Following his release from Russian prison on 19 Kislev 5559/1798, the Alter Rebbe penned a letter to his followers, later published as Epistle 2 in Iggeres HaKodesh in Tanya, entitled “Katonti.” In this missive the Alter Rebbe explains why the patriarch, Yaakov Avinu, felt diminished and less deserving of divine protection as a result of having received such bountiful beneficence from Above. The basic premise outlined there is that any act of kindness from Hashem is an act of drawing that person closer to Him. “And as is known, ‘All that are before Him are esteemed as nothing.’ Hence, whoever is more ‘before Him’ is that much more like nothing, naught, and non-existent.”
After explaining the difference between the forces of evil, such as Yishmael, that become more arrogant when fortune smiles upon them, and those of holiness, such as Avraham and Yaakov, whose response is to see themselves as insignificant and unworthy, he continues;
“Accordingly, I am now making a weighty announcement to all the men of our [Chassidic] fraternity, regarding the multitude of favors, ‘the great things that Hashem has done with us’: Hold on to the attributes of Yaakov [for Jews are known as] ‘the remnant of His people’ and ‘the remainder of Yisrael’; regarding himself truly as mere remnants, as something truly superfluous and dispensable; that they not become haughty in relation to their brethren…, [i.e. their opponents, who caused the arrest of the Alter Rebbe]. Let them not jeer or whistle derisively at them, heaven forfend…with a strict warning.”
He then concludes, “Rather, they are to subdue their spirit and heart before every man according to the attribute of ’emes unto Yaakov,’ with humility and with ‘a soft response turns away anger,’ and with a restrained spirit etc. And through all that, perhaps Hashem will put [similar feelings] into the heart of their brethren, as ‘water reflects a face’ etc.”
In the HaYom Yom of 10 Menachem Av it brings a quote from the Rebbe Maharash, that “had the Rebbe not inserted the three words b’midas emes l’Yaakov (according to the attribute of truth unto Yaakov), he would have had fifty thousand more Chassidim. But the Rebbe demands the trait of truth.”
If we stop for moment to think about this statement of the Rebbe Maharash, it seems quite puzzling. These potential Chassidim surely knew that Chabad Chassidus makes many rigorous demands of its adherents whether it comes to the study of Chassidus or prayer, or even working tirelessly for the spiritual growth and advancement of others. Additionally, if they were inspired to join as a result of the miraculous salvation of the Alter Rebbe from prison and a potential death sentence, they must have seen it as a vindication of Chassidus and a divine indicant that it was the emes. So why did they find the fact that “the Rebbe demands the trait of truth” so daunting that despite everything they knew and believed, they declined to join?
Clearly, these people understood that there is a big difference between knowing and even accepting the emes, the truth, and actually living up to “the trait of truth” so that one feels truly humble before the discredited opponents of the truth. It is those three Hebrew words b’midas emes l’Yaakov that seemed so difficult and insurmountable, so that despite the knowledge of the truth and the readiness to toil and labor in practicing that truth, they felt that this trait and attribute was beyond their ability to undertake.
LIVING THE TRUTH
What is the difference between knowing, accepting and acting upon the truth, and the attribute of truth unto Yaakov?
A trait or attribute is by definition an internal characteristic that either comes naturally or else is acquired through great personal effort and struggle. The trait of emes in this context means to be completely genuine or in the modern day vernacular to be “for real.” The Chassidic definition of this trait is alluded to in the words emes and l’Yaakov. The word emes in the Hebrew language is comprised of the letters Aleph, Mem and Tav. Aleph is the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet, Mem is the middle letter, and Tav is the final letter. This indicates that something is only emes if it is consistent at all levels.
The name Yaakov is made up of the letter Yud and the word Eikev, the Yud alludes to Chochma-wisdom, the highest of all the faculties and the word Eikev, meaning heel of the foot, represents the lowest level of physical existence. This denotes that the primary characteristic of Yaakov Avinu is expressing the absolute truth of divine wisdom in all levels of existence. Hence, the “trait of truth” that the Alter Rebbe demanded by inserting those three words was that his followers really and truly feel genuinely humble before their opponents even as Chassidus itself was completely vindicated.
If the Alter Rebbe wrote this, and the Rebbe Maharash commented on the implications, and the Previous Rebbe made his observation public, and the Rebbe recorded it for the people of our generation in the HaYom Yom, then it is obvious that this standard of emes applies today to all those who identify as Chabad Chassidim as it did back then.
For most of us, this trait does not come naturally. As the Previous Rebbe states, recorded in HaYom Yom of 2 Adar I, the Alter Rebbe “set up a system for Anash of avoda with the mind, and to seek out the emes, to critically examine one’s every move that it be in accordance with the emes, and this comes through avoda.”
[Knowing that over two centuries back, fifty thousand potential new Chassidim found this task too intimidating would seem to be grounds for discouragement rather than a source of inspiration. It is to this end that the Rebbe informs us that we were given the necessary tools and he also clarifies what is expected of us, as he continues there]:
“This avoda is not like those who make the absolute mistake of thinking that one must pulverize mountains and shatter boulders, turning the world upside down. The absolute truth is that any avoda, any act, whatever it may be, is perfectly satisfactory when performed with true kavana – intent: A blessing pronounced with kavana; a word of prayer as it should be, with a prepared heart and an awareness of ‘before Whom you stand”; a passage in Chumash said with an awareness that it is the “word of Hashem”; a verse of Tehillim; a positive character trait expressed in drawing a friend close with love and affection.”
LIVING THE TRUTH OF MOSHIACH
Although the demand for the trait of emes has been present throughout as we have seen, it is actually more pressing in our present situation. Over eighteen years ago, in the famous sicha of 28 Nisan 5751, the Rebbe stated emphatically that if the Chassidim would want Moshiach “with an emes,” the Geula would have come a long time ago. As much as the Rebbe encouraged the singing of “we want Moshiach now,” and emphasized the importance of demanding “ad mosai,” something was still missing.
“The Rebbe demands the trait of truth.”
It is not necessary to “pulverize mountains and shatter boulders, turning the world upside down,” to really truly want Moshiach. One does not have to be on the highest spiritual levels to truly want Moshiach as the Rebbe makes clear in that very sicha that the desire is actually motivated by finding oneself in spiritual exile in the service of Hashem. The only yardstick that the Rebbe gives for measuring if your want is truly genuine is if the thought that it will be delayed another day is inconceivable to you. However, one does have to be committed to doing the necessary inner work as the Previous Rebbe concludes that HaYom Yom:
“It is true that to achieve this calls for great and intense effort, meaning simply to study a great deal of Torah, and to comprehend it – each according to his ability – and then Hashem will help him that he will be in accordance with the emes.”
Perhaps that is why the first specific instruction that the Rebbe gave on the subject of doing everything in our power to bring Moshiach was to study the topics of Moshiach and Geula as they appear in Torah. However, since the emes that we are trying to achieve is a true genuine desire, and desire is fueled by pleasure and delight, the Rebbe also emphasized the importance of learning in public, preferably in groups of ten or more, as this brings greater pleasure even if the level of comprehension is somewhat diminished.
In light of the above, on this Yud-Tes Kislev, which is described in the HaYom Yom of that day as “a day of farbrengen and good resolutions towards establishing times to study the revealed Torah and Chassidus publicly, and in bolstering the ways of Chassidim in true friendship,” we should make a renewed commitment to making a “great and intense effort,” “to study a great deal of Torah,” especially on the topics of Moshiach and Geula, “and to comprehend it” as well as to experience the pleasure in it:
“And then Hashem will help him that he will be in accordance with the emes,” wanting Moshiach and the complete revelation of Melech HaMoshiach “with an emes,” and “the emes will sprout forth from the earth” with the True and Complete Redemption, NOW!