Living in the ‘Perfect’ Moment. Living with the Messiah.

Yechiel Belfer, Victoria, Australia
Essays 2019 / Moshiach and Geulah

Living with the Messiah. A popular catchphrase amongst Chassidic circles quoting the Lubavitcher Rebbe. But what principles, standards or morals is this message supposed to impart? Are we yet deserving of the Messianic promised times? If not, how are we expected to, or capable of, acting as if we are? Or perhaps this phrase is not an instruction but rather a high-level mission statement only intended to inspire?

I have attempted to explore a concept contained within a discourse presented by the Rebbe[1] to mark the conclusion of the shloshim[2] following the passing of his wife, the Rebetzin.  In his response to a prophecy that promises the eradication of death from this world, I found valuable advice on how living in your ‘perfect’ moment can help even those of us not ‘perfectly’ righteous, to experience the ideal of Living with the Messiah.

But is it for me?

So often when learning Chassidic teachings or even other introspective self-help guides, we are presented with an unrealistic moral compass directing us to overly idealistic or aspirational goals that leaves the reader feeling uninspired and without the guidance they were seeking.

Perhaps the intended reaction the author was hoping to evoke was that the ideals presented were those to strive for, and that falling short is an expected, but realistic, outcome. ‘Shoot for the moon and if you miss you will still be among the stars’, as expressed by motivational author Norman Peale who also penned the ‘Power of Positive Thinking’.  With this outlook even unattainable heights can provide inspiration and a focal point to steer towards, where at least some improvements in one’s life or labours are achieved.

However, as often as not, the reaction to being presented with a goal that is well out of someone’s frame of reference will be closer to, ‘that’s great in theory, but clearly not applicable for my daily struggles or life’ or worse, ‘these teachings are clearly not even close to representing my reality’, and giving up on reading chapter two let alone opening another book with a similar title.

Even for those beneath an intermediary

So whenever a paragraph of Chassidic teachings begins with a description of a service that is ‘for every member of the Jewish people’ and then specifies that ‘it is within the reach of even those who are beneath the rung of an intermediary[3]’, I try that bit harder to pay attention. I try to see if maybe this time I can apply the scholarly teachings to my mundane daily life. Especially when that topic is one that seems as remote as ‘living with the Messiah’, a phrase I grew up hearing as a rallying cry or call to action, without quite knowing what it could actually mean to me, probably only dreaming when he will finally come.

No more Tears

For me, the context of this particular imperative arose within the broader theme of a discourse explaining the prophecy that, in Messianic times, ‘Death will be swallowed up forever, Hashem will wipe away tears from all faces’. The Rebbe explains, quoting his great-uncle the Rebbe Maharash[4], that this prophecy is based on spirituality and impurity equating to and representing death (spiritual and physical). It follows that once spiritual impurity departs from this world with the coming of the Messiah, that both spiritual and physical aspects of death will cease. The theory continues that this will be brought about by the abundance of light which was also present, but to a lesser degree, in the times of the Temple.

In keeping with the parable of light, it is explained that through the additional revelation of light during these times, it became more scarce for external or evil forces (represented by darkness) to remain, even in the corners or shadows. Imagine a white laboratory or dental clinic. Once additional powerful lights are switched on, it becomes difficult to identify the shadowy corners or outline of the room, so that every remnant of darkness (or impurities) are no longer seen.

How were these lights switched on?

This lesser light during Temple times was achieved by ‘turning away from evil’, which the Rebbe notes is the work of the ‘imperfect’ righteous and is brought about by the rejection of evil. The higher level of light that will be present in Messianic times can only be realised by complete contempt for evil, which can only be achieved by the ‘perfectly’ righteous.

At this stage the reader could not be blamed for thinking that these achievements represent some lofty aspirations, which have been earmarked for the righteous (those ‘perfect’, or close to it) and even then, either during monumental periods of our history or in the prophetic future.

We need You!

No such easy escape, states the Rebbe. This prophecy eradicating death will clearly apply to us all (that and taxes!). Therefore, because all future revelations (including what this prophecy envisions) are solely dependent on actions and labours during present times (states the Rebbe quite matter-of-factly[5]) this activity to remove evil and impurities through the increase of light and absolute rejection and contempt of evil cannot be left to the righteous alone, but to all those who stand to benefit (you and me included).

In fact the Rebbe himself acknowledges that there is a shortage of righteous or even intermediary people (let alone the ‘perfect’ righteous who seem best suited to this task) to carry out this assignment.

Okay. He has my attention. These are instructions directly aimed at the ‘ordinary person’. A task designed not only to aspire to, but for me to practically achieve. My very future is dependent on it! But surely this need does not change my ability to carry it out.  And certainly the bar to achieve this vision hasn’t been lowered. Can we all truly ‘despise’ evil in order to banish it from this earth? And to do so to the extent of those ‘perfectly’ righteous? Is it even possible, now in the present, and not in some futuristic dream or far-off reality?

How could this be addressed? I pressed on.

Focus on love

First task, to focus on the other side of the equation, the love. Where there is ultimate love for good and all that is life and g-dly, there must be ultimate contempt and rejection of its opposite, evil and death. They are mutually exclusive concepts. One is the complete opposite of the other and are therefore directly disproportionate to the other.

Even though I appreciate the more positive perspective and would prefer to be working towards perfecting my love for G-d than contemplate achieving ultimate abhorrence for evil, these ideals still seem beyond the grasp of those like me who are ‘beneath the rung of an intermediary person’.

So the Rebbe continued, and it was the following concept that made me believe it may just be possible.

Your ‘perfect’ moment

Each individual has their particular ‘perfect’ moment in time. And they know it. It could be in prayer or it could be during times of learning (at this stage I was becoming somewhat sceptical and that it was perhaps still beyond my reach). Or, it could be during the observance of a mitzvah that is special to him or her, or even doing something that is simply permissible but doing so for the sake of G-d. And it is carried out to the extent that the particular activity you are fully immersed in knows no distraction. In that particular moment, with that fixated mindset, you become perfectly righteous – even if only in respect of that particular activity. Your absorption and single-mindedness on that particular activity unchains any disconnection to any opposition or distraction. More than that. You abhor the very thought that something could counter what you are trying to accomplish.

I paused. This was a concept to which I could potentially relate. Over time, even as a child there may have been particular tasks, good deeds or even permissible tasks that I perceived I was doing without any agenda. Perhaps without even a justifiable or logical basis. And I was fastidious in carrying them out. To the extent that at some stage in the course of the activity or planning for it I would have been so engrossed I could not even contemplate why others could not see it as I could. Wasn’t the good I was trying to carry out obvious and plain to see? Was another perspective even possible? Why am I the only one that sees it as I do?

I recall my father meticulously calculating the precise minute of sunrise, to the early hours of the morning, so that perhaps he could be the first that year (given that we lived in Australia) to shake the lulav and esrog, purchased for an exorbitant amount, surely even by his standards.   Was this a meshugas or his ‘perfect’ moment?  When I was younger, or perhaps even today my children (albeit very occasionally) would take it upon themselves to clean their room or part of the house – and perhaps one of them, for no apparent reason, would become overcome with their enthusiasm that they would want every book placed in the right direction and for every surface to shine. And that individual would become so frustrated or not even understand that the others would not join in his or her single-minded enthusiasm to achieve their goal (even though the day before they refused to clean up themselves).  We see bochurim march, sometimes in pouring rain and covering great distances to go mivtzyim to speak to just one more Jew. Are any of these tasks logical or even justifiable? Surely they are good deeds, but to carry them out to this degree? However, when in that particular frame of mind, at that particular time, to those deeply involved, of course they are. How could it even be otherwise?

Your moment with G-d

And to experience this moment, the Rebbe continues, is to experience true unification with G-d. Because at that momentary point in time, where there can be no distraction but only contempt for anything that stands between you achieving your goal, you have attained the level of the ‘perfectly’ righteous.  It is through these moments that we create the necessary light to bring about the prophecy to remove all impurities and ultimately, as the prophecy promises, death from this world.

Cleary, the Rebbe explains, this experience represents the best expression of our relationship with G-d. And because G-d isn’t restricted to tangible time and space, the influence of these singular moments from our perspective can impact and shape our lives (and the very landscape of  Messianic times) in a very real and long-lasting manner.

Where to from here?

Retracing my steps cautiously, I considered what I had almost begun to accept. I allowed myself to reflect on other such ‘moments’ in non-spiritual realms that I had experienced (or witnessed in others) where my focus on a particular activity or goal was so determined and unyielding that I could not be shaken.  Even in retrospect I look back and question the underlying motive that must have driven my resolve.   Were these expressions of a similar fashion? Could they be replicated at will?

My sobering sense of reality soon dragged me back to earth. Although I accept the notion that such moments do exist, they are few and far between. Often isolated or lost in memory to the passage of passing years or to more innocent, youthful times. They are fleeting and hard to grasp – and often hard to relate to once the moment slips by. Was this just another ideal that was again out of my reach?

A glimpse at future times

But I wasn’t willing to let go just yet. Perhaps what is being implied is that these ‘perfect’ moments are a glimpse into Messianic times when all our thoughts and actions will be so unified with G-d that no distraction or obstacle to that ultimate relationship can even exist. And supposedly this experience is within our grasp today. This was something I had already experienced, if only fleetingly, myself. Not always in spiritual matters, but still with the same singular sense of purpose.

Perhaps taking advantage of and creating such moments, rather than waiting for them to arise on their own (if at all) is behind the imperative to ‘live with the Messiah’. Reflecting on the specific task set out by the Rebbe in this discourse (to be deserving of eradicating death in Messianic times) I also sensed a broader directive and guidance on how to live our lives. To be deserving of Messianic times, we had to already live in that manner, today. We had to find a way to live in those ‘perfect’ moments.

Our task therefore, must be to develop a better recognition of those moments, to sense them at the times they occur, and to commit them to memory to relate to and relive through at future times.  We need to reflect on the circumstances that brought those moments about, recall the feelings experienced when they occurred and to somehow learn to recreate them.

And we know we can because we all have, in some manner, experienced it before.

And what comes of these fleeting ‘perfect’ moments, from living with the Messiah?… ‘Death will be swallowed up forever and Hashem will wipe away tears from all faces’.

[1] Entitled ‘Bilah Hamaves Lanetzach’ recited on Tuesday Menachem Av 5, 5725 and published  21 Adar, 5748 (1988)

[2] Literally, ‘thirty’, being 30 days following her passing.

[3] An intermediary, or ‘beinoni’, described in the Tanya (in brief) as a person who still struggles to overcome his inner desires and evil inclination, but always emerging as victor of that battle. It is considered a lofty ideal for ordinary persons to strive towards even if not always realistic to achieve.  

[4] (His great, great grandfather’s brother) Sefer HaMaamarim 5628.

[5] Quoting the Tanya, Chapter 37.