I first met him in 770, Lubavitch World Headquarters, as a middle-aged man. He was friendly, thought-provoking, and interesting to speak to. One night, he told me his story.

Although the physical setting in which he grew up — the crowded homes and alleys of Jerusalem’s Meah Shearim ultra-orthodox neighborhood — was rather confining, the spiritual setting was dynamic. His teachers were inspiring and his peers energetically seeking purpose and growth. It was a time of change. Some of his relatives took up active positions in the Neturei Karta movement, while others assumed contributory roles within the government’s educational system, working through the Agudas Yisroel party.

On his own, he read avidly and sought different mediums for spiritual expression. One of his friends introduced him to some Lubavitcher chassidim and he became motivated. Here he found both intellectual and spiritual fulfillment. As his curiosity grew, he became more and more involved. As the flush of excitement with contact with something new and highly-charged wore off, however, questions began to arise in his mind. One of his mentors suggested that he write to the Lubavitcher Rebbe and pose his questions to him. He accepted the suggestion and penned a two page letter. Shortly afterwards, he received a reply thoroughly answering all of his questions. At the end, the Rebbe concluded with a p.s.: “And if you will ask: Why were the teachings of chassidic thought revealed only recently and not beforehand? There are two broad-scoped explanations....”

Our student was somewhat shocked. He had not posed such a question. The answer was thought-out and interesting, but why had the Rebbe explained that concept to him?

He didn’t have to wait long to find out. His father had been observing his conduct and was less than enthused about his affiliation with Lubavitch. He called upon a local sage and asked him to try to dissuade his son. The sage obliged and called the youth in for a talk. They exchanged ideas and the sage felt happy that the youth’s level of Torah study and fear of G‑d had not dropped. Why, however, was he fascinated with Lubavitch?

After a few hours of discussion, the older man raised the question which he thought would serve as the knock-out punch: If Chassidus was so important, why was it revealed recently? Why was it not part of the Jewish heritage for so many thousands of years?

He was amazed at the speed and depth with which the youth replied. Several of the points of explanation that the Rebbe conveyed to him are discussed below.

Yud Tes Kislev

Yud-Tes Kislev (19 Kislev) marks the date of the liberation of R. Shneur Zalman of Liadi from prison in Czarist Russia slightly more than 200 years ago. It is, however, more than a day of personal deliverance. R. Shneur Zalman explained that he was imprisoned because of what he stood for — the growing strength of the chassidic movement. The Czarist authorities feared the growth of a new movement with which they were unfamiliar. In the spiritual realms, negative forces were aroused, for G‑dliness was being revealed in a manner beyond the ordinary limits. On both planes, his liberation marked acceptance of his approach and a willingness to allow it to expand and progress.

One might ask: If chassidic thought is so important, why was it revealed so late in the world’s spiritual history? The Torah was given over 3000 years ago. The Talmud was written over 1500 years ago. If our people could have existed so many years without the teachings of Chassidus, why was it so necessary to reveal them in the present age?

Two answers are given to this question. The first focuses on the spiritual challenges facing mankind. As the industrial, and then the intelligence, revolution proceeded, man began to feel his own strength. I can achieve! Look at what we have accomplished. Instead of the complacent, accepting attitude that prevailed in previous eras, we have changed the face of the world. In earlier ages, man felt dwarfed by the huge world around him and this opened him up to accept the spiritual as a higher authority. But as he began to achieve success in overcoming his environment, his attitude was expressed by the Biblical verse: “It is my strength and my power that brought me this prosperity.” The spiritual became secondary as man became impressed with what he can do.

The intent is not that progress is bad and that we should remain in a primitive environment at the mercy of nature. Quite the contrary is true. The power and the desire to accomplish are G‑dly gifts, granted to be used. However, as they are used and progress is achieved, we become near-sighted and put too great an emphasis on the material world around us.

Even — and to a certain extent, especially — a successful person can be dwarfed by the spiritual. For no matter how great his achievements are, they are limited. G‑d, by contrast, is infinite. Moreover, that infinite potential is vested within our own beings, for each one of us possesses a soul that is an actual part of G‑d.

Achieving this awareness, however, is not easy. It requires us to go beyond our ordinary perception of reality and focus on the spiritual. To facilitate this change of approach G‑d revealed the teachings of Chassidus. These teachings grant us awareness of the manifold levels of spiritual existence that transcend our consciousness, the G‑dly nature of the soul, the true infinity of G‑d, the mystic power of the Torah and its mitzvos and many similar concepts.In the previous eras, it was not necessary to reveal these teachings because the world was inherently sensitive to the spiritual. In recent generations, as the spiritual sensitivity of the world descended, the revelation of these truths became necessary to empower us to appreciate G‑dly truth.

Looking to the Horizon

The second reason for the revelation of Chassidus in the present generation is forward looking. The walls of exile have tumbled and we are on the threshold of the coming of Mashiach. What will characterize the era of Mashiach? Maimonides writes: “Our Sages and prophets did not yearn for the Messianic Era in order that [the Jewish people] rule over the entire world... nor in order to eat, drink, and celebrate. Rather, their aspiration was to free to [involve themselves] in the Torah and its wisdom.... In that era, the occupation of the entire world will be solely to know G‑d.”

As a foretaste of that future revelation, G‑d revealed teachings that enable us to know Him at present as well. In other words, the study of the teachings of Chassidus anticipates that future era and makes it possible for us to gain a glimmer of what the insights Mashiach will teach.

Moreover, studying Chassidus does more than give us a chance to glimpse at what the Redemption will be like. It prepares the setting for Mashiach’s coming. For as people study these spiritual truths and become aware of the G‑dly nature of the world, their souls, and the Torah and mitzvos, they will naturally seek to internalize them and make them part of their lives. Thus when in one of his spiritual ascents to the heavenly realms, the Baal Shem Tov met Mashiach, he asked him: “When are you coming?” and Mashiach answered: “When the wellsprings of your teachings spread outward.” For when the Baal Shem Tov’s teachings encompass the world, mankind will have reached a level at which it both expects and is ready for Mashiach’s coming.