Levi Liberow, Beis Moshiach
I was not even a toddler when the Rebbe sent us Chassidim into a shock wave of activity promoting the imminent arrival of Moshiach back in 5751, so I cannot speak of how the Rebbe’s words were received then, but to be honest, I don’t think it’s so relevant.
What’s more relevant is how they will be received now, and I allow myself the liberty to experience “nun-aleph nun-beis” from a non-historical perspective, from learning the sichos and trying to understand what I need to do to tune myself – and the world around me – into the Rebbe’s reality.
Week after week, in the weekday sichos and Shabbos farbrengens, the Rebbe gives us a glimpse into this reality and makes it clear that it’s not about what’s going to happen – rather it’s about what’s happening now.
We’ve been in this situation for almost three decades, and – if I may say so – I feel that in many ways we are still looking at the Rebbe’s Besuras HaGeula and promoting it as a promise for a future, when it’s really an unfolding of a present reality.
I’ve been looking out for someone out there who is prepared to “challenge the system,” and that’s why I sat down (virtually) with Rabbi Adam Stein, Shliach of the Rebbe at the campus of Stony Brook University, for a candid discussion on his revolutionary program “Living in the Moment.”
I’m holding in my hand a 68-page letter-size pamphlet, which reads as follows on its title-page: “Living in the Moment – Six steps to being a p’mimi, living b’etzem, and revealing the Yechida.”
The title page continues to promise “Live a life devoid of stress, worry and anxiety,” and in small Hebrew letters right under it “translates” that phrase to contemporary Chassidic lingo: “The service of the war of refining the world in a manner of rest and calmness.”
I’ll admit that I came across this kuntres a while back, but dismissed it as another one of many booklets that come out every week and didn’t even bother to open it up. However, about two years ago when Chabad.org launched an all-new course called “Stress-Less: The Jewish Way to Living in the Moment” and I heard that it’s a useful tool to “Living with Moshiach,” I started looking into it and now I finally took the time to hear about the program, its origins and its intended goals from the mastermind himself.
A Chosen Neshama
Let’s begin with some back-story: Who is Rabbi Adam Stein? Where do you come from, what brought you to the Rebbe, and how did you find yourself behind this program?
“I’m a product of Chabad on Campus. I was a student at the University of Massachusetts at Amhurst. The Shliach there, Rabbi Chaim Adelman, would wander around campus and invite people for Shabbos. He kept inviting me many times over the course of two years, but I never went. After spending a semester in Israel as a student at the University of Tel Aviv, I came back, accepted the Shabbos invitation and it just clicked.
“I felt something special about Shabbos and about the farbrengens, and I began going every week. Eventually, I got myself tefillin, went to yeshiva in Israel and became frum.”
When I ask Rabbi Stein what year this was, he says “this was in 1991,” adding with a smile: “I’m a nun-aleph nun-beis Yid…”
“I hopped around from one yeshiva to another, finally finding my place at Yeshiva Ohr Sameach in Yerushalayim. To make up for the Chassidus, I joined a ba’al teshuva yeshiva in Har Nof run by Rabbi Baruch Kaplan for a while, and later continued studying Chassidus at Yeshivas Toras Emes with Rabbi Zalman Notik, may Hashem send him a refuah shleima.”
“Coming from a Chabad House on Campus, I always wanted to learn in a Chabad yeshiva. And although I ended up learning in Ohr Sameach, I never lost that desire. The nigleh in Ohr Someach was great, but I really wanted Chassidus and a Chassidishe atmosphere.
“I remember once, at a farbrengen, I really took to heart that fact that the Rebbe Rashab picked all the neshamos who would go to Tomchei Tmimim and I said to myself, ‘I want to be such a neshama!’
“And so, I vowed that ultimately I would transfer to a regular Tomchei Tmimim. And after 3 years, I switched to Tomchei Tmimim in Kfar Chabad and entered shiur gimmel, learning nigleh with Reb Meir Gruzman and Chassidus with Reb Zalman Gopin.”
“After some time, I moved on to learn in 770. After getting married and spending some time in Kollel, my wife and I were brought out by Rabbi Chaim Grossbaum to service the Jewish student population at Stony Brook University where we are until now. “
When did you begin your involvement in nun-aleph nun-beis sichos and with the whole Moshiach issue?
“Coming from Ohr Sameach, I saw Lubavitch and wanted to get closer to Chabad and be a Chabadnik because I loved Chabad and I loved Chassidus, but seeing the whole controversy going on in Lubavitch about Moshiach and the Rebbe and Yechi in 1992-1993 put me off somewhat. To me — looking from afar — something about it just didn’t sit well with me.
“When I eventually did end up coming to Kfar Chabad a few years later, I kept hearing people arguing this way and that way, so I said to myself, “You know something? It’s all coming from the Rebbe’s sichos, specifically from the years of 1991 and 1992, what we call ‘nun-aleph nun-beis.’
“So, when I got to 770, I set up a chavrusa and we learned through all the sichos of nun-aleph nun-beis.
“As I went through all the sichos b’iyun, (in depth) not just l’girsa – it took us three-four hours a sicha! – I discovered that the Rebbe is not only telling us that Moshiach is soon to come so we need to be ready, but he’s also giving us some kind of hadracha (direction and mentoring) in the avoda of how to bring Moshiach.
“I saw how in each sicha, within the context and framework of that particular Parsha, the Rebbe was telling us how to do it, how to bring Moshiach.”
It’s interesting how you’re describing it. When I was in yeshiva, there was talk of nun-aleph nun-beis being a sort of hemshech – like a long maamar in installments, and that chapter by chapter, the Rebbe is uncovering a new dimension of the same topic…
“Yes. But you were in yeshiva much later than I was. When I was doing this, in 1997-1998, it was still new to “revisit” the sichos of those years. People heard them and learned them as they were said, and were only beginning to do chazara on these special sichos. And as I studied them, I discovered – using that terminology – that there is indeed a hemshech here, some kind of underlying theme describing the avoda we must do.”
“So, I began asking various mashpi’im what this avoda is that the Rebbe is describing. What is the Rebbe’s ‘shita,’ as it were, in the avoda of bringing Moshiach?
“At the time, I was only getting answers within the framework of the sicha of that week as if each sicha was a unit to itself disconnected from all the others, and I couldn’t really figure out something clear – a single theme.
“In the meantime, I went on shlichus, and I had to make a chavrusa with myself and I began once again learning the sichos, and this time I was taking notes. I was trying to figure out what that hemshech of avoda was. Or in other words, what was the Rebbe “approach” that brings all the parts of nun-aleph nun-beis together as one avoda.
“As I said, I was working on this by taking notes and I began matching up sichos together based on the subject-matter (versus the Parsha and the time of year it was said in). I gave shiurim in English on them to the students on campus, ‘practicing’ some of the understandings I was coming to, and I finally realized that it all stems from one sicha: Parshas Pinchas 5751.”
What is the sicha of Parshas Pinchas 5751? Why is it so fundamental?
“In this sicha, the Rebbe teaches how a person, already now “on the threshold of Geula” before it has actually begun, can place himself in a feeling of Geula by focusing just on that moment’s action: namely, that whatever thought, speech, or action you are doing at that moment, do it b’shleimus, do it to completion as if it was a goal in and of itself.
“Looking at that sicha and at the extensive footnotes in which the Rebbe refers to other explanations in Chassidus, this sicha becomes the central point of an all-encompassing avoda described in all the sichos of nun-aleph nun-beis on how to live Moshiach: it all comes about by ‘living in the moment.’
“In that sicha, when the Rebbe first introduces the idea of being a “p’nimi,” – being totally invested in what you’re doing – the Rebbe has a footnote, number 42, in which, among other sources, the Rebbe refers to the sicha of Chof Shevat 5730, a sicha which gives this whole concept a very practical side (see sidebar).”
What’s so special about footnote 42?
“To me, the sicha referenced there brings out the ultimate ‘living in the moment!’ says Rabbi Stein. “The hatzlacha b’zman aspect is a side-note, it’s a fringe benefit of a deep concentration to the point where only what you’re doing now exists.
“It is the absence of any worry and confusion, just like the Frierdiker Rebbe had. It’s the way the Rebbe tells these Israeli Chassidim that were worried about missing their flight that they should focus only on the farbrengen as if the plane doesn’t exist, nor does Kennedy Airport exist and no tickets exist, because that’s the truth! They have not been created yet! Hashem is only creating this moment and it’s the only moment that exists, nothing else!
“When I learned this, I realized that the whole focus of being a p’nimi, of living in the moment and essentially living Moshiach, is tied in to realizing how Hashem is creating the world yesh me’ayin every second, and that only this second exists.
“So, my next mission was to figure out and clarify the ‘Chassidus’ and the logic behind the concept of his’havus yesh me’ayin – constant creation out of nothing, which is rooted in Atzmus – the essence of Hashem Himself – Who is the sole being that can create something out of nothing.
“This brings us back full circle, as recognition of this reality of the Essence of Hashem is exactly what Moshiach is – when ‘all flesh will see that it is the mouth of Hashem which spoke’ and brought the world into existence!”
A Jewish Alternative to Mindfulness
As Rabbi Stein was making these discoveries, he shared them with the students on campus – in English – in a series of shiurim which summarized concisely all these ideas and philosophies behind being a p’nimi and living Moshiach.
“The main appeal to the students was the idea of being a p’nimi, which, as the Rebbe said in the Chof Shevat sicha, is being free of worries.”
Worries come from thinking about what will happen in the future. Someone totally immersed in the present lives worry and stress free. This eventually became a course which included “Six steps towards living in the moment,” and promised its students that through it, they’ll be “Living without worry, stress or anxiety.”
The six steps were really six different sichos with their footnotes that brought a person – through hisbonenus in the his’havus yesh me’ayin – towards doing mitzvos and various aspects of avoda.
How did you then expand?
“I was teaching this six-week course to groups of about 15 Chabad House kids at a time. They all loved it, but then we would go back to the regular stuff – Tanya, Parsha and so on.
“But I wanted to keep this going and teach it further so I put up posters all over campus to advertise this course and among the people that came were also non-Jews. These students were well versed in other spiritual meditative traditions that also – l’havdil – focus on living free of stress and anxiety by living in the moment.
“After hearing my courses, some of these students came to me and said this is kind of like mindfulness, which I had never heard of before. They told me that this is the most popular thing in the country. I googled it and was like – ‘Wow, interesting!’”
The “Meat and Potatoes” of Chassidus
What is mindfulness?
“Mindfulness is a way of life where a person detaches from his past and future to achieve peace of mind. Although originally it had roots in Buddhism, mindfulness itself as its commonly practiced isn’t Avoda Zara. it’s either thinking about bodily sensations or chirping birds, or just plain breathing techniques – it’s ‘parve.’”
What is the problem with it?
“That it’s devoid of Elokus – it’s thinking about nothing.
“I would also add that although Mindfulness seems like it is parve, and just a bunch of breathing techniques, nevertheless, it is based on a deep spiritual philosophy that is not Judaism. As such, those who get involved in Mindfulness generally tend to delve deeper in Mindfulness philosophies and then they start to adhere to spiritual principles that actually take them far from Elokus. “
So, when the Rebbe spoke about developing “kosher meditation” (in the late 70s, early 80s) it is not to replace this kind of thing?
“No. The Rebbe was talking about TM – Transcendental Meditation, which comes from Hinduism and is pure Avoda Zara. This is isn’t the same at all.
“Outwardly, mindfulness looks very similar to this idea of living in the moment which comes from the Rebbe’s sichos and maamarim, but my program never intended to be a ‘Jewish’ or ‘Kosher’ mindfulness, it is the meat and potatoes of Chassidus!
“All I did was translate it into English and title it ‘Living in the Moment’ and then – boom! It got out and somehow it picked up the title of a ‘Jewish alternative to mindfulness,’ which we now use to market it to broader audiences, but it really isn’t an alternative, its genuine and original – its Chassidus! It’s the avoda of Chassidus to believe and have Emuna that Hashem is creating the world every moment, and that life is good because it’s a creation of Hashem.
Time to Get “Technical” About Living Moshiach
Let’s return to the philosophy of Living in the Moment: If I’m understanding you correctly, the Geula, which is a revelation of what we would usually call Achdus Hashem (the absolute unity of Hashem where nothing else exists independent of Him) already exists and always existed and by us tapping into this reality through being a p’nimi, we are bringing it into the reality of the world?
“I wouldn’t want to be quoted that way, because that’s very cliché – it’s what everyone knows as ‘opening your eyes, the Geula is here,’ which is true, but I’m trying to be very technical about it.”
What do you mean?
“You added in your statement the words ‘by being a p’nimi,’ and that’s where I’m getting technical – in breaking down the mechanics of how to become a p’nimi.”
Isn’t that “opening our eyes”?
“Yes. But the message must be a lot more detailed, otherwise it remains empty of practical meaning. You must add how to open your eyes, and that is that once a person will become aware that Hashem is creating the world yesh me’ayin, and he becomes aware that nothing else exists in the world except for this moment, that will give him the power to realize that there is nothing he should be doing except what he’s doing now, and that way he’ll do what he’s doing b’shleimus – in a perfect way. That’s the p’nimi of Parshas Pinchas 5751.”
So where is the “new” avoda of bringing Moshiach? If the bottom line is to to do what I should be doing now – to be a Jew that follows Shluchan Aruch completely – that is a concept that always existed! What’s the novelty?
“The chiddush is to do every mitzva that’s in the Shulchan Aruch like a p’nimi!”
So let me paraphrase you: the chiddush is not in the “what” you’re doing, but in the “how” you’re doing it. The Rebbe didn’t come to tell us that “I want you to do something different” the Rebbe is saying “I want you to do something better?”
“Right, but ‘better’ in a qualitative form, not quantitative (only). The quality of the avoda you’re doing should be raised to doing it in the way p’nimi would do it.”
“To be focused on what you’re doing as if nothing else exists: there is no EL-AL plane, no tickets, no Kennedy Airport, no trip to Moscow, no KGB agents trailing you – nothing! Nothing other than what Hashem wants you to be doing now, and that’s only possible through being aware of Hashem creating the world yesh me’ayin every moment, so there really is nothing else going on now except for that second and its mission, not just ‘as if’ nothing else exists.
“This, by the way, is what makes this very different from mindfulness, which in a sense is causing you to ‘run away’ from the past and the future which very much exist. Here, this hisbonenus is causing, in that you realize there never was a problem in the first place – the past and future to run away from you…”
My fascinating conversation with Rabbi Stein continued for longer but for now we will take a break and continue next week, not before we hear this:
“By the time this interview will be read, I will have launched a new online class which is much easier to follow than the ones I usually have and is even easier than the Chabad.org one. It’s called ‘7 Day Stress-Less’ and it can be accessed at 7DayStressLess.com. It’s an easy-to-do course, not requiring a lot of effort and much more concise. You can do it all in just seven days and feel a noticeable difference.
“And its free!”
Also, the full kuntres will be available for free download, at RedefineTime.com/kuntres.
To be Continued
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