Written By Prof. Shimon Silman
Since we have eyes on the Geulah, “opening our eyes” to see the Geulah is of fundamental importance. We can identify three (non-mutually exclusive) possibilities where it may be necessary to open our eyes to see something:
- Hiding in Plain View. It is indeed right before our eyes, but we’re not focused on it. We don’t notice significant aspects of it, or we may be distracted by some other aspect of it.
- Paradigm Shift. We don’t know how to interpret it correctly. Based on our experience, education or training, we view it as something else. We need a new paradigm.
- Deeper Reality. We must take a deeper, more penetrating look at it, possibly on a more abstract or spiritual level.
In this article, we will attempt to analyze this in depth. We will ask some very basic questions, such as How do we look at the world? How much of the reality of the world do we actually see? And, for that matter, what is the reality of the world? We start with a story about Rabbi Levi Yitzchok Schneerson.
One time, on Rosh HaShana, Rabbi Levi Yitzchok was walking with a chosid along a river. At one point the chosid asked him, “It says in Chassidus that on Rosh HaShana the inner life of the world is elevated. How do we see this in the world? Everything looks the same.”
As they walked on a bridge over the river, Rabbi Levi Yitzchok leaned over the bridge and stared at the river for a while. Then he said, “The river is flowing in an entirely different manner!”
Did he see something spiritual, something Kabbalistic? No, that wasn’t the question. The chosid understood that there was a spiritual elevation. He was asking where we see it in the physical world. Rabbi Levi Yitzchok saw it in the physical flow of the river.
So what do we see of reality when we look at something?
What We Don’t See
It has been known to scientists for over 100 years that the reality of matter is not what we see when we look at it. Matter is made up of many billions of atoms—which we don’t see—packed tightly together. Within each atom there are also subatomic particles. But the subatomic particles are extremely small so that most of what’s inside the atom is really…empty space. (To try to grasp this, draw a circle, put a bunch of tiny dots at the center, and scatter several tiny dots throughout the rest of the circle. You can now see that most of the space inside the circle is empty.)
Now if all of matter is made up of atoms, and each atom is mostly empty space, then matter itself is mostly empty space!
The Kabbalists have known for much longer that even the scientific picture is not the true model of reality, but rather the letters of the ten statements of creation that G-d spoke during the six days of creation, as the Alter Rebbe explains in Tanya that the words and letters of the ten creative statements remain forever and maintain the existence of the universe. This, the Torah tells us, is the real existence of the physical universe. If those words and letters were withdrawn, the universe would cease to exist.
But we don’t see those creative words. “If the eye were given permission to see…the spiritual life in every created object, which comes to it from G-d’s words, the physical and material aspects of the object would not be apparent to our eyes at all.” (Sha’ar HaYichud V’Emuna, chapters 1 and 3). So the true reality of the world is not even physical!
A Fake World
We never see the true reality. In fact, the Zohar calls this world Alma D’shikra—a world of falsehood, or, as we might say—a fake world. It’s a fake world (that’s why there’s so much fake news)!
How can we live in such a world? How are we supposed to deal with it? Well, there is a “user manual” and that’s the Torah which tells us how to deal with the objects in the world and how to deal with the people in it based on the reality which we do perceive. This is the level of reality at which we are supposed to operate. Even though we are living in a false world and we don’t see the truth of it, The Torah—which is the “Torah of truth”—tells us how to deal with the world in a manner which is absolute truth. This is because Torah is also the “source code” which G-d used to create the world. The Torah is the model which G-d used to create a world, which is fake only because we don’t see the truth, and at the same time it is the user guide which G-d gave us that tells us how to deal with the world and relate to it in a manner which is in fact absolute truth—even though we don’t see that truth. He created both the world and us using the Torah in such a way that the truth be hidden, then gave us the user guide which tells us to how to act in such a way that we will actually be addressing that truth—even though we still don’t see it.
For example, we eat food to give us life. What do we know about food and about life? Just a little biology and chemistry describing what happens when we eat—and we know that we feel good. But all this is superficial. We don’t know see the true reality behind food and life, or biology and chemistry. Yet the Torah tells us to eat only kosher food and we will be good for our life; the opposite if we eat non-kosher food—and that’s absolute truth. So too, we are told to eat certain foods at certain times such as Matzah on Pesach.
From a Fake World to a Sanctuary
In the Ma’amar Bosi L’Gani which the Previous Rebbe wrote in advance for the 10th of Shevat, 5710, the day of his passing, he talks about the world being a world of falsehood—שקר—but he says that the point of it is that through Torah and Mitzvos we transform this שקר into קרש (the same Hebrew letters in a different order)—a panel for the Mishkan, the Sanctuary. We make the world a holy place.
The world was deliberately created as a world of falsehood. We are the interface between this fake world and Absolute Truth and our purpose here is to use the Torah to transform the fake world into a Mishkan—an Abode for the Almighty.
A Desireable Land
When it comes to relating to our fellow Jew, the Torah does not tell us do a psychological analysis of him and try to figure out what he’s thinking. As the Talmud says, “A man does not know what is in his friend’s heart.” But the Torah overrides all that and tells us to love our fellow Jew as ourselves, not to take revenge, not even to bear a grudge. Chassidus gives depth to these instructions. The Baal Shem Tov, explaining the verse, “You [the Jewish people] shall be for me a desirable land,” says that there is unimaginable goodness within every Jew just like there is unimaginable wealth hidden deep within the earth. This is reality.
In fact, the Rebbe MHM says that by speaking well about someone, for example by saying something in his favor (regarding something improper that he may have done), we can reveal the goodness that is actually within him even if it is so deeply hidden within him that he himself is not aware of it. This is because that goodness is really there, deep withing him, and by talking about it we can bring it out in the open. This is because that’s the way that G-d created the world—that speech should have that power. The Rebbe MHM also says that in many ways thought is even more effective than speech in accomplishing this!
In the Tanya, the Alter Rebbe elaborates on this. He explains that every Jew has a G-dly soul. If any thoughts of hate, jealousy or anger toward our fellow Jew enter our mind we are not to accept these thoughts. Rather we are to assert the authority of our mind over our emotions and do the exact opposite of what these thoughts would motivate us to do. We must act with kindness and extreme love towards him just like Joseph acted towards his brothers (Tanya, end of Ch. 12). He went to great lengths to set up a situation where they would do Teshuva for their sin. Then he took care of them and settled them in the best region of Egypt.
The Alter Rebbe further instructs us not analyze people’s actions and motivations: “This is the job of heaven and not the job of humans.” We are to have emunah—to believe in what Chazal say that all Jews are “limbs of the same body” with one heart. Any divisiveness among the limbs hurts the heart and hurts us all. This is reality. We may not be able to see it, but we can certainly act accordingly. If a bad thought regarding another Jew enters our heart, the Alter Rebbe continues, blow it away like you would blow away smoke (Tanya, Igeres HaKodesh, end of Ch. 22).
Hiding in Plain View
We have been speaking about the point that we don’t see the reality of the world. It is an Alma D’shikra, as the Zohar calls it—a world of falsehood, and only through the Torah can we relate to it in a truthful manner.
Now we consider the opposite extreme. Sometimes there are things in this world as we see it that are right before our eyes and we don’t see them—we don’t notice them. Let me give you a very simple, personal example of this that comes to mind as I write this section. When I first started using Hebrew on my keyboard, I had a lot of trouble finding the letter ע. I just couldn’t find it until I scanned the entire keyboard from the first row until I found it. Where was it? Right in the middle of the keyboard—right before my eyes! But this discovery didn’t help. Every time I needed an ע I had to search for it again. Finally, I trained myself that every time I needed an ,ע I would remind myself: “It’s right before your eyes—hiding in plain view!” (It’s interesting that it was the letter ע, the Hebrew word for which is ayin, which means “eye.”)
Frequently, things like this happen to all of us. We are looking for something and it is “right before our eyes” in the most obvious place, though not where we expected it to be.
A more subtle example of something that is right in front of our eyes, but we can’t see it until we “open our eyes” is a type of image called an autostereogram, known popularly as “magic eye.”
This is how it works: You see in the picture below what appears to be a field of flowers. (It looks better in color but it works in black & white also.) But if you “open your eyes” you will see something else…
There are a few ways to do this. Central to all of them is not to focus on the image itself. Hold it in front of your eyes and just stare blankly at it, not focusing on anything. Then stare off into the distance as if you were looking at something far away—all the while continuing to look at the image. It may help to move the image slowly away from your eyes as you continue to stare blankly at it. You’ll get the “hang of it.” If you succeed, the image will appear 3-dimensional and the image of a deer will appear standing in the middle of this field of flowers. The point is that you are seeing something that was there all along. You can only appreciate the significance of this after you have experienced it.
When we see something, an image is received by the eye and the eye sends the information on to the brain. But that’s only part of the story. It has been found that when we see something, the brain sends more information to the eye than the eye sends to the brain. So the eye is not telling the brain what it sees, the brain is telling the eye what it should see. The brain, based on the information stored in it and its past experiences, interprets the information sent to it and sends the results back to the eye telling it, “This is what you are seeing.” I personally have had experiences where I was confronted with a situation so unfamiliar to me and so contrary to my life experiences that I just didn’t see it—even though I was looking at it. My brain had no way to interpret the information that my eye was sending it, so it had nothing to send back.
Seeing the Geulah
As we mentioned earlier, the Rebbe MHM told us to open our eyes to see the Geulah in the world: “In these days—the Era of Moshiach—which we are now in, all we need to do is open our eyes and then we see that the true and complete Geulah is already here, literally.” Both examples discussed above, the keyboard and the Magic Eye, are good models for the eye opening that we have to do to see the Geulah.
Consider the Swords into Plowshares phenomenon. One aspect of it is simply the transformation of military technology to peaceful uses. To see this happening in the world we don’t even have to “open our eyes.” We simply have to look in the right places. We won’t see it in the headlines in the daily newspapers, but we will see it in scientific and technical journals and in the reports of organizations that are tracking this transformation, such as the Bonn International Center for Conversion (BICC). There is nothing subtle about it. It’s in plain view—not even hiding.
The same applies to identifying Moshiach, as the Rebbe MHM said in a sicha in 5751, “Immediately we see that Moshiach is already present among us, and everyone points with his finger and says, ‘Behold! This is Melech HaMoshiach and he has already come.’ “
The issue of global security, which is closely related to Swords into Plowshares, requires a bit more work—opening the eyes, especially in recent years, trying to figure out what’s going on with Russia and China, for example. We have to be able to see world events through the lens of Geulah. This is more subtle than the transformation of military technology. There may be aspects that ae hidden in plain view; for others, we may need a paradigm shift or even a deeper, more penetrating view of events.
The “Magic Eye” is a good model for this. The first stage in “opening our eyes” is clearing our mind. In the case of the magic eye image this involves stopping to look at it and staring into it—far off into it. In the case of opening our eyes to see that the Geulah is here, it involves reprogramming our brain so that it interprets what it sees in Geulah terms, not in Golus terms—a new paradigm, or a deeper analysis of an event.
The Rebbe MHM points out that we were raised in Golus so we are trained to look at things in Golus terms. To open our eyes—reprogram our brains—we have to learn a lot of information about the Geulah so that we can start to look at objects and events in the world in the new terms of the Geulah. We blank out our Golus vision then look at the world and analyze it using our new Geulah model. This is not easy but it’s what people have to do whenever there is a paradigm shift, a new model of reality. This is what scientists had to do when quantum mechanics was discovered, and it wasn’t easy. There was a lot of resistance to it and it took a while. Einstein himself, one of the early pioneers of the theory, strongly resisted some of its conclusions.
So, the new model is Geulah and if our minds are well trained, we can “open our eyes” and see how everything in the world is part of the Geulah. Some aspects of the Geulah are relatively easy to identify in this way; others may be more difficult. But even if we are not able to see how certain events or conditions in the world are part of the Geulah, we know that the fact of our being in the Era of Moshiach and the fact that it is possible to open our eyes and see the Geulah—all this is part of Torah which defines the reality of the world, as we explained earlier.
In my view, the aspect of the Geulah that’s easiest to see is the fulfillment of the Swords into Plowshares prophecy. The Rebbe MHM opened our eyes to it in the sicha of Mishpatim, 5752, essentially telling us what to look for.
As we have mentioned, the transformation of military technology to peaceful uses is easy to see once we know what to look for. Back in the 1990s a group of physicists from the Chinese Academy of Engineering Physics (who never even learned the sicha) published an article online titled, “The practice and Progress of Defense Conversion in China.” They concluded the article by saying, “The peaceful use of military technology represents the trend of history.” While the issue of global security requires a bit more work of opening the eyes, we can train ourselves to do that too.
Everything happening in the world now is a Messianic even in some stage of growth. When it reaches full bloom its role in the Geulah will be obvious. Until then we may have to “open our eyes” to see it. If we are not able to do this then “G-d will open the eyes of the Jewish people,” as the Rebbe MHM said on one occasion.
Defunding the Police—a Messianic Phenomenon?
As an application of these ideas, let’s try to analyze a phenomenon sweeping across the US at this time, the movement to defund—even to disband—police departments. The murder of a black man in custody of the police, by a Minneapolis police officer, triggered a series of demonstrations and riots, as well as violence, wanton destruction of property and even murder—under the auspices of radical, communist groups such as Antifa which had nothing to do with the original demonstrations against police brutality.
One of the demands floated by these people was the outrageous demand to defund police departments and even disband them. Think about it. The normal reaction would have been to demand special funding for police departments to train them in how do deal with people in their custody and for vetting candidates for police officer to be sure they are not hiring a bloodthirsty individual. In fact, reasonable politicians suggested exactly that.
But, surprisingly, the demand to defund police departments caught on. In cities all over the country, far away from Minneapolis, mayors and city councils “punished” their own police departments by reducing their funding and eliminating departmental divisions. In New York City, the mayor removed one billion dollars from the budget of the police department and cancelled the division of undercover police that patrolled the city. What do you think was the result of this? The murder rate skyrocketed! Similar things happened in other cities that reduced funding for their police departments—a drastic increase in murder and other crimes. But the mayors and city councils didn’t care and didn’t change their mind. Most of the news media didn’t criticize them either.
Can we say that this is a Messianic phenomenon? We are in the Messianic Era so it must be. Maybe it’s Swords into Plowshares—reducing the amount of money spent on the military and reallocating it for peaceful purposes. But that would be a faulty analysis. There’s a difference between a nations army and their police force. A nation can—and should—reduce its army and military spending as long as its former adversaries are doing the same thing. That is Swords into Plowshares, which is a gradual process. Police are necessary to maintain stability in a civil society, just as government itself is necessary. Without them there would be chaos and anarchy—which is what we are seeing in many American cities.
There are reports that in the suburban areas, where this anarchy has not yet reached, hundreds of armed citizen groups have formed to defend themselves and protect their own lives and property from the anarchists. It’s like the Wild West!
So we are left with a serious question: How could all this be happening in the Messianic Era? It seems that we would have to open our eyes in the most serious way to find the answer. Is there, perhaps, a Deeper Reality?
First, the Shell
There is a concept in Kabbalah and Chassidus that Klipa Kodma L’Pri—the shell precedes the fruit—which means that just like when, for example, when an almond grows on an almond tree, the first thing that appears is the shell. When the almond is fully grown, you remove the shell, throw it away, and enjoy the almond. Similarly, when a new revelation from G-d comes into the world, the first thing that appears is something very external, what we may call an “equal but opposite” aspect of it, a shell which is useless, possibly bad, which is then removed and discarded. We are then left with an entity of pure holiness, purely good.
In the Sicha of Shoftim 5751, the Rebbe MHM spoke of the Messianic prophecy of Isaiah (Chapter 1), “And I will restore your judges as at first and your advisors as in the beginning.” This refers to the time before the Golus when we had the Sanhedrin etc. But the Rebbe MHM raises a question. The original Mitzva to establish judges and a Sanhedrin is at the beginning of Parshas Shoftim. The Torah says, “Judges and police you shall set up for yourselves…” The restoration of this in Isaiah’s prophecy mentions only judges and advisors. What happened to the police?
The answer is straightforward. The prophecy is talking about the Messianic Era. At that time, we won’t need police. Everyone will want to do what’s right. So instead of police to make us do the right thing, we will only need advisors to help us carry out the instructions of the judges in the best way. That’s the way it will be.
I believe that what we are seeing now—a chaotic rejection of police—is the klipa preceding the fruit. This spirit of anarchy will fall by the wayside; it will be discarded, and we will live in a spirit of goodness and kindness when we will need only advisors to tell us how to be kind. We may still need police to direct traffic and help old ladies (and men) cross the street.
Until now, we have been talking about observing reality on various levels and relating to people and the world events accordingly. Now we are going to discuss the possibility of not just observing reality differently, but actually changing reality by looking at it differently. What we know from earlier in our discussion about how to relate to a false world whose reality we cannot see, can be summarized as follows:
- We don’t see the reality of the world. What we see is a fake world.
- The Torah is the “user guide” that tells us how to relate to this world.
- On a deeper level, the Torah is the “source code”—the model that G-d used to create this world to be as it is.
But the relationship between the Torah and the world does not end there. We find that a Torah based statement can literally change reality. The Talmud speaks of an example where the decision of the judges of the Sanhedrin can actually change the physical nature of a person. This is because it is a Torah based statement and the Torah is the source of the order of nature; a statement based in Torah will find its expression in the natural order.
There’s a story of a woman who brought a chicken with a certain physical defect to the Rogatchover Gaon to determine whether it was kosher or treifa. (It was slaughtered properly, but if an animal is found to have a defect from which it would have died had it not been slaughtered, it is a treifa—not kosher.) The Rabbis standing around all saw it and it was clear to them that it was treifa. But the Rogatchover kept looking at it and thinking and checking books on Halacha (Jewish law) until he finally said that it was kosher. The other Rabbis were astounded and didn’t know what to think.
Sometime later the woman came to the Rogatchover to ask him for a blessing for her husband who was diagnosed with a disease that the doctors said he was going to die from. The Rogatchover asked her to describe what was wrong with him. She described it—it was exactly the same defect that the chicken that she had brought him had. He said to her: You have nothing to worry about. I have already made a psak din (Halachic statement) that such a condition does not cause death. Your husband will continue to live.
Creating the Geulah
This may explain why the Rebbe MHM placed such a great emphasis on having Rabbonim issue piskei dinim (Halachic statements) to the effect that Moshiach has to come and, later, endorsed the psak din that Moshiach was already here (חזקת משיח). In fact, it was this latter psak din, the Rebbe MHM said, that caused the nations of the world to make the Swords into Plowshares declaration at the particular time that they did. The psak din, which was made around that time, triggered this.
We find something analogous to this within in the physical world itself. According to quantum mechanics an observer can determine the reality of an experiment that he is performing. This is not an issue of interpreting the results. Rather, the way he looks at it can determine, for example, if the entities he is observing will behave like particles or waves. This has been verified experimentally on the subatomic scale.
But in Chassidus we say much more than that. In the Tanya, the Alter Rebbe devotes an entire chapter to explain that everything that comes from G-d is good even if it appears to be a negative thing. If we, the observers, look at it differently, with the emunah that גם זו לטובה—that since it comes from G-d it is really good, then the reality changes and it becomes a visible, tangible good (Igeres HaKodesh, Ch. 11). This is the content of the Tzemach Tzedek’s famous statement, “Tracht Gut Vet Zein Gut” — “Think good and it will be good.” The Rebbe MHM gives this instruction frequently.
So it’s not just the Sanhedrin or Rabbonim who can do this. It’s every Jew!
There is a story about Rabbi Meir Shlomo Yanovsky, the Rebbe MHM’s grandfather (Rebbitzen Chana’s father). There was a plague of typhus in Nikolayev, where he lived. Since they had no medicine for it, they set up a quarantined area outside the city and took the infected patients out there to isolate them. They would stay there until they died. Rabbi Meir Shlomo was infected with the disease so he was put in this quarantine.
He had a friend, Reb Asher Grossman, who would come to visit him every morning. He would stand by the window outside Rabbi Meir Shlomo’s room and read Chapter 11 of Igeres HaKodesh out loud and then leave. He did this every day for 30 days. At the end of this time, Rabbi Meir Shlomo got up and went home, completely cured. He later told Reb Asher that every day after he read the chapter from Igeres HaKodesh, Rabbi Meir Shlomo felt a little better—every day better and better until finally at the end of a month he was completely well.
So every Jew has the power to create reality through the Torah. It’s all a matter of having complete emunah in what G-d says and looking at the world with that view. Knowing that the Rebbe MHM said that the time of the Geulah has arrived, that we are in the Era of Moshiach, that all aspects of the Geulah have already begun and that all we have to do is open our eyes to see the Geulah, then going out and looking at the world that way, makes the Geulah a reality in the world.
I know a chosid who was working on a certain Moshiach project in the 1990s. At every step in the project he would run into difficulties, but he had complete emunah in the words of the Rebbe MHM concerning the Geulah. So, he would say גם זו גאולה—applying the concept of גם זו לטובה to the Geulah—and everything would work out well.
At the Moshiach Seudah on the last day of Pesach 5712 (1952), the Rebbe MHM said that the Previous Rebbe would do a “Moshiach Dance” at the Moshiach Seudah. But, he continued, the term “Moshiach Dance” needs explanation. It could mean a dance to greet Moshiach or it could mean a dance with Moshiach—that Moshiach is here and we are dancing with him. So, the Rebbe MHM concluded, since it’s up to us to interpret it, we will interpret it in a way that’s good for us—that Moshiach is already here and we are dancing with him.
In the sicha of 28 Sivan, 5751 (1991) the Rebbe MHM said made a powerful statement that expresses this concept most clearly:
“The Jew becomes a “partner with G-d”…in bringing the true and complete Geulah. In order for G-d to carry it out completely, He needs (so to speak) the participation of every Jew alive as a soul in a body, for it is through our actions and our service that the Geulah comes. G-d needs the Jew to agree to this and even more—that he should want it and announce that not only has the time for the Geulah come, but that the Geulah is already here, literally.”
Let’s be that partner.