Thursday, September 18, 2014

The Core Meaning of Geula

The mekubal and cheesemaker known as the Chalban (The Milkman)

Last night, I participated in a mind-blowing shiur given by Shimon Apisdorf in which he presented nothing less than the core meaning of galut and geula, as taught in the writings of the mekubel known as the Chalban (The Milkman). The Chalban is alive today and teaches in a kollel for kabbalists in Giyatayim. When he's not making cheese.

The shiur was over 2 hours long. It might take a bit of hubris on my part, but I'm going to attempt to summarize the essential message of the evening. It is this:

The process of galut (exile) parallels the process of death and the process of geula is its reversal.

Let's start with the process of death and how it parallels the exile of the Jewish people.

DEATH/GALUT STAGE 1: In the body, the first stage of death is when the neshama (the soul) leaves the guf (the body). In the first stage of galut, the Beit HaMikdash is destroyed, removing the neshama (the Shechinah) from the corpus of the Jewish people.

DEATH/GALUT STAGE 2: After physical death, burial follows. The parallel of burial for the Jewish people is physically being exiled, being sent away from the Land of Israel.

DEATH/GALUT STAGE 3: After burial, worms begin to destroy the flesh. This is a process of deterioration that all are powerless to stop. As contrasted with being masters over our own Land and having our own army to defend us, the parallel is the feeling of powerlessness that Jewish people experience in exile, under foreign dominion.

DEATH/GALUT STAGE 4: After the flesh of a corpse is gone, what remains is dry, unconnected bones that don't even recognize that they are part of something larger. This is the natural consequence of exile. We become focused on ourselves and we lose touch with the fact that we are part of something much larger and grander. We see only ourselves as individual ovdei Hashem.

The Jewish people have spent so many centuries thinking of ourselves as separate dry bones, that we've built walls around ourselves and our camps. These walls reinforce the perception that we have to defend ourselves from Jews who are different from us.

I want to stop and reflect on this point for a moment and say that, shortly after I made aliyah, I became aware, in a whole new way, of the significance of my place as part of the Jewish people. Yes, in America, I spoke of Klal Yisrael. But in Israel, I truly felt it.

Geula reverse the process of death and exile. So first we have to restore the body and then it is time to reconnect the body to the soul.

GEULA STAGE 1: The first stage of geula, of redemption, the first stage of reversing the exile, includes two processes that happen simultaneously.

The first process was rebuilding the tashtit - the infrastructure. As Mark Twain wrote in 1867, "Palestine is desolate and unlovely." Israel was a barren and uninviting land for close to 2,000 years while the Jewish people were in exile. Swamps had to be cleared. Roads had to be paved. Buildings had to be erected. Utilities had to be set up. Armies had to be established. The body of Israel needed to be rebuilt. Today, anyone can plainly see that the bones and the sinews have been knit back together.

The parallel process to rebuilding the infrastructure in the first stage of geula is kibbutz galuyot, the ingathering of the exiles. This is the returning of the body to the Land. The Jewish people have come home. Literally.

According to the Chalban, the Jewish people have, collectively, completed the first stage of geula. Will more roads be paved? Will new buildings be constructed? Will more Jews make aliyah? Yes, yes and yes, please God. But the goals of the first stage of geula have been sufficiently achieved. We are ready to move into the second stage.

GEULA STAGE 2: Returning the neshama to the guf. In this stage, the belief that Jews are separate from one another is replaced with an awareness that Knesset Yisrael, Am Yisrael, Klal Yisrael, the Jewish people, are all one. Geula is a waking up from the deep slumber of galut. The core issue in this stage of geula is achdut, unity, is seeing all Jews as part of the same global mishpacha.



The same idea, presented in a more Jewish context, can be found in these words from Rachelle Fraenkel, mother of Naftali Fraenkel, one of the three Israeli boys who were murdered in cold blood this past summer and one of the three mothers that Shimon Apisdorf called "today's Gedolei HaDor".



Practically speaking, in these last days before Rosh Hashana, we can (we must!) turn our attention to connecting with other Jews on a human level. Because we are all family. The Beit HaMikdash is our family home. And Israel is our home town.

The more we connect with Jews who are different from us, the more we help heal the world. And the closer we are to concluding the process of geula.

Now, who you gonna call and invite out for coffee today?