The Catalyst of Redemption

The celebrated letter of the Baal Shem Tov1 relates that when he encountered Mashiach, he asked him: “Master, when are you coming?” Mashiach answered: “When the wellsprings of your teachings spread outward.” For the coming of the Redemption is dependent on the dissemination of Chassidus.

Every development in the world is alluded to in the Torah.2 The spread of Chassidism is alluded to in the following manner. The Targum the translation of the Torah into Aramaic by Onkelos renders the concluding words of the verse,3 “And the children of Israel left with an upraised arm,” as בריש גלי. Chassidic texts4 explain that, when the letters of these words are rearranged, the word בריש can be interpreted as an acronym for the Hebrew words meaning “Reb Yisrael, the son of Sarah,” or alternatively, “Reb Yisrael Baal Shem.”

The same texts state that the word בריש can also be interpreted as an acronym for the Hebrew words meaning “Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai,” author of the Zohar, and “Reb Yitzchak, the son of Shlomo,” the AriZal.

Through the teachings of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai and the AriZal ,5 the “children of Israel [will] leave [the exile] with an upraised arm.” As the Zohar states:6 “With the book of the Zohar, [the Jews] will leave exile with mercy.”

The Baal Shem Tov amplified the efforts of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai and the AriZal , for Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai and the AriZal revealed P’nimiyus HaTorah, the Torah’s mystic secrets, only to a select few, and even to them the revelations were limited. The coming of Mashiach, however, will take place only when P’nimiyus HaTorah is disseminated without restrictions.7 This represents the contribution of the Baal Shem Tov, who revealed Chassidus to everyone, spreading the teachings outward without restraint.

Reaching the Peripheries

The Torah’s teachings are exact. The fact that the allusion to Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, the AriZal , and the Baal Shem Tov is found in the Targum and not in the words of the verse itself is significant.

The simple meaning of the verse refers to the exodus from Egypt. Nevertheless, since the Egyptian exile serves as the paradigm for all subsequent exiles,8 and since the redemption from Egypt serves as the paradigm for all redemptions, the verse which describes the exodus from Egypt contains an allusion to the Future Redemption to be led by Mashiach.

The Targum contains a more explicit reference to the Future Redemption for the following reasons. The Torah was translated from Lashon HaKodesh into a foreign language because, in the period of exile, there were Jews who could not understand Lashon HaKodesh. The Targum represents the transition of the Torah from a holy language into a secular tongue, showing how the secular can serve a holy function.9 Efforts of this nature help the world prepare for the Future Redemption.

To explain: After the redemption from Egypt, the evil within the souls of the Jewish people remained intact. Therefore the Jews had to flee from Egypt,10 as it is written:11 “And it was told to Pharaoh that the people fled.” With regard to the Future Redemption, by contrast, such flight will not be necessary, for “I will cause the spirit of impurity to depart from the earth,”12 erasing all traces of evil. Thus with regard to the Future Redemption it is written:13 “You will not depart with haste, nor will you flee as you go.” Instead, “all flesh will see together that the mouth of G‑d has spoken;” physical flesh will have a direct appreciation of G‑dliness. This will be made possible by man’s efforts to refine his environment and reveal the G‑dliness enclothed within.

On this basis, we can appreciate why it is the Targum which mentions the association with Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, the AriZal , and the Baal Shem Tov. For the teachings of these masters must be disseminated outward. Instead of avoiding the peripheries, we should make them the center of our efforts, spreading the wellsprings of Torah there. This parallels the contribution of the Targum , which brought the words of the Torah into a secular framework, and in doing so, prepares for the Future Redemption.

A Contemporary Allusion

I have received a letter stating that the word בריש can also serve as an acronym for the name of my revered father-in-law, the Rebbe. The ר stands for Rebbe, the י for Yosef Yitzchak (the Rebbe’s names), the ב for ben, meaning “son of” in Hebrew, and the ש for Shalom (the first name of the Rebbe’s father). Alternatively, the ש stands for Shterna Sarah (the names of the Rebbe’s mother).

In general, it is not proper to make up acronyms and allusions. There are, however, certain situations which are so clear and evident, that it is appropriate to cite an allusion from the Torah.

Indeed, it is always preferable to cite a source (or at least an allusion) within the Torah for anything that takes place in the world. One must, however, appreciate the intent of these allusions. As the Rambam writes in the Introduction to his Commentary to the Mishnah, the allusions from the Torah which our Sages cite for the esrog and the myrtle are not the sources from which we learn that these are the species intended. For example, the phrase14 pri eitz hadar, “the fruit of a beautiful tree,” does not teach us that we must use an esrog. Rather, the requirement to take an esrog was part of the Oral Tradition. Nevertheless, in order to show that everything is alluded to in the Torah, our Sages found an appropriate reference.

So That all May Know

As mentioned, it was the Baal Shem Tov who began the drive to reveal Chassidus to everyone. He would travel from village to village, and from town to town, teaching Chassidic concepts to simple people. Moreover, to enable the people to comprehend these ideas, the Baal Shem Tov brought them down to their level, using stories, vertelach (capsulized Torah insights), and parables to communicate the Torah’s deepest secrets.

The Baal Shem Tov’s student and successor, the Maggid of Mezeritch, followed a different path. He taught Chassidus openly, without enclothing it in parables, stories, or the like. These teachings, however, were communicated only to his students, who were Torah sages, and not to the public at large.

The Alter Rebbe, the Maggid’s student and successor, and similarly the subsequent Chabad Rebbeim, followed the path of enclothing Chassidus in an intellectual framework, thus allowing the mortal mind to comprehend Chassidic teachings. This represented the unique contribution of Chabad Chassidus to make Chassidus accessible to all Jews, not only to the select few who shared a connection by virtue of their lofty souls or their achievements in Divine service. In particular, this was the pattern followed after the redemption of Yud-Tes Kislev.15

Over the course of time, the number of those who studied Chassidus expanded. And since “Great is study, for it leads to deed,”16 the numbers of those who applied Chassidus in their lives also grew.

Nevertheless, the teachings of Chassidus were still not universally accessible, for only the intellectually developed were able to understand. Chassidic conduct was practiced by people from all strata, even simple Jews, but the teachings of Chassidus were within reach of only the intellectually gifted.

Similarly with regard to the spread of Chassidus throughout the Jewish community, there was always a difference between those who had accepted a Chassidic way of life, and those who had not. True, the numbers of Chassidim grew, but this fundamental distinction remained.

This began to change through the efforts of my revered father-in-law, the Rebbe. The Rebbe’s approach was to teach Chassidus to everyone, without restrictions. Wherever the Rebbe traveled, he would teach Chassidus, regardless of whether he was visiting a Chassidic community or not. Moreover, the Rebbe devoted great effort to encouraging even the unobservant to begin the study of Chassidus. He brought the subject within the reach of many who were lacking in basic Torah knowledge. Indeed, he brought Chassidus within reach of those who could not even comprehend Lashon HaKodesh by having Chassidic texts translated into other languages.

In this vein, a comparison can be drawn between my revered father-in-law, the Rebbe, and the Baal Shem Tov. They both taught Chassidus in a manner accessible even to simple people. And they both spread Chassidus in all sectors of the Jewish community.

There were other Rebbeim who brought the Chassidic way of life within reach of all Jews. The Baal Shem Tov and my revered father-in-law, the Rebbe, however, made not only the Chassidic way of life, but also the teachings of Chassidus, accessible to all.

A Foretaste of the Redemption

As mentioned, the Baal Shem Tov taught Chassidus by enclothing it in stories and practical examples, and by teaching common people capsulized Torah vertelach. These stories and vertelach contained the Torah’s deepest mystic secrets, yet on a conscious level, the simple people were able to appreciate only the story or vort. They did not grasp the mystic secrets contained therein.

My revered father-in-law, the Rebbe, was able to convey the mystic secrets of Chassidus in a manner which everyone could grasp. He communicated these ideas in simple language, using concepts that could be easily comprehended. And yet the listeners appreciated that they were hearing Chassidic ideas, and were able to appreciate to some extent the mystic secrets being shared.

My revered father-in-law, the Rebbe, communicated Chassidus in the manner appropriate to the unique nature of our time the moments which precipitate and prepare for Mashiach’ s coming. For Mashiach’ s coming will be revealed to all Jews, so the catalyst for the Redemption, the teachings of Chassidus , must also be revealed to all. This approach was epitomized by the Rebbe.

To refer to the Alter Rebbe’s famous analogy:17 Chassidus is the prize jewel in the king’s crown, the gem on which the value of the entire crown depends. The Rebbe took this jewel and made it public property, conveying its insights in English and French, making it accessible to all Jews. In this manner, the Rebbe completed the last preparatory steps necessary for the Redemption, heralding the era described by the Rambam:18

A king will arise from the House of David who delves deeply into the study of the Torah and observes its mitzvos like David his ancestor, as prescribed by the Written Law and Oral Law…. He will compel all of Israel to walk [in the way of the Torah], repairing the breaches [in its observances]…. He will fight the wars of G‑d and be victorious… build the [Beis Ha]Mikdash on its site, gather in the dispersed remnant of Israel… and perfect all the nations, [motivating them] to serve G‑d.

The redemption from the present exile will parallel the redemption from Egypt, as it is written:19 “As in the days of your exodus from Egypt, I will show you wonders.” And then we will leave exile “with an upraised arm,” led by Mashiach. May this take place in the near future.

(Adapted from Sichos Yud Shvat, 5712)