Love in Exile

In the previous chapters the Alter Rebbe explained how a Jew can perform Torah and mitzvot “with his heart” — with a love and fear of G-d. When a Jew is motivated by love and by a desire to cleave to the Almighty, his Torah and mitzvot will then surely be lishmah, i.e., with the most purely focused intentions. This, in turn, will add vitality to his endeavors. It is also possible, as explained in the previous chapter, that his love for G-d is such that he is motivated in his Torah and mitzvot by the desire to cause G-d gratification, just as a son strives to do all he possibly can for his father, so that his father may derive pleasure from his actions.

Love and fear of G-d stem from the two attributes of kindness (Chesed) and severity (Gevurah). The attribute of kindness and love is that exemplified by our forefather Abraham, who is described (Yeshayahu 41:8) as “Abraham who loves me.” The attribute of severity and fear is that of our forefather Isaac; the Patriarch Jacob refers to the G-d of his father (Bereishit 31:42) as the “Fear of Isaac.”

Today’s Tanya Lesson (Listen online)
Likutei Amarim, beginning of Chapter 45
By Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi (1745-1812)
founder of Chabad Chassidism
Elucidated by Rabbi Yosef Wineberg
Translated from Yiddish by Rabbi Levy Wineberg and Rabbi Sholom B. Wineberg
Edited by Uri Kaploun

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”John 13:34-35 (ESV)

In yesterday’s meditation I talked about this new commandment of Jesus and how we don’t seem to obey it very well. While most Christians believe that the Law has been done away with and wholly replaced by grace, that doesn’t explain why they (we) should disregard this new “Law” of Christ as if it too were “nailed to the cross.”

As far as people in the Hebrew Roots/Messianic movement (in all its varied forms and expressions) are concerned, since most of them pride themselves on their total obedience to the commandments of Torah, how can they still blatantly disobey this one new commandment of the Messiah by openly expressing displeasure and even hostility toward people in the church?

As we see in the quote from the Tanya which I posted above, as well as other similar quotes I’ve used from this source over the past week or so, most people tend to obey God for one of two reasons: love and fear.

But if we are aware of God, believe in God, understand God is real, and realize that God has the ability to enforce His edicts, why then do we continue to disobey Him, even in the commandment to love one another? The explanation is also in this commentary on the Tanya:

For the soul had to descend from its source, from the most lofty of spiritual heights, to the nethermost level, in order to garb itself in a body whose life-force derives from kelipot, and is as distant as possible from G-d. This is all the more so if the individual caused the “Exile of the Shechinah” through improper thoughts, speech or deeds.

The Rebbe notes that this word alludes to ch. 36, where the Alter Rebbe concludes that this world is “lowest in degree; there is none lower than it in terms of concealment of His light; [a world of] doubled and redoubled darkness, so much so that it is filled with kelipot and sitra achra, which actually oppose G-d.”

Since the Divine spark of the soul is clothed in a body which is animated by the kelipat nogah of this world, it is removed at the farthest possible distance from G-d.

It gets worse.

The body is referred to as a skin, since it serves as a garment to the soul, as the verse states (Iyov 10:11), “You have garbed me with skin and flesh.” This is moreover the skin of a “snake”, since the body in its unrefined state is loathesome, as explained in ch. 31.3 The Divine spark must enter into such a body…

Welcome to exile in the farthest part of the universe away from God, clothed in a body of “snake skin.” Sounds repulsive, doesn’t it? However it explains a good many things, including the current and historical state of humanity, all of the crime, all of the wars, all of the day-to-day cruelty people engage in against each other. Just watch a local or national news broadcast on TV for half an hour and you’ll see what I mean.

It also explains, sadly enough, why we who claim the name of Christ continue to fail in obeying even one, simple commandment to love those who all belong to the same flock and who hear the voice of the same shepherd.

Oh sure, we may love most (or some) of the people in the congregation where we worship, but is that really obeying the commandment to love each other?

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?” –Matthew 5:43-47 (ESV)

Oops. Guess that doesn’t work.

So how do we manage to love at all?

A Jew’s sin causes his soul to be exiled within the domain of the kelipot. This in turn (so to speak) exiles the Shechinah, the source of his soul, too. Pondering this matter will awaken within a Jew a profound feeling of compassion for his soul and for its source. This compassion, as the Alter Rebbe will now point out, should be utilized in one’s study of Torah and performance of mitzvot. This will elevate his soul, enabling it to reunite with its source, the blessed Ein Sof.

Even when Jews are (heaven forfend) in an unclean spiritual state, the Divine Name dwells among them. This arousal of compassion towards the Divine Name is what is alluded to in the previous phrase: “And let him return to G-d,” the stimulus for his repentance being one’s “mercy upon Him,” i.e., the Divine Name, the source of Jewish souls, inasmuch as Jews are part of the Divine Name.

If we try to apply this to the larger body of disciples in the Master, the lesson seems to be telling us that we can learn to love each other by feeling compassion for a “suffering God” who is in exile with us and within us. He is in exile with us in our “snake skin bodies” because we were all created in His image and the Divine spark dwells in each of us. But that includes every human being who has ever lived, including atheists and those of other religious traditions.

But what about we Christians having compassion for the suffering Messiah? He was tortured and killed for our sake because God had compassion on us and refused to let us live out lives without hope. If, upon becoming disciples of the Master, the Spirit of God entered into us, whispered words of love and faith to us, and empowered us to surrender our sin to oblivion and surrender our souls to our Creator, can we not muster up enough of the compassion God has for humanity and express it to each other as “kindred spirits?”

Christian, Hebrew Roots person, Messianic, or whatever you call yourself. You who say you are saved by grace. You who say you flawlessly obey the Torah. You who exalt yourself in whatever manner you choose as attached to God in His Heaven. Do you love, not just the believer who is exactly like you, but those who also have a sincere devotion to the Master and who may look and act nothing like you? If not, what value is your so-called salvation? What light is shining out of the windows to your soul?

Our souls are windows for the world to receive light, pours through which it breathes, channels to its supernal source. There is no function more vital to our universe, nothing more essential to its fulfillment, since for this it was formed.

When we do good, speak words of kindness and teach wisdom, those windows open wide. When we fail, they cloud over and shut tight.

It is such a shame, this loss of light, this lost breath of fresh air. A stain can be washed away, but a moment of life, how can it be returned?

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Keep the Windows Open”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson



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