By Yaakov Klein
“And those with understanding hearts walk around and around, tasting, at all times, small droplets from
that great sweetness of the Heavenly Delight which illuminates our eternity.”
– Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak HaKohen Kook zt”l
“On the way to the bar, one also needs a drink.”
– Chabad Anthem
Perhaps the most famous and foundational anecdote in Chassidic lore describes a meeting between the Baal Shem Tov HaKadosh, in a state of aliyas Neshama, and the soul of Moshiach.
“When is the Master coming?” he asks.
“When your streams extend outward.”
We often think of Moshiach’s arrival as an instant paradigm shift, the eventual appearance of this singular figure as changing everything from one moment to the next, promptly catapulting our holy nation from the thick darkness of exile into the brightest, everlasting light.
But the Midrash provides a different description. “Just as the sun rises slowly, so does the redemption of am Yisrael proceed slowly, slowly. The more it proceeds, the more it expands and proceeds.”
With these words, Chazal are communicating to us an incredibly important truth: Just as the light of the sun gradually illuminates the darkness of night long before the actual orb rises above the horizon, so will the light of Moshiach shine in the world long before he appears on our hills.
Three hundred and twenty-one years ago today, the dawn of our redemption began to break over the forests of Eastern Ukraine. On that awesome day, the heavens parted, and a sparkling point of luminescence descended into a vast sea of darkness, misery, brokenness and despair. One individual among millions devoid of self-worth, one dreamer wandering the field of a thousand broken dreams, the Ba’al Shem Tov hakadosh was sent to facilitate the genesis of a glorious process that would ultimately result in the final redemption of his people.
At the current moment, Elul, 5779, this process – overwhelmingly delicate and excruciatingly slow – is reaching a tipping point. Day by day, the sky continues to brighten. Moment by moment, the curtain continues to part. Increasing disclosure from all sides continues to introduce our nation to its ultimate essence. Cemented deep in the core of a slumbering universe, the initial point of illumination has taken root and branched out, slowly snaking through all corners of existence like lightening in slow-motion, lighting up our national soul with the truths of Hashem’s imminence, His accessibility, and His boundless love for each and every Jew.
In 2019, those streams of illumination flowing from the Eden of the Baal Shem Tov’s message, now often devoid of conventional labels, have virtually saturated that portion of our nation that must serve as a beacon to our not-yet-religious brethren, compelling every community and affiliation – to varying degrees – toward more depth, more closeness, more health, more openness, more hope, more feeling, more honesty, and the courage to truly open our hearts to the Master of the world.
Despite the ever-increasing insistence of darkness to maintain its hold on creation, despite the mighty efforts put forth by endless clouds of putrid smoke billowing from nightmarish factories from hell to block out the rising sun of God's presence over His creation, this redemptive dawn has pushed forth, undeterred.
The thirst for the inner dimension of Torah is stronger now that at any point throughout our history. This return to the “eretz Yisrael” of Torah study is mirrored by the physical return to our homeland after nearly two thousand years of spiritual hibernation in exile. We are coming together. We are coming home.
The process, while slow, proceeds with conviction. The process, while full of conviction, proceeds slowly. Very, very slowly. Carrying all of history on its back, the glowing orb of Moshiach’s sun is incredibly weighty. Merely moving it a few centimeters requires thousands upon thousands of gears turning at full speed. Every birur-clarification, every communal development, every malady suffered through and healed, every argument fought out and resolved and every middle ground reached serves this process in accordance with the hashgacha Elyonah. The joy of impending birth must be framed by
the travails of labor. “Those who plant with tears reap with joy.” But as our national soul experiences this often treacherous process, as “those with understanding hearts walk around and around” – forcefully, passionately, and oftentimes drowning in pain and confusion, “they taste, at all times, small droplets from that great sweetness of the Heavenly delight which illuminates our eternity.” Far above the great noise generated by the clash of revolutions and counter-revolutions on the earth below, the
sun of Moshiach continues to silently emerge from its hiding place; not despite, but because of this process that must necessarily take place.
For three hundred and twenty-one years, the light of the Baal Shem Tov hakadosh, the Torah of Moshiach, has increasingly filled our world with illumination, warmth, and clarity. Near midday on erev Shabbos HaGadol sheb’Gedolim, we stand with eyes fixed on heaven, yearning desperately – for our sake, but even more so, for the sake of our children – to make an “early Shabbos”.
The Baal Shem Tov and his students throughout the generations brought the words “Ani l’dodi v’dodi li” to life – “Chai Elul”. They sought not to make all Jews into “Chassidim” but only to strengthen the heart of Knesses Yisrael with the awareness of “Melo chol ha’aretz kevodo” – that Jews should live lives of purity, holiness, sweetness, humility, broad-mindedness, compassion, and true God-consciousness; surrounded at all times by Hashem’s affirmation and belief in each and every Jewish soul.
Today, three centuries since the genesis of dawn’s rising, we are one Chai Elul closer to geulah.