Peace Now? Mashiach Now? Tempered alacrity 

Why the Rebbe sent shlichim all over the world.

Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburgh, | updated: 09:59

Judaism Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburgh
Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburgh
צילום: Gal Einai

“He (Hillel the Elder) would say: If I am not for me, who is for me? And if I am for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?

The problem with “I” is the problem of egocentricity. It is the practically universal feeling that I am the center of the world, everything revolves around my interests and everybody has to keep me happy. This is certainly a childish, unrectified mentality. If a person can nullify his egocentricity and emerge from his childish self-consciousness to a rectified state of objectively viewing his talents and strong points as gifts from G-d, his hyperactive self-consciousness will transform into consciousness of the whole. His focus will be on how to benefit others instead of on how to benefit himself. This is a beautiful way to understand the first part of Hillel’s saying: If I am not for me, who is for me? If my egocentric “I” is not for me, “who”, the other, is for me. My thoughts and actions are for the whole.

And if I am for myself, what am I? Being overly conscious of myself is negative, but minimal self-consciousness in order to nullify my ego and reveal my G-dly essence is positive. If a person does so, he reaches a state of rectification of his personal holiness – a state of equilibrium born of humility: He does not concern himself with how others treat him or if things are going his way. All is from G-d and all is good. This state of nullification, of humble equilibrium, is the state of consciousness of Moses, who said, “What (mah) are we?”

And if not now, when? The Hebrew word used by Hillel for ‘when’ is aimatai. When the Ba’al Shem Tov met the Mashiach, he asked him, “When, aimatai, are you coming?”  How can we arrive at the Messianic aimatai? When will Mashiach come? Not now. We must nullify our sometimes-unquenchable urge for everything to happen now. Often, people are completely impulsive. This is an impatient, unrectified state, a lack of personal holiness. If we want to reach the true aimatai, the place from which we will bring the Mashiach, we must break the bonds of impulsiveness and nullify the urge to achieve our desires and wishes right now.

In Hebrew, the group Peace Now calls itself Shalom AchshavAchshav, ‘now’, is an anagram for k’eisav, like Esau. Esau is the most impulsive person in the Torah. Peace Now is an impulsive peace. Let’s give up our Land for peace. We need peace now. Let’s give them everything. It makes no difference what will happen later. We want peace now.

We must nullify this impulsiveness in our souls. Where do we learn this in the Bible? Isaiah says, “He who believes will not hurry”. A person who really believes in something is not in a rush.

But what about the iconic Chabad saying, “Mashiach Now”? This is a paradox. On one hand, we want Mashiach now. On the other hand, “He who believes will not hurry”. How can these two essential approaches be resolved?

The Ba’al Shem Tov taught that we must strive for a state of tempered-alacrity. To advance at the highest possible speed, while retaining our mindfulness and patience. We must beware of errors and of ignoring the facts on the ground, so that the goal reached with our alacrity will be eternal.

Interestingly, it was the first Lubavitcher Rebbe, the Alter Rebbe, who disagreed with other tzaddikim of his generation over the issue of Mashiach Now. The Seer of Lublin, the Maggid of Kotznitz and the Ropschitzer Rebbe all favored Napoleon in his war against Russia. They associated his victory with the coming of Mashiach and did what they could to help him triumph. The Alter Rebbe, on the other hand, thought that Napoleon would be detrimental to the goal of bringing Mashiach in the long run. As a result, he supported the Czar of Russia. “He who believes will not hurry”.

Now, seven generations later, we really do want Mashiach now. But the Ba’al Shem Tov’s saying still holds true. Tempered alacrity is the way to proceed. The prime example of tempered alacrity in our times is the Lubavitcher Rebbe. He worked tirelessly for “Mashiach Now”. On the other hand, he did not send all of his followers to Israel immediately, sending some of them, instead, to points throughout the world - in order to prepare the world, step by step, for the coming of the Mahsiach.  

This is the secret of the Jewish paradox: Accomplish your goals with alacrity, but keep yourself patient and focused. The prerequisite for this paradoxical ability of ‘If not now, when?’ is to first nullify our ego (If I am not for me, who is for me?), and then to reach a state of humble equilibrium (And if I am for myself, what am I?)

So how are we supposed to accomplish our goal? How do we strive to bring Mashiach with patience and alacrity? It certainly is a tall order. The days of sefirat ha’omer, however, are the days in which we work on rectifying our ego – the first, all-important step in this process.