Where the Essence Lies

Chai Elul (the 18th of Elul)is the birthday of the Baal Shem Tov in the year 5458, and the Alter Rebbe in the year 5505.1 It is well known that the Alter Rebbe would call the Baal Shem Tov zeide (grandfather), for he was a student of the Baal Shem Tov’s student. As our Sages say:2 “Whoever teaches Torah to the son of another person is considered as if he fathered him.”

Our Sages say “is considered as if,” for a teacher is not a child’s actual father. As Chassidus teaches,3 intellect reflects only a ray of the teacher, and not his essential influence, as is conveyed from father to child.

Yet the Alter Rebbe called the Baal Shem Tov his grandfather; he did not say “he is as if he is my grandfather.” Moreover, he told4 R. Baruch of Mezibush, who was the Baal Shem Tov’s actual grandson (the son of his daughter, which is a closer connection than a son’s son5 ), that R. Baruch may have been a grandson in the material sense, but that he — the Alter Rebbe — was the Baal Shem Tov’s grandson in a spiritual sense. He thus implied that he had received an inner dimension of the Baal Shem Tov, a link deeper than that conveyed through birth.

To explain: The word Anochi is an acronym for the Aramaic phrase meaning: “I wrote down and gave over My soul,”6 for by giving the Torah, G‑d communicated His very essence. “The righteous resemble their Creator,”7 and communicate their essence in their teachings. Thus in the Chassidus which he taught, the Baal Shem Tov gave over his essence, investing more of himself than he did in fathering children. The Alter Rebbe absorbed the inner dimensions of the Baal Shem Tov’s teachings,8 and in so doing absorbed the inner dimension of the Baal Shem Tov himself.9 He was thus his true grandson.

The essential connection between the Alter Rebbe and the Baal Shem Tov is expressed in the fact that their birthday, the date their bodies descended to this earth — and the body reflects the essence of one’s being10 — is the same, Chai Elul.

Reaching Perfection

The relationship between a grandfather and a grandson is two-sided. For on one hand, a grandson receives from his grandfather, but he also complements his grandfather. Thus on the verse:11 “This Torah scroll will not depart from your children, and your grandchildren,” our Sages comment:12 “The Torah returns to its [familiar] abode.” And it is written:13 “Grandchildren are the crown of the aged.”

Since the Alter Rebbe considered himself the Baal Shem Tov’s grandchild, it follows that a) he received the Baal Shem Tov’s essence; and b) he complements the Baal Shem Tov. For the intent of the Baal Shem Tov’s teachings was brought to consummate perfection by the teachings of Chabad. The intellectual teachings of Chabad elevate the emotional qualities. Thus Chabad Chassidus propels even simple people, unable to appreciate its intellectual sophistication, to spiritual levels higher than those reached by followers of the general Chassidic approach.

The Alter Rebbe and the nesi’im who followed him drew down the teachings of the Baal Shem Tov and enclothed them in the framework of reason. This allows everyone to comprehend these spiritual concepts with mortal wisdom.

This brought the Baal Shem Tov’steachings to perfection. For to draw the teachings of the Baal Shem Tov, which transcend mortal intellect, into the realm of mortal intellect requires the tapping of a deep-rooted source, and this draws down a higher light.

More Than Miracles

On this basis, we can appreciate a statement of the Tzemach Tzedek concerning the Alter Rebbe:14 “Also from my grandfather, we heard prophecies that were fulfilled in precise detail.” On the surface, it appears that the Tzemach Tzedek was praising the Alter Rebbe for a superficial matter: the ability to perform wonders.15 Is this an appropriate expression of praise for the Alter Rebbe?16

The Tzemach Tzedek’s statements can be better understood in context. He began by saying: “[The Baal Shem Tov] and his disciple, the Maggid, would actually see from one end of the world to the other with their eyes... for the light which G‑d brought into being on the first day of creation was revealed for them. This light was hidden in the Torah.”17

After making these statements, the Tzemach Tzedek said: “Also from my grandfather, we heard prophecies that were fulfilled in precise detail.” The implication is that the Alter Rebbe’s prophecies were of the same nature as the miracles performed by the Baal Shem Tov and the Maggid; they too reflected the light which G‑d brought into being on the first day of creation. Therefore they were fulfilled in precise detail.

The light G‑d brought into being on the first day of creation was above the limitations of Seder HaHishtalshelus, the spiritual cosmos. Indeed, it reflected the light which existed before the tzimtzum,18 and more particularly, the light intended to reveal G‑d’s essence.19

“[The Baal Shem Tov] and his disciple, the Maggid, would actually see20 from one end of the world to the other” with this light; i.e., they were able to perceive how this light was reflected within material reality.

And the Alter Rebbe reached an even greater peak;21 for him, the light shone in a settled matter, enabling his predictions to be fulfilled “in precise detail.” This indicates the influence of G‑d’s essence itself. For to have an unlimited light revealed within this world in a settled manner requires a manifestation of G‑d’s essence, which fuses opposites together.22

This anticipates the revelations of the Era of the Redemption, when G‑d’s desire for a dwelling in the lower worlds will be fulfilled. At that time, G‑d’s essence, which fuses together the spiritual and the physical, will become manifest: “The glory of G‑d will be revealed, and all flesh will see....”23 Physical flesh will see G‑dliness, and this will be in a settled manner.

This also was alluded to by the Tzemach Tzedek, for the Hebrew word he used for predictions was asidos, referring to the asid lavo, “the future time,” the Era of the Redemption.

Through the study of Chassidus Chabad, we can perceive the deepest spiritual lights, including even the light which was hidden. Moreover, this can be comprehended by the intellect of the G‑dly soul, and even with the intellect of the animal soul. This will lead to the time when “the glory of G‑d will be revealed, and all flesh will see...” with the coming of Mashiach; may this be in the immediate future.

(Adapted from the Sichos of Chai Elul, 5717)