“Who is Moshiach?” is a question that many of us have on our mind. Some questions have more than one answer, and this one isn’t an exception.
One of the sources speaking of Moshiach in the Torah says that “a star will shine from Yaakov.” The Talmud Yerushalmi teaches that this verse refers to all the Jewish people.
But it’s no contradiction. Chassidic works speak of every Jew containing within himself a “spark” of Moshiach’s soul. Moshiach’s function is to redeem the world from exile and the way that happens is by every Jew taking part and being the“Moshiach” of his portion in the world, in the process of readying the world for the Geulah.
No one knows the precise moment when Moshiach will arrive, but we all have a part in making it happen.
Galus and Geulah are opposites in many ways, but ironically, without Galus – Geulah isn’t possible. Geulah isn’t the world without galus, it is the world after galus. The reality of the Geulah is created through the Divine service of observance of Torah and mitzvos, in Galus specifically.
“Mitzvos bring Moshiach” is something we grow up with together with our mothers’ milk.
The following teaching of the Rambam, based on the Gemara, is widely known: “one must see himself and the world as a balanced scale and one mitzvah can tip the scale and bring salvation to the entire world;”
But why indeed? To answer this question, we must go back to the beginning of everything. We must uncover the secret of creation.
The final words of the section in the Torah describing the creation of the world are “Which Hashem has created to make.” Chazal interpret the word “la’asos — to make” as “to perfect.” In spoken language, Hashem created the world in an imperfect fashion which requires still more work, and it is specifically by means of this work that the world will reach its goal and be complete.
In a previous article in this series (Principles 1 and 2) we discussed the idea ofDira B’tachtonim — that Hashem desired to reside in this lowest, material world. The term has further depth: Hashem wanted to reside in this world as it becomes perfected through the deeds of the tachtonim, the lowly ones – us human beings.
This is an expression of the great love Hashem has for the Jewish people. The greatest gift that can be given to a person is to let him feel accomplished by using his own powers. “A person would rather one kav of his own labor than nine of his fellow man” is how Chazal summarized this natural tendency of a human being.
Because of this, Hashem created the world imperfectly, so we can perfect it and thus “partner” in the creation and feel that we have a part in causing Hashem pleasure, which is the greatest feeling of value and importance possible to be attained by a human.
But what exactly does this mean? How can we make something more perfect than the way Hashem created it?
The Destroyed Worlds
For that we must travel back in time to the pre-time and pre-creation stage:
Before our world was created, the Midrash teaches, Hashem was busy creating worlds and destroying them. The worlds Hashem created prior to ours were not physical ones, they were spiritual.
The Arizal teaches that this Midrash refers to a term in Kabbalah referred to asshviras hakeilim – “the shattering of the vessels.”
What this means is the following: Hashem is the “light” and life-force of everything. All the creations are “vessels” that contain that light which makes them exist.
In these previous worlds, the “light” was too powerful for the vessels to contain and they “shattered,” thus forming our world. Our world is one in which the true force creating it — Hashem — is hidden, just like sparks don’t shine as brightly as a torch does.
Our world then, despite being the lowliest in spiritual terms, is filled with sparks of the previous worlds, sparks of holiness, which when gathered together will shine once again.
It was no mistake; Hashem didn’t destroy this world because it was a failed experiment. It was created in order to be broken, and that its remains be dispersed throughout our world, in order to create a one-of-a-kind paradox: a lowly world whose inhabitants will be able to elevate it to the greatest heights, from within it itself.
And here is where Torah and Mitzvos enter the equation.
How Many Sparks?
The Arizal teaches that 288 sparks fell at the Shviras Hakeilim.
This is hinted in the words describing the first moments of creation, “the spirit of G-d was hovering over the water.” ‘The spirit of G-d” refers to the spirit
of Moshiach, and the Hebrew word for “hovering” — מרחפת , comes out to be רפ”ח מת , the gematria of 288, the
number of sparks that fell and “died” at the “shattering of the vessels.”
When the Jews left Egypt, the Torah says that “also the erev rav ascended with them.” The word רב has the gematria of 202, which is the number of sparks already refined to that point through
the Divine service of the Avos (the patriarchs) and the galus Mitzrayim, and 86 ( הטבע ) remained still trapped in nature, awaiting refinement by the Jewish people through Torah and mitzvos.
What is a Mitzvah?
When Moshe ascended to the heavens to receive the Torah from Hashem and pass it on to the Jewish people, the angels protested to Hashem: “Your hidden treasure you wish to give to mortals?!”
Hashem asked Moshe to respond: “In the Torah it is written ‘I am the G-d who took you out of Egypt,’ have you descended into Egypt? In it, it says ‘rest on the Shabbos,’ do you toil in the weekdays? In it, it is written ‘honor your parents’, do you have parents? In it, it says, ‘do not kill, do not steal, do not commit adultery,’ — do envy and greed exist among you?” Said Moshe to the angles.
The angels were left speechless, and the Torah was given to us.
Could the angels have not answered that these laws have more depth to them than just practical instructions and carry deep spiritual significance which only they can appreciate in the higher worlds?
The answer is no.
Two contradicting Mishnayos
The Mishna teaches: “A single moment of repentance and good deeds in this world is greater than all of the World to Come. And a single moment of bliss in the World to Come is greater than all of the present world.”
At first glance this seems to contradict; if one single moment of bliss in Olam Haba is greater than the present world, then why is a single moment of Teshuvaand good deeds greater than the entire Olam Hazeh?
The answer lies in what we are exploring here:
The Mishna is making a differentiation between the experience level of the two worlds (“one moment of bliss”) and the accomplishment level of the two worlds(“one moment of Teshuva and good deeds”). “Bliss” is the reward, the work itself is done here, in the world of action and a moment of work is far greater than any reward imaginable.
Our world is indeed the lowest and furthest from Hashem if we judge by where the divine experience is more felt, yet only our world allows us to connect to theessence of Hashem and to the sublime spiritual energy trapped into this world alone, by doing his will, the mitzvos.
The greatest angels have no access to the physical materials of which Hashem desired that an abode be made for him. Only we can do these mitzvos into which a tremendous level of divine energy is trapped, and by using them for a mitzvah that energy is unlocked.
The mitzvos, first and foremost, must be followed literally and observed physically. They, of course, contain spiritual meaning, but the main thing is the deed.
Someone who meditates on the spiritual significance of Matzah and studies all the secrets hidden in the mitzvah but doesn’t eat it on Pesach night has failed to do the mitzvah, while if someone absentmindedly ate the Matzah, entirely unaware of its spiritual significance, did fulfill the mitzvah; he actually did what Hashem wanted.
This idea, of the importance of serving Hashem in this world, primarily doing mitzvos ma’asiyos, practical and physical mitzvos, is what is called in teachings of Kabbalah and Chassidus עבודת הבירורים – the service of refinement.
The Soul and the Shell
A well-grounded principal in Jewish thought is that in every creation in the entire universe there is a G-dly spark which makes it exist and infuses it with life, a soul. The body of the object serves as a “shell” (kelipa in Hebrew) which covers up and, to a great extent, conceals the G-dly force of life which is within it. The thicker the shell is, the coarser the creation, and consequently the more concealed the G-dly spark is.
The level of holiness of a certain object is defined by how concealed its spark is. This will have a direct impact on the objects “pull” towards and association with good or negativity.
Spiritual creations, angels and souls, have a very fine “body” which is virtually transparent and allows their G-dly soul to be fully revealed through them, whereas the creatures in this world have a coarse material body which is virtually almost opaque thus making its spark and meaning almost invisible.
But as we saw above, this relates only to the experience of G-dliness, but in an ironic twist, with regard to the actual level of G-dliness, the lower and coarser something is, the greater the essence of the G-dly spark within it is. It’s like a wall that was toppled down; the tallest bricks fall the furthest away and seem the hardest to retrieve and fix.
As cited earlier from the Arizal, our world was formed from the greatest spiritual heights, but in a manner where this energy has been hidden so strongly in the materiality of this world.
It can fall so low that its “shell” can be so far removed from acknowledging its source and can even deny the existence of a Creator!
This is the reason why in our world evil can get so strong and seem to prevail. A world unaware of its source is a great habitat for such forces. And it’s the very same reason we are here, to help redeem these great sparks, from the exile they are trapped in.
The Great Refinery
Our task, then, is like that of a goldsmith who must take the precious metal that was mined from the ground and separate the dirt and waste from the precious metal. Only then can that metal shine and glimmer.
We must “soften” that shell, we must refine the coarseness of that matter whose present nature is to reject G-dliness and cleanse it of all its negative components thus making it possible to facilitate a point of contact between it and its spark of life, thereby enabling the mind and the soul to “overpower” the matter and elevate it to G-dliness.
How do we do this? How do we take materialism and uncover the “soul” of G-d within it?
That is the main point of the mitzvos.
The Torah and its material-focused mitzvos, deal primarily with our physical life: business, eating and drinking, our way of dress, family life, etc.; Even the mitzvos which deal with our spiritual life are associated in one way or another with physical objects, like Teffilin, Tzitzit, Mezuzah, Bris Milah, sacrifices, agricultural mitzvos and so on.
Even the purely spiritual mitzvos, like faith, love and fear of Hashem, have“physically” measurable dimensions. They must be up to par to similar feelings one would have to worldly matters. Simply put, one must love Hashem the same way he would feel love to a person close to him.
To paraphrase: mitzvos don’t only mean commandments and directives from Hashem; the word mitzvah means also צוותא וחיבור “connection” — a means through which one can connect and bond himself, the world around him and the world at large, to Hashem.
Every mitzvah and good deed which a person does causes a certain measure of refinement of the physical object it’s done with, the shell concealing over its G-dly spark is then slowly removed thus revealing its essential connection to Hashem.
Even more: not only does the object itself become close to Hashem, it also indirectly refines also any objects which prepared it and helped it reach this goal, like the food and livelihood which made it possible for one to daven and study and do mitzvos. They also get elevated.
Every Step is Preplanned…
This “service of refinement” designates the path of life and destiny of the individual.
Individual Divine providence directs each Jew to “his” part of the world – the part that assigned to him to refine and elevate. Where you will live and what your occupation will be is Hashem’s way of directing you to the part in the world you need to redeem.
How long a person will live is also decided according to this. He is given enough time to live to fulfill his task.
The Alter Rebbe expresses this idea explicitly in his Likkutei Torah:
“One is given 70 years while the other is given 80, all according to the measure incumbent upon him to refine and transform from bad to good … each day of his life he is to refine a certain portion, thus over his lifetime he has completed all that he needs to refine, which is why his soul descended to this world.” (Parsha Re’eh, p. 33c)
Just as the private life of the individual is built around his mission in refining the world, so too it is true concerning the general public as a generation: each generation is allotted to a certain mission which is part of the general “service of refinement” and thus its destiny and situation in physical and spiritual terms is decided, such as where they will mainly reside in that time, under which government they will be, and how that government will treat them and so on.
Chazal teach that “Hashem dispersed the Jewish people throughout the world only for the purpose that converts be added on to them.” Chassidus sees this statement in a broader sense as well: “Converts” means not only people that joined the Jewish faith, it means also materialism that it given Jewish meaning by Jews using in for Avodas Hashem.
When taking in account the work of each individual and of every generation under various circumstances, overcoming and prevailing against different types of barriers to the performance of Torah and mitzvos, especially with Mesirus Nefesh (self-sacrifice), they collectively bring to the complete refinement of the entire world and of all that is in it.
What Happens at The End of the Refinement?
Once this endeavor is met, and the entire world reaches the culmination of its refinement — the coarse “shell” is totally removed — then the world abandons its self-perceived definition as an entity independent from Hashem and it ceases to be עולם — world, which is a play on the word העלם — concealment. Instead, the Divine spark shines brightly through it thus turning it into an abode for Hashem, fulfilling the purpose for which it was created.
Such a world has no tolerance for any sort of evil and opposition to holiness; in such a world good and kindness prevail, and the entire world announces with its mere being that it was created for the Torah and for Israel and “Whatever Hashem created is only for His glory.” Such a world is naturally free of hunger and war, of envy and competition and it is immersed only in the knowledge of Hashem, as all these evils stem from a lack of realizing the G-dly nature of the world.
In the words of the Alter Rebbe in his Torah Ohr: “The reason why the galus has stretched long over 1700 years, is in order to refine the 288 sparks, and when all the sparks will be refined Moshiach will arrive, may it be speedily in our days.” (Parshas Vayeshev p. 27d)
At that time, the Torah and mitzvos will not cease to exist, G-d forbid. They will serve a different purpose – not to refine, rather to “unite unities within unities” – to grow higher and higher within holiness itself, a topic for itself.
So, every Jew is the Moshiach, the redeemer, of a part of this big project we need to finish collectively. We were all anointed and appointed by Hashem to bring perfection to the world.
When we each finish our assignment, the big manager, Melech HaMoshiachcomes and brings all the parts together, unveiling a perfect world, a home for Hashem in which he feels more “comfortable” to show his essence than with the greatest angels.
And we can all take pride in being a part of it. ■
Fromגולָֹה to גאְולָּה
From a proper understanding of the “service of refinement,” we can understand that the Divine service which brings Moshiach isn’t about destroying and nullifying the world and to transform it to something different, rather it is about revealing the hidden good, the spark, which is already within it from the very beginning.
This concept is hinted in the Hebrew word for Redemption – גאְולָּה . The wordגְאוּלָה includes in it the word גולָֹה which means Exile; there is only one more letter– an א. This א refers to the one master of the universe, who when inserted and revealed within the very world which is in exile, turns it into a redeemed G-dly world without breaking it, for the world, in essence, is good and the Exile state is just a concealment and covering to the truth.
• The purpose of the world is to have a Dira B’Tachtonim – a home for Hashem in this lowest world.
• The purpose includes also that this be done by the inhabitants of the lowest world – human beings.
• This is out of Hashem’s great love to us, so we can be His “partners” in this great endeavor.
• It is brought about by doing physical mitzvos, as physical mitzvos refine and cleanse the physical matter of the world and uncover the G-dly spark that’s in it.
• The coming of Moshiach means that the entire world is refined and is receptive to its G-dly spark.
• Even though we don’t always see the immediate effects of the mitzvos, it’s all there waiting for Moshiach to reveal it.