tiny nuggets of gold extracted from the turbid effluent of tedious, trivial, meaningless, unrelated, chores, obligations and events that consume most of our time spent in this world.

This brings us to the title of this essay, which may be a bit misleading. One might assume that the key to joy in changing times is stability. Despite changing times we find the strength and serenity within ourselves to ride out the swift tidal currents of modern history. This, however, is not what is intended by the title. Finding joy in changing times means being aware of the change. Change is not something to be feared or coped with, but rather it is the hallmark of life itself. Inanimate beings, such as stones, simply exist. Living, on the other hand, is not a state of being, but rather a process of becoming, of advancing toward something higher and better.

Everyone has hopes and expectations and these are rooted in our intuitive understanding that things will not remain the same. In truth, we are proceeding toward a G‑dly transcendent goal and every event in our lives contributes to the progress. Thus, fasting on Yom Kippur, changing the oil in one's car, putting on tefillin and taking the kids to the dentist are not unrelated. They are all steps taken in the same direction toward the same end. We are soaring toward an extraordinary finale. The problem is that we do not sense the upward movement, and we do not, therefore, enjoy the trip.

A Neurological Analogy

The field of clinical neurology is rich in metaphors for galut. Why this is so would require an essay in itself. In any case, we can gain insight into our disjointed, fragmented view of life by examining a corresponding physical disorder of the visual system.

We think of vision as a single unified sensory modality. When we observe, for example, a red car going down the street, we experience this as a single visual perception. The brain, however, does not see it that way. One area of the brain sees the car, another sees red, and yet a third region perceives movement. Vision is broken down by the brain into components that are then processed independently. There are rare individuals who have suffered bilateral damage exclusively to the region of the brain that processes the perception of motion. Such individuals see perfectly well, and in color. They are, however, incapable of appreciating movement of any kind. An afflicted individual, for example, can not pour a cup of tea because the liquid leaving the spout appears as a static, solid glacier and the tea thus overflows the cup and soaks the table, although the patient does not understand how. Such a patient has great difficulty in crossing a street because a car that seemed so far away a few seconds ago is suddenly, without apparent reason, almost on top of him.

For these unfortunate people, life consists of a series of "still shots". There is no continuity in time and, consequently, no discernible thread of causality or underlying purpose to unify the dissociated visual images that impinge upon their consciousness. The significance of a car, indeed, the only reason for owning one, is that it moves. For someone who can visualize a car but is incapable of conceptualizing movement, the car exists without meaning or purpose. It is divorced from the very operation for which it was created. It is simply an isolated feature of an inert visual landscape.

This bizarre disorder illustrates our distorted view of time. Since we perceive our lives as a collection of discontinuous, unrelated fragments, we are oblivious to the underlying momentum, and our hours and days seem to lack meaning or direction.

Were we consciously aware that we are steadily advancing toward G‑d's highest purpose, the symptoms of galut — boredom, anxiety, depression — would evaporate. In order to feel joy, we must understand how important our seemingly ordinary lives truly are. We must appreciate exactly where we are going and how we are getting there.

Transmuting Letters

Where we are going is beautifully, if succinctly, stated in the last line of the prayer Alenu (quoted from Zecharia); " On that day Hashem will be one and His Name One". The phrase "...G‑d will be ...." consists of the Hebrew letters that spell the word for "will be" yhye (yud, hay, yud, hay) and the ineffable name of G‑d (Yud - Hay - Vav - Hay). The Likutei Torah of the Arizal interprets this on the esoteric level to mean that on that day, the advent of Moshiach, the great four-letter name of G‑d will no longer be Yud - Hay - Vav - Hay, but rather Yud - Hay - Yud - Hay. That is to say, at the time of redemption, the last two letters of G‑d's four-letter name, Vav - Hay, will transform into the first two letters, the Yud Hay.

In order to appreciate the profound implications of this cryptic interpretation, we must have some grasp of the significance of Divine names in general, and the Tetragrammaton, the great four-letter name of G‑d, in particular.

A name describes a mode of interaction or a relationship. Indeed, people have many names reflecting the variety of personal associations in which they are involved. A single individual may, for example, be properly called "vertebrate" "man" "son" "husband" "Canadian", etc. Should this individual take a subway to work he assumes the name "passenger" and, upon leaving the train, should he buy a paper at a newsstand, he takes on a new name — he becomes a "customer". All of these names describe specific roles that individuals play in order to relate to different people or circumstances.

Behind all of these identities, however, there is the person himself. Only those closest to him, his wife for example, perceive this fundamental identity. The relationship defined by marriage, after all, reflects an essential bond, in contrast to the superficial and often temporary commercial or social associations in which one engages in order to achieve specific ends.

Similarly, G‑d's names describe the various ways in which He interacts with creation, and they thus reflect particular Divine attributes such as Justice (the Name E-1o-h-i-m) or Kindness (the Name E-l). The revelation of specific names or attributes are intended to produce distinct and restricted effects. G‑d's Names, so to speak, describe different roles in which the Almighty conceals Himself in order to guide creation in a way that does not compromise man's free will. However, "behind" all of the particular Names is the essence of Divinity, and this is identified as Yud - Hay - Vav - Hay.

The letters of the Tetragrammaton are vessels that capture and reveal the essence of G‑dly Light, and as such, they are the medium through which the Almighty extends himself to us. The first two letters express G‑dliness undiluted and unobscured. They manifest G‑d's Countenance, so to speak. Of these two letters, the letter Yud is primary, whereas the letter Hay represents an expansion of Divine flow originating in the Yud. Although the Almighty wishes us to experience G‑dliness on this level, we are, in our current state of galut, incapable of absorbing the pure Holiness inherent in the first two letters of G‑d's name. In order that G‑dly Light be accessible to us, it must be condensed or reduced (indicated by the third letter of the Tetragrammaton, the Vav, depicting downward extension) and concealed in the garments of creation (indicated by the last letter, the Hay, which describes dimensions of height and breadth).

We unite with the essence of Divinity as encompassed in G‑d's great Name by studying Torah and performing mitzvot. Indeed the root of word "mitzvah" connotes the concept of binding. Although the mitzvot truly bind us to the essence of Divinity, we do not consciously experience this bond because the Yud and Hay cannot, at present, be openly revealed. "On that day", however, with the advent of Moshiach, the Vav and Hay, the letters of G‑ds name that condense and cloak the Light of Divinity, will no longer obscure, because the world will have been refined to the extent that it can receive, and openly manifest G‑dliness. At that time, the Vav and Hay will serve to reveal G‑dliness just as do the Yud and Hay.

In other words, the Yud - Hay - Vav - Hay will function in a manner of Yud - Hay -Yud - Hay to reveal G‑d's countenance openly.

Letters Sprinkling Down

We now have some insight into our original question, namely, Where are we going? We are advancing toward the Yud of G‑d's Name, which is to say, we are going to meet the Almighty face to face, as it were. But how is it conceivable for anyone to ascend to such a level? How can we possibly get there?

In order to address this question we must first consider the concept of miluim, various spellings of G‑d's four-letter Name (Yud - Hay - Vav - Hay).

The Tetragrammaton can be expanded by spelling out each of the letters in several different ways. One could, for example, spell the Yud, Yud-Vav-Dalet; the Vav, Vav-Yud-Vav; and each of the two Hays, Hay-Yud. Spelling out the letters in this way produces an expanded version of the Tetragrammaton the gematria of which is 72, and hence this Name is called Shem Ayin Bet, the "Name of 72."

Spelling out the Tetragrammaton as a milui is not merely an interesting Kabbalistic exercise, but rather describes a mechanism whereby transcendent expressions of Divinity can be conveyed to recipients of limited capacity. This process, therefore, provides a useful model that helps explain how we in this lowly world can approach the Yud of G‑d's name.

Suppose that you are sitting in Shul contemplating the letter yud in a Siddur. Your friend, across the room, calls out to ask what it is that you are studying so intently. You reply that you are looking at the letter yud. Although this exchange appears unremarkable, it is, in fact, absolutely extraordinary.

Consider what you have done. You are looking at a single letter, the letter yud. However, in vocalizing this letter, so as to communicate it to your friend, you have just generated two additional new letters, a vav and a dalet. Although the vav and dalet are independent letters, they are concealed within the letter yud and they emerge only when the letter yud is vocalized. Moreover, it is these two seemingly alien letters that are instrumental conveying the concept of yud to someone who has no visual access to the letter. They are vehicles that "carry" the listener to the letter yud. Through the agency of the vav and the dalet the listener can see the letter yud within his own mind.

It is not surprising that the vav and the dalet latent within the yud are referred to in Kabbalah as kol (voice) and dibbur (speech) respectively. We can now extend this concept so as to appreciate how far the yud can be transmitted.

Suppose we take the yud through another amplification, i.e. we vocalize the vav and the dalet. Emanating from the dalet we now have two new letters, a lamed and a tav. Upon vocalizing these, a mem emerges, and so on. After several of these augmentations, we would have a vast array of seemingly unrelated letters. In truth, however, this profusion of letters constitutes a directed, graded continuum leading smoothly and surely to the letter yud.

We can now think of the experiences that occupy our time on this earth as letters sprinkling down on us from the Yud of G‑d's four-letter name. They have emerged from the Yud and entered our lives in order to convey us upward to our long-awaited encounter with the Almighty. Our problem is that we do not recognize the design, direction or the purpose unifying the events represented by these letters, and we thus tend to misconstrue our lives as random sequences of mostly meaningless incidents.

How, then, can we sense the movement in order to find the joy in these changing times? To a large extent, the problem is taking care of itself. The closer we advance toward the Yud, the more evident is the underlying pattern. Indeed, we see that it is progressively easier to discern the Divine providence behind recent events, both personal and public. All we really need to do to appreciate where we are going and how close we are to our destination is to look out the window.

An aviation official once remarked during a period in which there were an inordinate number of air mishaps, that commercial pilots are able to perform the most sophisticated instrument landings, but they don't know how to look out a window. We have to learn how to look out the window. Looking out the window requires time; a quiet, private moment in which to withdraw from the turmoil of our mundane affairs so as to be able to contemplate the meaning of the events of each day with serenity, objectivity and clarity. We must also make the effort to integrate Chassidic teaching into our daily routine. The study of Chassidism is a powerful aid in developing one's sense of vision. In particular, the mamaarim (chassidic discourses) from the Rebbe sensitize the mind and heart to the Holiness inherent in an ordinary day of life.

In truth, the Jewish people have always had a unique talent for looking out the window and seeing what the instruments don't show. Our generation may have become a bit rusty, but there is no doubt that with a little practice at window gazing, we will sense the change and find the joy.