The Rebbe once said to a Gerer Chasid named Rabbi Neiman, “The world says that I am crazy about Moshiach—and they are absolutely right!”1

Indeed, if there is one thing that the Rebbe and Chabad in general are known for, it is their fervent belief in the imminent arrival of Moshiach. This teleological driving force was at the root of everything the Rebbe said and did. But what does this actually mean, and what does it have to do with the Rebbe’s Positivity Bias?

Without getting too deep into the finer points of Jewish philosophy and prophecy, Moshiach is the main developing character, both perpetually absent and potentially present at all times, throughout our story of Creation and Redemption. His inevitable arrival will signal the ultimate redemption and goal of history, when the world will be made right and truth will be as clear as day for all to see.

The Rebbe’s belief in Moshiach as the culmination of the Divine/human drama gave him and all those he inspired more than a hope, but rather a vivid faith in the ultimately positive outcome to all of the world’s bitter exiles and alienations.

A foundational aspect of this is that we all have our work cut out for us in order for it to occur; we are charged with spiritually preparing ourselves and the world for redemption. From this perspective, history has been a millenia-long crash-course on bringing Moshiach into our midst from out of the hovering realms of pure poetic potential.

It is this very combination of belief in G‑d’s ultimate goodness and in our own personal power to positively impact the world that forms the basis of the Rebbe’s Positivity Bias.

The Rebbe believed that we are living in Messianic times. From when he was a small child, the Rebbe dreamed of that imminent great day, and despite the immensely challenging times he lived through, he never stopped nursing that dream. In a letter2 addressed to Yitzchak Ben-Zvi, the second president of Israel, the Rebbe wrote:

From the time when I was a child attending cheder, and even earlier than that, there began to take form in my mind a vision of the future redemption—the redemption of Israel from its last exile, redemption such as would explain the suffering, the decrees, and the massacres of exile….

In many ways, this dream is what made the Rebbe unique among other towering Jewish figures of our time. Most leaders see their life and impact in terms of their specific generation, but the Rebbe viewed his role through the wider lens of history in its entirety. He saw his generation as a whole, while at the same time also as a small but critical part of a much larger super-structure and meta-process.

Therefore, wherever you look in the Rebbe’s teachings, there it is: the dream of Moshiach. Sometimes implicit, but more often explicit, in almost every one of his talks and letters, the Rebbe reveals the aspiration that is closest to his heart: A burning desire to see our imperfect world enter into an era of peace and wholeness, devoid of war and suffering, replete with revealed goodness and the pursuit of G‑dly knowledge.

Indeed, the Rebbe most clearly articulated the contours of this dream on the very night he assumed the mantle of Chabad-Lubavitch leadership, 10 Shevat, 5711 (1951), in his discourse entitled Bati L’gani.

In this, his first public teaching as Rebbe, he cites centuries of Midrashic history, revealing this world’s ultimate importance to G‑d as His “garden” and most-desired “abode,” as well as its simultaneous spiritual vacancy—“the Shechinah (the Divine Presence) is in exile”3 —waiting to be welcomed back home. And this is where we come in. As G‑d’s entrusted “gardeners,” it is our job to maintain and cultivate the world for G‑d’s eternal residence.

In the words of the Rebbe on the very night he assumed that name, after thousands of years of baby steps and quantum leaps, going all the way back to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, “it is up to us to complete the job and usher in the final redemption.”

There it is: The Rebbe’s world-redeeming dream. Nothing less than bringing humanity across the finish line of history and ushering in the Messianic era.

But how?

Not to Change Reality, but to Open Our Eyes

One of the axiomatic teachings regarding Moshiach that the Rebbe would often share is that Moshiach will not come to change reality; rather, he will expose reality for what it truly is.

In support of this idea, he would often say that the Hebrew word for exile has the same letters as the Hebrew word for redemption except for the addition of the letter alef. Alef is the very first letter in the Hebrew alphabet.

Numerically, alef equals one and therefore represents the Divine Oneness inherent within all of reality.

Paradoxically, the word elef, spelled the same as alef, means one thousand, implying multiplicity. Furthermore, the letter alef is essentially silent, having no sound of its own—merely giving breath to vowels and voice to movement.

Alef, therefore, represents the silent presence of ultimate unity concealed beneath the surface of the striving and suffering world of multiplicity, just waiting to be revealed. Moshiach will empower us all to hear and see the silent and invisible alef in exile, thereby transforming it into redemption, once and for all.

In this seemingly simple word-play, the Rebbe is pointing out a powerful paradigm shift in our understanding of Moshiach.

Moshiach does not mean the articulation of a totally different word or world. The letters or infrastructure of our lives and the universe will fundamentally stay the same, except that the alef will be revealed, quietly smiling at us out of the tumult of our experiences, revealing the garden of oneness within.4

Signs of the Times

The Rebbe was once asked: If you could choose any era in history in which to live, which would it be?

“This one,” he answered immediately.5

Throughout his myriad spiritual teachings, his inspiring personal interactions, and his bold public outreach projects, the Rebbe spiritually developed and actively expressed the idea that we are “the last generation of exile and the first of Redemption.”6

We are thus living on the transitional cusp of an unfathomable evolution of consciousness—a spiritual revolution. This is both an unbelievable privilege and an awesome responsibility, as our individual and collective lives are literally and metaphorically laying the final stones for the bridge between exile and redemption.

Based on this eschatological understanding of where we are in the process of history, the Rebbe saw the signs of Moshiach’s imminent arrival everywhere—from world events to social trends, and advances in technology and medicine. From his inaugural address, and on thousands of occassions thereafter, the Rebbe declared it his mission to empower others to see the world through a similar lens, to understand and appreciate the nature of the miraculous and meaningful times we are living through, to get a glimpse of the hidden alef within the world and events swirling around us.

Traditionally, the vast multitude of Biblical prophecies relating to the redemption have been viewed through a supernatural lens, and were thus considered as being irreconcilably removed from our daily reality and experience. They were understood as miraculous “aberrations,” and therefore as clear signs of Divine intervention.

Today, however, according to the Rebbe, many of the prophesied “miracles” pertaining to the Messianic era have begun to come into existence at varying degrees of actualization. As such, the fulfillment of the words of the prophets no longer requires a wild imagination or blind leap of faith to behold. According to the Rebbe, it is more a matter of “opening our eyes” to see beneath the surface of “natural” events and advances, in order to recognize the Hand of the Creator at work in history.

For instance:

The Rebbe saw in the rise of feminism the beginning stages of Jeremiah’s prophecy: For the L‑rd has created something new on the earth, a woman shall rise above a man.7

In many countries and cultures the world over there has continued to be a general shift in the direction of including and advancing women’s voices, issues, and rights. Today, women are increasingly gaining political power and make up more than a fifth of members of national parliaments, and counting.8

Similarly, as we have explored, the Rebbe saw in the emergent counterculture of the 1960s, many examples of prophesied socio-generational shifts and conflicts that would occur leading up to the arrival of Moshiach; for example, the words of Isaiah that the youth will be insolent and rebellious towards their elders.9

Rather than interpreting those words apocalyptically, the Rebbe chose to focus on the potential positive outcomes of such radical expressions of youth, and thereby sought to validate them and strengthen their good points.

The Rebbe, along with various other Chasidic leaders, including his father-in-law, the Previous Rebbe, felt what they considered to be the beginnings of the “birth pangs”10 of Moshiach in the various cataclysmic events of the 20th century, particularly World War II.

In related fashion, the Rebbe saw11 the Six-Day War, and the corresponding mass spiritual awakening and immigration of impassioned Jews moving to Israel, as a symbolic nod to Isaiah’s prophecy that It will come to pass on that day that the great shofar will sound….12 The prophecy goes on to describe the in-gathering of Jews “lost” and “dispersed” in exile, as they return to Jerusalem in the final redemption.

With the appearance of various communication technologies over the course of the 20th century—from the phone to radio to television to the beginnings of the internet—the Rebbe saw the potential, not for more discord and confusion, but for more communication and connection. Additionally, with the introduction of the World Wide Web, by making all information accessible to the furthest reaches of the globe, the groundwork has been laid for the world to be filled with the word of G‑d,13 literally!

This redemptive view of the world is the ultimate expression of the Rebbe’s Positivity Bias. Wars, revolutions, uprisings, rapid shifts in consciousness—as unsettling as these things may be to our lives in the moment and to the established order of the day—are ultimately leading us towards a more perfect union, a higher system of truth and harmony. This was the unyielding faith of the Rebbe.

The Time is now! The world is ready for more light! Are we?

Can we keep our composure and direction amid what appears to be the madness of a new world being born? Can we hold on to the promise of goodness and G‑dliness revealed? Can we see through the brokenness and not lose hope? This takes work and faith. The work of developing and maintaining a positive outlook to keep moving toward the light. We need faith that the sparks really are there, waiting to be acknowledged and uplifted.

Indeed, despite what the pessimists will have us believe, we are actually living in unprecedented good times. Rather than regressing, which is what it often feels like, our world is progressing, and at breakneck speed. But it often takes the cultivation of a positive and expansive outlook to see the resplendent forest through the smoldering trees.

In January 2018, Time Magazine welcomed Bill Gates as its first guest editor in its 94-year history. Gates designed the edition around a mindset that he had endorsed for years: optimism. He then invited the world’s greatest minds and experts on world progress to share their findings. In an interview he gave explaining why he decided to edit an issue of Time, he explained:14

“Reading the news today doesn’t exactly leave you feeling optimistic. But many of the awful events we read about have happened in the context of a bigger, positive trend. On the whole, the world is getting much better.”

This is not some naively optimistic view; it’s backed by data.

According to Swedish economic historian Johan Norberg, who wrote an important book on the topic called “Progress”:

“If someone had told you in 1990 that over the next 25 years world hunger would decline by 40%, child mortality would halve, and extreme poverty would fall by three quarters, you’d have told them they were a naive fool.

“But the fools were right. This is truly what has happened.”15

And not just that:

For most of human history worldwide, life expectancy was around thirty years. Today, in most developed parts of the world, it is over eighty. By 2030, it will reach over ninety years in certain parts of the world.

In the 1990s there were more than 60,000 nuclear arms around the world, but by 2018, that number had fallen to approximately 10,000 nuclear arms.16

Two hundred years ago, 90% of the world lived in extreme poverty; today that number is 10%.

Indeed, according to the prominent Israeli public intellectual Yuval Harari, more people die today from eating too much than from eating too little.

Through too many medical advances to count, today the “lame are dancing” with the aid of prosthetics, the “blind can see,” as 80% of visual impairment has already been cured,17 and through stem cell research scientists are well on their way to curing deafness,18 bringing to life the Messianic prophecies of Isaiah:19 Then will the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped. Then will the lame leap like a deer….

As pointed out by the Rebbe in one of his talks,20 even the UN, despite its many intrigues and imperfections, channeled this Messianic energy of the time when it decided to prominently display the prophetic words of Isaiah in the entrance hall, expressing an intention to work towards the redemptive cause of lasting international peace: "And then they will beat their swords into ploughshares, and nations will learn war no more."21

The list goes on. And each new “miracle” reveals the fulfillment on some level of yet another prophetic vision related to the dawning of the Messianic age of Redemption according to our prophets of old.

Gates concludes his interview: “This issue of Time [is] a crash course in why and how the world is improving. I hope you’ll be inspired to make it even better.”

Passing the Baton

On a cold Tuesday night in February, 1992, just two years before passing away at the age of 92, the Rebbe could be seen standing at the front of Chabad Headquarters at 770 Eastern Parkway for hours and hours on end. Personally greeting the thousands who had lined up, the Rebbe handed each person a freshly printed copy of what would be the very last discourse he edited and distributed before his passing.

Opening with the verse (Exodus 27:20) Ve’atah Tetzaveh—And you will connect/command—this discourse has come to be considered the Rebbe’s last ethical will and testament.

Along with his first public discourse, Bati L’gani, it provides a kind of bookend to the more than forty years of his transformational teachings.

In it, among many other things, the Rebbe acknowledges22 and articulates certain unique historical and spiritual aspects of Jewish experience in the current day and age. The Rebbe cites the well-known rabbinic metaphor comparing the Jew to an olive, because his inner oil and light are only revealed when he is crushed. The Rebbe then states that historically speaking, the Jewish People were most “productive” and pious when they were “crushed” through harsh decrees, oppressions, and massacres.

These externally-imposed conditions activated a super-rational dimension of the soul, which allowed our ancestors to stubbornly and miraculously hold fast to their Jewish traditions and faith in the face of death, disgrace, and ostracization.

But we are all familiar with the saying, “It is easier to fight for one’s principles than to live up to them.” According to the Rebbe, this is precisely the existential situation in which contemporary Jews find themselves. For now, with the disappearance of the vast majority of daily, systematic threats to the Jewish ways of life, the modern Jew is faced with an even bigger challenge: To find the inspiration within to be willing to live as a Jew, and not just to be willing to die as one.

Additionally, following the European Enlightenment, the general societal trend in the Western World has been a decrease in organized expressions of religiosity and a corresponding increased slide towards secular humanism. While outwardly this may appear to many as a sign of spiritual degeneration, the Rebbe recognized it for the opportunity that it was. For this is but another way in which the Jew of today is free of many of the external pressures to engage and express his commitment to Jewish faith and identity that prevailed in the past. The modern Jew, according to the Rebbe, is increasingly left to his or her own devices to connect with their Jewish community, heritage, and tradition.

The Rebbe saw Jewish history through the lens of a human life. Like a baby, whose first steps and development require constant hands-on attention and reassuring affection, the Jewish People in their national infancy during Biblical times required overt miracles and revealed G‑dliness to help them learn to walk out of Egypt. This spiritual caretaking continued as Israel grew up through Divine revelations, and under the wing of priests and prophets, judges and kings. But as time passed, the Jewish People continued to mature spiritually, and along with this maturation the revealed presence and providence of G‑d diminished correspondingly. This journey has created the conditions for us to grow into our own faith and develop a connection with G‑d and a spiritual worldview that comes from within, without external pressure or even revelation. This has given us the exceptional opportunity to manifest the ultimate, deepest, and highest level of faith.

“For so long as a Jew’s compliance with the Will of G‑d is externally motivated—however commendable such motivation is in itself—it is not yet quite complete,” said the Rebbe in 1991.

Indeed, it is clear from many public talks and pronouncements during this period, that the Rebbe was very consciously preparing his followers and future admirers for his departure. Through it all, one radical message consistently rings loud and clear: We all must become self-starters. We cannot rely on “help” from without, not even through faith-awakening hardship, let alone external positive support, constant guidance, and new teachings. We must find that eternal light within our own souls and ignite it, not once, but over and over again, through good deeds, the cultivation of a positive and providential perspective, and passionate expressions of holiness and faith.

“What else can I do so that all Jewish People should agitate, truthfully cry out, and effectively bring Moshiach in actuality…. We are still in exile…. and more importantly, in an internal exile with regards to serving G‑d,” cried out the Rebbe in the spring of 1991. “The only thing I can do is give it over to you: Do all you can… to actually bring our righteous Moshiach, immediately and directly…. I have done my part, from now on you must do all that you can.”23

Perhaps, in statements such as these, the Rebbe was alluding to the fact that the time had come, and we were now ready, for each of us to become a tzaddik and reveal the Rebbe within.

In the winter of 1992, around the same time as the publication of V’atah Tetzaveh, Gabriel Erem, the CEO and publisher of Lifestyles Magazine, approached the Rebbe as he distributed dollars. “On the occasion of your 90th birthday,” Erem told the Rebbe, “we are publishing a special issue… What is your message to the world?”

“Ninety,” the Rebbe replied, “is the value of the Hebrew letter tzaddik. The meaning of the word ‘tzaddik,’ is ‘a truly righteous person,’ [the highest spiritual attribution]. And that is a direct indication that it is in the power of every Jew to become a real tzaddik, a righteous person, and indeed they should do so for many years, ‘until 120’ (for the rest of their life).”24

This message, the Rebbe added, applies equally to non-Jews as well.

Traditionally, the word tzaddik has been applied exclusively to saintly leaders of exceptional spiritual stature, but in this instance, and increasingly towards the end of his life, the Rebbe applied it to everyone.

It is no longer enough for an elite caste of holy leaders to tend to G‑d’s garden. We must, each and every one of us, accept G‑d’s invitation to play our role in the final phase of the meta-historical drama of world redemption.

This democratization of Divine responsibility is precisely the paradigmatic shift the Rebbe sought to inspire and strengthen within each individual, the Jewish People, and humanity as a whole.

From the redemptive dream of a precocious child to a daring vision of cosmic renewal, the stories and teachings explored throughout the course of this book all in some sense culminate in the Rebbe’s clarion call to action:

Our generation is uniquely positioned to calibrate the conditions for monumental shift. The future is up to each one of us. Become the tzaddik you already are. The world is G‑d’s garden; we are each its humble gardeners. Care for it and beautify it in the way that only you can.

We are no longer waiting for Moshiach, Moshiach is waiting for us!

A new day is approaching; let’s awaken the dawn.