It was in midst of the Great Depression;
FDR was introducing the New Deal; Hitler had just come to
power; Stalin had begun ravaging the Soviet Union with his
reign of terror; the world was about to be thrust into history’s
bloodiest period, shaking the universe to its core.
75 years ago, 1933, was a momentous time; major transitions
– mostly tragic but some positive – were underway,
and mankind would never ever be the same.
Meanwhile, in Warsaw, Poland – the city that would
several years later be destroyed by the Nazis – a
great Rebbe began delivering a series of profound Chassidic
discourses, which would become known as “Hemshech
Tzaddik-Dalet,” literally “the series of 94,”
referring to the series of discourses delivered by the Rebbe,
Rabbi Yoseph Yitzchak Schneerson, in the Hebrew year 5694,
These discourses were so dense and complex that the Rebbe
abruptly discontinued their delivery right in middle of
the series, after one of the listeners complained to him,
to the chagrin of us all, that they were too deep for the
audience… What a fool: if you can’t follow along,
go home. Why spoil it for the rest of us?
As a result, we are now left with an unfinished symphony.
The good news, however, is that this discourse was based
on an earlier one delivered by this Rebbe’s father,
the Rebbe Sholom Dovber, 18 years earlier, in 1915 (5676),
and there we can study the general thread and continuing
flow of these discourses to their conclusion, albeit without
the elaboration and explanations that the Rebbe Yosef Yitzchak
would surely have added.
The series, as it is, consists of nine discourses, the
first one delivered on Rosh Hashana 1933, and concluding
– aborted, as it were – with the last discourse
delivered on Shabbos Parshat Toldot. These discourses, delivered
by the Rebbe both orally and in writing, were subsequently
To honor the 75th anniversary of this significant
series, this column will offer a summary and analysis of
the core ideas discussed in these discourses (in the same
spirit that was done for Hemshech
Samach-Vav several years ago).
Hemshech Tzaddik-Dalet dissects the very nature
of existence, indeed, the very nature of reality itself.
It’s central and most remarkable theme is that existence
as we see and experience it is not real at all.
What is real? is the big question posed in this series.
Is something real because you can touch and see it? Or is
that simply a circumstantial reality, which has no validity
outside of the world of our senses. If something were to
be truly real, wouldn’t that dictate that it be real
even if and when we don’t see or touch it? In other
words its reality is based on it being fundamentally and
essentially necessary, not because it just happens to exist.
Think of it this way: What is reality – the sub-atomic
forces that energize and define all of matter, or the matter
itself; the DNA that shapes your entire being, or your being;
the electricity that runs through our appliances, or the
What is more real: The cause or the effect? The peel or
the fruit? Your body or your soul?
Is existence energy or matter? And if you were to find
out that matter was just a form of energy, and should that
energy cease to flow all of matter would simply vanish –
how real is that matter even while it looks so formidable?
Is power defined by its immediate or by its enduring strength?
How much credence do we give to something that is powerful
today but will disappear tomorrow?
How would you look at yourself and your vanities if you
were to know that it is all based on a state of blindness:
Our inability to see behind the curtain? What would feel
like if you were to discover that the things we worship
and control our lives are nothing more than a shell concealing
a fruit within?
Hemshech Tzaddik-Dalet explains that material
existence and even – which is more astonishing –
spiritual existence has no true validity of its own. Nothing
dictates that matter or spirit must exist. And even when
they do exist, their entire being has no self-contained
power; it is driven entirely by Divine energy. The only
true Reality is the Divine Essence of all, which exists
because it must exist. In the words of the Tanya:
Everything has a cause. But G-d has no cause other than
Himself; nothing preceded Him; His being derives from His
own self. G-d’s existence must exist, for
it is true reality. G-d is an existence that is unlike any
existence, “a non-existential existence.” It
is real because it is real; a reality that exists because
This all may sound too esoteric to some of us. In truth,
however, by understanding and appreciating the emptiness
and hollowness of material existence, we begin to loosen
its seductive stranglehold on us. As long as we give credence
to the superficial realities around us we remain part of
the problem instead of the solution.
By recognizing what is truly real, we stop feeding the
illusion that people and materialism have power over us,
allowing us to access the true power of the Essence, which
in turn allows us to begin healing this ailing world.
– A vital lesson today as many face the challenge of our
collapsed financial markets.
Perhaps, as the universe was being annihilated in 1933
and no person would be spared from the devastation, the
Rebbe felt the need to dissect and revisit the “engineering
room” that wires all of existence. When the world
around you is being destroyed, a certain measure of solace
can be attained by transcending its mechanics and traveling
into its core. But perhaps even more importantly, by recognizing
the folly of all existence and, in effect, invoking the
source of all of existence, we have the power to renew our
contract with the Cosmic Architect and “rewire”
the dynamics of existence.
Over the past seven weeks I have been writing about the
exact opposite extreme end of the spectrum – child
abuse – the lowest end of human degradation, which
can’t get much farther from the nature of Divine reality.
Yet, in an interesting way, by lifting ourselves to the
highest places we can both escape and ultimately redeem
our most demeaning of experiences. When you are mired and
covered in manure, sometimes the only way to go is high
up above the clouds.
We thus are comforted by this week’s Haftorah –
the final one of the seven weeks of comfort:
I will greatly rejoice in G-d, my soul will exult in
my G-d; for He has clothed me with the garments of salvation;
He has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom
puts on a priestly garland, and a bride adorns herself with
her jewels. For as the earth brings forth her growth, and
as the garden causes its seeds to grow; so G-d will cause
righteousness and glory to spring forth before all the nations.
For Zion's sake I will not keep silent; and for Jerusalem's
sake I will not be still, until her righteousness shines
forth like radiance, and her salvation like a burning torch.
The nations will see your righteousness, and all the kings
your glory; you will be called by a new name, which G-d's
mouth will give. You will also be a crown of beauty in G-d's
hand, and a royal diadem in your G-d's palm. You will no
longer be termed Forsaken, and your land will no longer
be termed Desolate. But you will be called, 'My delight
is in her,' and your land, 'Espoused'; for G-d delights
Go through, go through the gates, clear the way of
the people; build up, build up the highway, clear the stones;
lift up a standard over the peoples. Behold, G-d has proclaimed
to the end of the earth: Say to the daughter of Zion: Behold,
your salvation come.
And when a universe – or a child – is violated, we read
Who is this who comes from Edom, with crimsoned garments
from Basra? Why is Your apparel red, and Your clothing like
one who treads the winepress? I trod them in My anger, and
trampled them in My fury. Their blood is sprinkled on My
clothing, and I have stained all My raiments. For the day
of vengeance was in My heart, and My year of redemption
has come. I looked, but there was no one to help; I gazed
in astonishment, that there was no one to uphold…
So He became their deliverer. In all their affliction He
In His love and compassion He redeemed them; He lifted
them up and carried them all through the years (Isaiah 61:10
As the curtain of this year 5768 comes down, may we raise
ourselves to the highest of heights, bringing down all forms
of abuse and hurt, incapacitating the oppressive forces
that feed off of our giving them authority and power over
As the universe retreats to its source and its batteries
prepare to be recharged, we have the ability to rise up
to the very essence of reality, from whence we derive new
hope and new possibilities.
May this new year draw from the Essence and bring you revealed
blessings of life, health, livelihood, children and all
that you need, materially and spiritually.