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Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Messianic Movements

The other day my son and I were on our way to another son's Hanukkah party in the city of Rechovot. As we were driving on the hills leaving Jerusalem, we passed a van with a sign taped on to it's side with a picture of the late Lubavitcher Rebbe and the statement underneath it: "May our Rabbi and teacher live - The Messianic King".

"He stands behind the wall, looking through the windows, and peeking through the cracks"Now anyone even somewhat familiar with Lubavitch, or Chabad Hassidim as they are known, has seen this sign and statement before. It was not new to me as well. However in a mood of musing I turned to my son and said:

"I would love to be able to jump into the future around 50 years from now and see if the Chabad Hassidim are still around and if so, will they still believe that the Rebbe who is dead is going to come back from the dead as the Messiah. I also would love to know which 'stream' in Chabad will eventually win out. Those who believe the Rebbe really did not die and is coming back, or those who continue along a normal path of Chabad."

I said it half-joking half-serious. My son answered immediately:

"There are no streams. They all believe the Rebbe will come back from the dead. Some will admit it immediately. Others you have to pull it out of them. But in the end result all Chabad believes the Rebbe is the Messiah and he will come back from the dead."

Then he continued which really made me think:

"The Rambam (Maimonides) made "Techiat Hametim" (rising from the dead) part of the thirteen tenets of faith. So why should it sound so strange that Chabad believes in this?"

He had a point. Albeit one can argue it intellectually that the two have nothing to do with one another, but he had a point.

But I am still bothered and worried about this Messianic tendency in Chabad. Until the point in which the Rebbe died, the seventh Rebbe in line, leaving no heirs and no formally picked successor, Chabad - Lubavitch Hassidim - were probably the most pro-active, pro-Israel and certainly responsible for saving the lives of thousands of Jews all over the world. Indeed the whole movement to free Soviet Jewry in the '70's can be attributed directly to the Rebbe's influence. And who among us who have traveled around the world can deny that in every city and every town in the most far flung places on this planet, one can always be assured of finding a representative of Chabad.

But this Messianism scares me.

I taught Judaism and Christianity for many years. The early Christians believed almost the same thing about Jesus. It is hard not to see the parallels between the two movements. Hard not to wonder just what are these Lubavitch Hassidim thinking these days. Hard not to see the ultimate desire and almost physical need for redemption and the Messianic days.

The dangers are apparent. The problems it could cause are also apparent. There is still no way to stop this movement. It will continue.

Messianic movements scare me. They always did. The Sabbateans and the Frankists added nothing to our heritage that we can be proud of. Chabad has achieved so much in the past, and all it is achieving now is derision.

Will the Messiah come? Will he arrive in our day and time? Will he rise from the dead in a cemetery in Brooklyn? I know not.

In 1971 Pop came to visit me in Israel while I was studying here. We went to the Wailing Wall - the Kotel as it is known. He loved to go there. So I asked him what was so special to him about the Kotel. I will never forget my father's answer to me that day:

"For generations every Jew prayed to come back here. They prayed for the Messiah. And now we have the Kotel in our hands, and we still complain there is no Messiah."

Then my father pointed to the Kotel and said:

"You see that wall of stone. You see that old plain wall? That is where the Messiah is. That is where he hides. And we simply have to open our eyes to see Him. And every time I come to the Kotel, I realize just how much we as a people have to be thankful for."

I think Pop had it right. I think he had it so right. We should stop trying to awake the dead to save us, and always remember to open our eyes and try to see the world as it is - and never forget to make the world as it should be.

That is the true and real Messianic movement. Striving to make our world as it should be, and to never give in to the defeatism of having a world as it is. And if we do that, we will discover, as the famous song says, "even the rocks in the Wailing Wall have a heart".

For truly in those rocks as Song of Songs tells us:

"He stands behind the wall, looking through the windows, and peeking through the cracks"
Watching as we strive to make this a better world for all those who inhabit it.

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