Don’t change the subject!

A story is told of a hapless bank robber who approaches the cashier and demands: “Give me $10,000 or else you’ll be geography!”

The startled cashier corrects him, “You mean history.”

To which the bandit retorts, “Don’t change the subject!”

ACCOUNTING AND JEWISH (NEW) MATH

While the subjects we will discuss in this essay include accounting, math and chemistry, we are not going to change the subject…

Our subject is ostensibly accounting because this is the month of Elul, the month of stock-taking when we make an honest accounting!

This is also the month of the “Jewish (new) math.”

We can find several examples of Jewish creative math:

The Talmud (conclusion of Makos) states that there are 613 Mitzvos. However, the prophet Chabakkuk came and boiled them down to one (commandment): “A righteous person lives with his faith.” Indeed, there is a mathematical basis for that equation: 6+1+3=10; 1+0=1. The 613 can be reduced to the number 1 and it is the Mitzvah to believe in G-d.

A second example of a more radical mathematical “trick” is the story of the chassid Reb Binyamin Kletzker, (a disciple of Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, known as the Alter Rebbe, the founder of Chabad Chassidus) who was a businessman, but a very spiritual one. After a long day’s work, he would tally his profits. Instead of writing the total in numbers he wrote the Biblical phrase, “There is nothing besides Him.” He reduced all his accounting figures to the oneness of G-d.

The Rebbe (see Seifer HaSichos 5751-R’ei) did the same mathematical “trick” when he stated that the sum total of the accounting of the month of Elul is: “Ad Masai-How much longer” shall we remain in exile?

This is the subject that we cannot change. All of our creative energies have to be rallied around doing our part to bring Redemption. These efforts include coming before G-d and respectfully, but firmly, demanding that He bring an end to exile with all of its suffering and pain.

In truth, this “reduction” is also about the number one. The Final Redemption is when G-d’s unity will be revealed fully to the entire world. So, when we ask for Redemption we are not just expressing our desire for a peaceful world; we are primarily asking for a world that recognizes the truth of one G-d. That recognition will bring in its wake peace and all the other incredible blessings.

FAITH, UNDERSTANDING AND PERMEATING

Returning to the three examples of “creative’ figuring; although they convey similar messages, we can discern three different nuances.

Chabakkuk reduced all of Mitzvos to one: Emuna-faith, by merely tracing the Mitzvos to their source and root, which is faith. That reduction was a quantitative one, from 613 to 1. In addition, Chabakkuk did not transform anything; he just took a larger number of Mitzvos and traced them to their root.

Reb Binyamin Kletzker, the chassid businessman, reduced all of his worldly business profits to one G-d. While Chabakkuk reduced all Mitzvos to one-faith in G-d, Reb Binyamin took all of his extensive earnings in the material world and reduced them to the recognition of the oneness of G-d. He actually made a qualitative transfer of mundane earnings to one supernal G-d.

The Rebbe took the accounting of Elul for all of our past years’ commitments to Torah and Mitzvos and translated them into the cry and song of ad Masai-how much longer, which calls for Moshiach and Redemption to materialize into our physical reality. He demonstrated that all of our Judaism is focused on making the oneness of G-d a palpable reality.

Chabakkuk focused on believing in one G-d. Reb Binyamin Kletzker applied his intellect to understanding the concept of Divine unity as it related to his material existence. The Rebbe spoke of how the entire world will be permeated with G-d’s oneness.

In truth, the Rebbe did not change the subject of Elul, just as Chabakkuk did not truly diminish Judaism by reducing the 613 to 1. Rather he demonstrated to us that if we focus on the one it will facilitate the 613.

Similarly, the Rebbe did not eliminate the all-encompassing accounting of Elul, rather he gave us the inner meaning of all our Elul accountings for all of our observance of Torah and Mitzvos. The Rebbe taught that, in fact, all of Judaism is geared to the future, making this world a G-dly world, a world of Moshiach.

THE ROOT AND THE END

Some have interpreted the Rebbe’s message as a call to strengthen our Emuna-faith just as Chabakkuk had preached in his time.

But in truth, there is a fundamental difference:

Chabakkuk gave the Jewish people of his generation a formula to advance their commitment to the commandments by giving them the foundation of all Mitzvos: Emuna-faith. When we have faith in G-d we will try to be faithful to Him by learning what He wants of us and implementing that in our lives.

Faith is thus the root and foundation of Judaism.

What the Rebbe innovated/revealed, based on many of the earlier teachings of Torah, is actually the sum total of Torah and Mitzvos. All of Judaism revolves around and is directed towards the objective of making the world a dwelling place for G-d, which will come to fruition in the Messianic Age.

While faith is the core and genesis of Judaism, the Messianic Age is its full flowering, its ultimate goal. So if we have to make an evaluation and assessment of our Judaism throughout the year it has to be connected to the ultimate goal of bringing about the Final Redemption.

NO TO ANTINOMIAN VIEWS

One should not misconstrue this concept and think that the Messianic Age is separate from the observance of the commandments. On the contrary, Maimonides (Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Melachim; chapter 11) makes it crystal clear that Moshiach’s task is to make it possible for us to fulfil all of the commandments in the most comprehensive and perfect fashion.

The primary test to determine whether one is qualified to be the Moshiach is his fidelity to Torah observance. The reason we rejected certain individuals proposed as Moshiach in the past was precise that they did not meet this criterion. Tellingly, they advanced antinomian views, advocating the abrogation of certain or all of the Mitzvos.

The reason all of Judaism revolves around Moshiach and the Messianic Age is that we will be able to observe the commandments in a most complete fashion in that time.

But, whereas in the past, when we were in the initial or middle stages of our journey towards Redemption, our focus was more on the journey and not so much on the destination, now that focus has changed.

According to the teachings of the greatest Jewish leaders of the past century, particularly the Rebbe, we have completed the journey and the focus must turn to the end result of our collective efforts of commitment to Judaism.

CHANGING OUR CHEMISTRY

It is not enough for us to want Moshiach and even ask for the final Redemption. The Rebbe also wants us to develop an intolerance for Galus and a passion for Redemption. The Rebbe wants us to change the chemistry of our minds.

The only way to accomplish this change is through the study of Torah, particularly the sections that deal with Moshiach and Redemption.

CONNECTION TO PARSHA

This is the connection to this week’s parsha, which talks about placing judges at all of our gates.

The reference to gates has been understood to include our body’s own gateways to the outside world. Our eyes, ears, mouth and nose should be guarded.

In terms of making an honest accounting we must judge ourselves:

Do we cry out with our mouth Ad Masai-How much longer? Do we say these words because we were told to say them or do we say them with heartfelt passion?

Do we use our mouth to teach about Moshiach, and publicize to our family, friends and indeed the entire world the Rebbe’s prophetic message that Moshiach’s coming is imminent?

Do we hear the sound of the shofar blowing to tell us that the Geula is imminent? Indeed, the Rebbe informed us that from the Six Day War and beyond, the Great Shofar has been sounded to herald the imminent arrival of Moshiach. Have we made an effort to hear the sound of that Shofar?

Do we hear the announcement of Redemption the Rebbe made, quoting the Midrash, “The Time of Your Redemption has Arrived?”

Do we hear the Rebbe’s statement (invoking prophecy) of the imminence of the Redemption?

Do we open our eyes to see the tell-tale miracles that are associated with Moshiach? The Rebbe told us to open our eyes to see that the Redemption is truly right in front of us.

Do we have the keen sense of smell to detect the presence of Moshiach in our midst? Moshiach’s power of justice is described in Isaiah as his ability to smell justice. Since the Baal Shem Tov taught that each of us has a spark of Moshiach, we should have developed a keen olfactory sense of righteousness and sensed the fragrance of Redemption blowing in the wind.

The accounting of Elul is to reduce, mathematically, the many aspects of Judaism and life to the one overarching theme of Redemption. We can accomplish this by changing our mind’s chemistry by studying Torah, particularly the Chassidic teachings that relate to Moshiach.

This will certainly give us a lesson in geography, with the ingathering of Jews from all parts of the earth to the Land of Israel. Then economics will undergo a major change; as Maimonides writes that there will be an abundance of everything.

Moreover, there will be a convergence of all the nations of the world speaking different languages (so we’ll master linguistics) to the Beis HaMikdash, the building of which will require our mastery of Temple architecture.

Indeed, when all this occurs we will be able to look back and appreciate our history.

While, according to Maimonides, the laws of physics will not change, the way we view the physical laws will. We will see the Divine in every physical phenomenon.

G-d will reveal his healing powers, advancing the art and science of medicine to the point where everyone will be healed.

But, please, don’t change the subject!