Miracles, foretelling the future, and an uncanny understanding of every individual and situation were always associated with the Rebbe, but the week of the Torah portion Shoftim, 5751/1991, saw the Rebbe’s open acknowledgment that he is a prophet and that as a messenger of G-d, he is delivering the unprecedented news, “Behold, Moshiach is coming.”
His words are all the more remarkable since, in all the years of his leadership, he did not even refer to himself as the Rebbe, speaking of his father-in-law, the Previous Rebbe, as leading the generation. Nor was it the Rebbe’s way to acknowledge as such the many miracles or prophecies which came through him.
In one instance, when someone had the nerve to ask the Rebbe how he knew to announce during the Gulf War that “Israel is the safest place in the world,” he is said to have responded, “I looked into the Torah and saw what it says, that G-d’s eyes are on it from the beginning of the year to the end.” Yet none of us would ever dare to take the same responsibility from reading that same Torah passage!
The miracles and prophecies of the Rebbe are legion and have appeared in national and international media. Everyone knows the miracles of the Rebbe were accomplished without fanfare, with a wave of the hand, or clothed in “advice.” Yet the only time the Rebbe openly alluded to himself as a prophet was the week of the Torah portion, Shoftim, which includes in it the commandment to the Jewish people to listen to their prophets.
It was this week that the Rebbe delivered what he called his most essential prophecy, that Moshiach is actually coming, and asked that it be publicized to the entire world. He also reminded the Jewish people of the Torah laws regarding a prophet, how a true prophet must be obeyed, and should not be overly tested.
The Rebbe begins his talk with a discussion of the Torah commandment from Shoftim (Judges), “You shall appoint judges and officers in all your gates,” and how this is similar to what is said in the daily prayers, three times a day (from Isaiah), “Return our judges as of old, and our advisors as in the beginning,” which will take place in the final Redemption.
He elaborates extensively about the differences between a judge and an advisor and how both are needed in terms of Divine service. A judge is on a level above the litigants and delivers rulings from an elevated plane of authority.
On the other hand, an advisor is like a friend, similar in level to the person, and is able to communicate that it is in the person’s own best interest to accept the directive from above.
The judge represents the authority of the Torah. The advisor represents the internalization of the Torah ruling which the person sees is for his own good. Torah service is not complete without these two: a decree from above, and the ability to internalize it so that the person accepts it willingly and gladly, and not because it is forced on him.
Then the Rebbe draws a parallel between judges and advisors and Torah and prophecy. Torah, like the judge, issues rulings that come from above, endowed with Divine power and assistance. Prophecy, which is G-d’s message as he chooses to communicate it through His spokespeople, is given in a way of advice, first to the prophet, becoming unified with his mind and speech, and then announced to the people in a way that they can grasp it.
In the Rebbe’s words (translated from the Hebrew):(1)
“Torah transcends the world, for it is the will and wisdom of G-d. Thus, in the same way, one cannot grasp the being of G-d in any way, the real essence of Torah is above our comprehension.
“In contrast, prophecy–even though it is the word of G-d, ‘the spirit of G-d spoke to me,’–is the revelation of G-dliness to man. ‘He revealed his secrets to his servants, the prophets,’ according to their limits that it should be absorbed in the knowledge and mind of the prophet. A prophet becomes as one with the prophecy communicated to him and the vision of prophecy becomes clothed in his mind and understanding and also in his thought and speech, as it is written, ‘The spirit of G-d spoke in me, and His word is on my tongue.’
“Moreover, prophecy is intended to be revealed through speech. The very term in Hebrew for prophecy, nevuah, implies that it is a subject proclaimed and announced to the people as in the term niv s’fosayim (‘the expression of the lips’). This contrasts with the Torah which can remain in one’s thoughts. Also, the import of prophecy has a connection with the events of the world. To quote the Rambam, ‘A prophet is only there to inform us of what is going to happen in the future of the world.’
“Thus, the Torah and prophecy reflect the difference between ‘your judges’ and ‘your advisors.’ The task of the judge is to rule on the laws of the Torah, which is done by way of demand and decree. The advisor gives his advice ‘clothed’ in language acceptable to the advised, which he can understand, as is the way of a prophet.”
Like an advisor, the Rebbe is coming to us in a way that takes into account our state of being, our readiness to hear G-d’s message about the Redemption, and in a way that we are able to accept and internalize it.
However, there is another dimension to it. It is a commandment from the Torah to obey the prophets. Thus when we listen to a prophet, we are combining the two elements of Divine service: accepting the decree from above and internalizing it of our own free will.
In the Rebbe’s words:
“Just as there is a command to obey ‘your judges’ at all times, as is written in our Torah portion, Shoftim, so there is a command to obey the prophets, as is written separately in the Torah portion (18:15), ‘G-d will set up for you a prophet from your midst, from your brothers, like me, and you shall hearken to him.’
“In this context, the Rambam explains, ‘One of the fundamentals of the religion is to know that G-d sends His prophecies through people.’
“In his Iggeres Taimon, the Rambam writes that ‘as a preparatory step for Moshiach’s coming….prophecy will return to Israel.’ This can be understood in connection with the explanations above. To prepare us to be able to receive the revelations of the Era of Redemption, we must experience through prophecy a foretaste of the ‘advice’ that will be communicated in that era.
“It is therefore important for later generations to know that it is ‘one of the fundamentals of the religion is to know that G-d sends His prophecies through people.’ Always, in all generations, the revelation of prophecy is possible. Moreover, this will include even a level of prophecy which is akin to the prophecy of Moshe as implied by the verse, ‘I will set up for them from their brothers like you.’ Moshe’s level is the zenith of prophecy, as the Rambam explains at great length. Nevertheless, it is not exclusive to him but reflected to others as well.
“In all generations, even before the Resurrection of the Dead, it is necessary to know that Torah law prescribes that G-d sends His prophecies through men, that the verse, ‘I will set up a prophet…like you (Moshe)’ applies in every generation. Every prophet is a continuation of the prophecy of Moshe and his Torah (except that in regard to revelation, there are different levels, as the Rambam explains).”
The Rebbe goes on to explain that we already have a foretaste of our “judges as of old” and our “advisors as at the beginning” in the generations of the Chabad Rebbes. “These leaders are the individuals through whom ‘prophecy will return to Israel.’ They are the prophets of our generation, ‘like me (Moshe),’ i.e. they are the ‘spark of Moshe’ that exists in every generation.”
The Rebbe elaborates:
“They are ‘your judges.’ This is reflected in their function as nesi’im (leaders). This term, related to the word hisnasus, ‘uplifted,’ reflects how they are elevated above the people. In this capacity, they serve as teachers of the Torah to the people. Similarly, they serve as ‘your advisors,’ giving counsel in connection with our Torah service, and also giving advice on worldly matters, which is the function of prophets.”
Coming closer and closer to the main point of his talk, the Rebbe urges every person to accept upon himself the rulings and advice of the judges and advisors of our generation, our Rabbis in general, and in particular, “the leader of our generation, the judge, adviser and prophet of our generation,” (meaning himself!). Our acceptance of the “judge, advisor and prophet of our generation” helps this aspect of Redemption, which we pray for three times a day, to bloom.
The Rebbe emphasizes that we believe him, not only because of what we have seen with our own eyes but because of the Divine command from the Torah to heed a prophet. He says that G-d has chosen an individual to serve as judge, advisor and prophet to the generation. Notably, this leader brings not only the Jews closer to Divine service, but indeed, “all the people of this generation.” Then he delivers the prophecy that we will see Moshiach with our own eyes.
The Rebbe’s words follow.
“When a person has the merits and individual perfection required of a prophet, and he performs signs and wonders–as we saw and see continually in the fulfillment of the blessings of the leader of our generation, the Previous Rebbe, ‘we do not believe in him only because of the sign [he performed]…,but because of the commandment which Moshe gave in the Torah.’
“Furthermore, a prophet about whom another prophet testifies that he is a prophet–as in the case with the Previous Rebbe, and is continued in the next generation through his disciples–, he is accepted as a prophet and requires no investigation. He has to be obeyed immediately ‘even before he performs a sign.’ ‘It is forbidden to disparage or criticize his prophecy saying that it is perhaps not true.’ There is a specific negative commandment forbidding us to test a prophet more than necessary. After it has become known that he is a prophet, the people should believe in him, and they should not disparage or criticize him. Their belief should not be in the prophet as an individual, but as a messenger charged with communicating the words of G-d.
“This concept has to be publicized to everyone in this generation. It must be made known that we have merited that G-d has chosen and appointed a person who of himself is far greater than the people of his generation, to serve as a judge, adviser and prophet to the generation. He will grant rulings and advice in connection with the service of the Jews and indeed, of all the people of this generation, in all matters of the Torah and its mitzvos, and in their general day to day behavior, allowing them to ‘know Him in all your ways,’ so that ‘all your actions should be for the sake of Heaven.’
“Surely this includes the fundamental prophecy, ‘To Redemption Immediately,’ for ‘Behold, Moshiach is coming.'”
Adapted from the Rebbe’s talk,
on Shabbat Parshat Shoftim, 5751/1991
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What makes the Rebbe’s declaration–that Moshiach’s arrival is imminent and the time for the Redemption has arrived–different from those of great leaders of previous generations?
The Jewish people have believed in and awaited Moshiach’s coming since the beginning of our nation. In numerous instances throughout Jewish history, tzaddikim (righteous people) of various generations pointed to hints in the Torah that the promised Redemption was near at hand. Sensing the special opportunity for Moshiach’s coming, they motivated the Jewish people to study more Torah, do more mitzvot and repent in the hope that these actions would be what was needed to make the Redemption happen.
In the times of the Previous Rebbe, the anticipation for the Redemption was truly tangible. The Previous Rebbe issued an urgent call to world Jewry: “Immediate repentance brings immediate Redemption.”
Even when the Rebbe accepted the leadership in 1950, though he said unequivocally that our generation is the last generation to live in exile and the first generation of the Redemption, he did not say that we had yet reached the moment of Redemption. Only forty years later, after sending thousands of emissaries around the world, initiating the Mitzvah Campaigns to reinvigorate Jewish observance, and inspiring millions, did the Rebbe proclaim, “The time of our Redemption has arrived.” This is a totally different message that has never before been enunciated in the history of the Jewish people.
The Midrash (Yalkut Shimoni) tells us that in a time when we will witness an event like the Gulf War, Moshiach will tell the Jewish people that the time of the Redemption has arrived. This is not a hope, a wish, or a special opportunity, but a call to prepare to greet Moshiach!
The Rebbe has said that the time is now. The question each of us must ask ourselves is not, “When is Moshiach coming?” but rather, “Am I ready for Moshiach’s coming today!”