King Solomon was mystified, Moses turned pale; both learned
that certain things can only be overcome by an absolute command
from an absolute authority
Three Sources of Moshiach
The event, the person, and the role
INSIGHTS: The Pinch
The power in constraint
And G-d spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying: This is the
decree (chok) of the Torah .... If a person should
die in a tent, all that enter the tent and all that is in
the tent shall be tamei (ritually impure) for seven days....
And for the contaminated person they shall take from the ashes
[of the Red Heifer]...
Numbers 19:1-2, 14-17
The law of the "Red Heifer," which instructs how
to purify a person from the ritual impurity caused by contact
with a dead body, is often cited as the ultimately supra-rational
divine decree. King Solomon, the "wisest of men," said of this mitzvah: "All [of the Torah's
commandments] I have comprehended. But the chapter of the
Red Heifer, though I have examined it, questioned it and searched
it out-I thought to be wise to it, but it is distant from
There are, indeed, many aspects to the law of the Red Heifer
which defy rationalization. In the first place, the very phenomenon
of "ritual purity" is a mystical, supra-rational
concept. The purification process, which is achieved by sprinkling
the ashes of a Red Heifer upon the contaminated person, follows
no logic we can see. And then there are the internal inconsistencies
in the law, such as the fact that while the sprinkling of
the ashes purifies the contaminated person, it renders impure
the one who did the sprinkling.
But there are other laws in the Torah which are no less elusive
to human reason. In fact, there exists an entire category
of mitzvot, called chukim ("decrees"), whose
defining criteria is that they cannot be comprehended by the
mortal mind. What is it about the law of the Red Heifer that
makes it the archetypal "decree," the mitzvah of
which G-d says: "This is the chok of the Torah"?
Moses Turned Pale
The Midrash tells us that Moses was the only human being
who was granted an understanding of the law of the Red Heifer.
"To you," G-d said to Moses, "I shall reveal
the meaning of the Heifer; to everyone else it is a chok." Yet Moses, too, experienced great difficulty
in accepting this law, as we see from the following Midrashic
In everything that G-d taught Moses, He would tell him both
the manner of contamination and the manner of purification.
When G-d came to the laws concerning one who comes in contact
with a dead body, Moses said to Him: "Master of the universe!
If one is thus contaminated, how may he be purified?!"
G-d did not answer him. At that moment, the face of Moses
When G-d came to the section of the "Red Heifer,"
He said to Moses: "This is its manner of purification."
Said Moses to G-d: "Master of the universe! This is a
purification?" Said G-d: "Moses, it is a chok,
a decree that I have decreed, and no creature can fully comprehend
The Mystery of Death
The departure of the soul from the body is incomprehensible
to us. Not rationally - rationally, death makes perfect sense.
We understand the fragility of life, the dissolutive nature
of everything physical. But in our heart of hearts, we refuse
to accept it. Regardless of all "evidence" to the
contrary, we persist in seeing life as eternal; regardless
of what the mind explains, we reject the very concept of death.
Even more difficult to accept is that there can be some process,
some formula, that can possibly deal with, let alone heal,
the terrible void of life departed. What possible antidote
can there be to the anguish, the emptiness, the utter futility
that death brings to the human heart?
This was why Moses turned pale upon hearing about the ritual
laws of death. It was not for the lack of rational understanding
of how the spiritual stain of death can be cleansed; indeed,
Moses was the one human being to whom "the meaning of
the Heifer" was revealed. Still he cried: "Master
of the universe! Is this a purification?" You have explained
to me how the ashes of the Red Heifer "work." My
mind is satisfied, but this does little to still the turmoil
of my heart. My heart cannot comprehend how the evil of death
can possibly be mitigated.
And G-d replied: "Moses, it is a chok, a decree
that I have decreed." Certain things are so overwhelming
to My creations that they can only be overcome by submitting
to an absolute command from an absolute authority. I have
therefore commanded laws to instruct you what to do when your
lives are touched by death. These are supra-rational, even
irrational laws, for only such laws can facilitate your recovery.
It is only by force of an utterly incomprehensible divine
decree that you can recover from death.
The Laws of Mourning
Today, we do not have the ashes of the Red Heifer. But we
do have laws and rituals to deal with death. Torah law instructs
us to mourn the death of a loved one - and then regulates
our mourning. The very concept of "laws of mourning"
is incomprehensible. Can a person be instructed to mourn?
Can he, conversely, be instructed to reduce or cease his mourning?
Yet this is precisely what the Torah does. There are specific
laws that govern the intensity of the mourning in the hours
from the death to the burial (a period called onanut),
specific laws for the first three days following the burial,
for the first seven days (shivah), for the first thirty
days (sheloshim), and for the first year following
a death. At each of these junctures, it is demanded of us
to cross over into a new phase of mourning - a phase in which
the intensity of our anguish and sense of loss is further
mitigated and sublimated.
We resist these milestones with every fiber of our being.
The mind understands the difference between the shivah
and the sheloshim and between the sheloshim and
the first year, but the heart does not accept it. One need
not be disheartened by this internal resistance: the Torah
tells us that Moses himself could not prevail upon his heart
to accept what his mind had been given to understand. Even
after G-d explained to Moses how the "Red Heifer"
sublimates an encounter with death, it remained a chok
- distant from the greatest of minds and utterly incomprehensible
to every heart. Yet G-d commands us to make these transitions,
and empowers us to fulfill His command.
It is the power of the divine decree that enables us to go
on - both in our own lives, and in our work on behalf of others
(for surely those who are dependent upon us cannot be made
to wait until our minds and hearts have fully integrated what
we know is expected of us). And the power of the divine decree
is such that we can ultimately prevail upon ourselves to sublimate
the negativities of death.
May we soon merit the day that such sublimation will no longer
be necessary-the day when the Almighty will "remove the
spirit of impurity from the earth" so that "death shall cease forever and G-d shall erase the
tear from every face"
and "those who dwell in the dust shall waken and rejoice."
Based on two addresses delivered by the Rebbe on Adar 21,
5748 (March 10, 1988), upon the conclusion of the sheloshim
of his wife, Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka Schneerson, of blessed
Three Sources of Moshiach
And Bilaam said to Balak: "...Come, let me advise
you what this people shall do to your people in the end of
days.... I see it, but not now; I behold it, but it is not
near. A star shall go forth from Jacob, and a scepter shall
arise from Israel; he will conquer the ends of Moab, and rule
all the children of Seth.... And Israel shall be valiant...
The prophets of Israel describe a future in which a great
leader shall arise in Israel, awaken his people to return
to G-d, restore them to their homeland, rebuild the Holy Temple
in Jerusalem, and bring about an age of universal enlightenment,
harmony and perfection. As Maimonides describes it, "In
those days there will be no hunger or war, no jealousy or
rivalry; for... the sole occupation of the entire world will
be to know G-d."
The coming of Moshiach is also referred to, though less explicitly,
in the Torah proper-the Five Books of Moses. Thus Maimonides
writes: "Whoever does not believe in him, or does not
anticipate his coming, not only denies the other prophets
- he also denies the Torah and Moses our Teacher." Maimonides goes on to cite three instances in which the Torah
itself speaks of the Messianic Redemption:
a) Deuteronomy 30:1-10: "And the L-rd your G-d ... will
return and gather you from all the nations amongst whom [He]
has scattered you. If your dispersed be at the ends of the
heavens, from there will the L-rd your G-d gather you, from
there He will take you. [He] will bring you into the Land
which your fathers have possessed and you will possess it,
and he will do you good and multiply you, more than your fathers.
[He] will circumcise your heart and the heart of your children,
to love the L-rd your G-d with all your heart and with all
your soul.... G-d will again rejoice over you as He rejoiced
over your fathers, for you shall hearken to the voice of the
L-rd your G-d, to keep His commandments and statutes which
are written in this book of the Torah."
b) Numbers 24:17-19: "I see him, but not now; I behold
him, but he is not near. A star shall come forth from Jacob,
and a ruler shall arise from Israel; he will conquer the ends
of Moab, and rule all the children of Seth.... And Israel
shall be valiant..."
c) In Deuteronomy 19, the Torah commands to set aside "cities
of refuge" to serve as a place of exile for "one
who shall unintentionally kill his fellow." Then the
Torah adds: "And when G-d shall broaden your borders
... and give you the entire land that He promised to give
to your forefathers - for you shall keep all these commandments
which I am commanding you today, to love the L-rd your G-d
and walk in His ways forever-then you shall add another three
cities...." Maimonides notes that, "This never yet
came to pass, and G-d did not command it in vain" - so
that here we have a further reference in the Torah to the
Messianic Era, when "the entire land that He promised
to give to your forefathers" shall be given to the Jewish people.
A Personal Redeemer
These three "proofs" are all necessary, for they
establish three principles that are fundamental to the Jewish
concept of Moshiach: the redemption of Israel, the person
of Moshiach, and the integrity of Torah.
The first citation, from the 30th chapter of Deuteronomy,
contains the most explicit reference to the final Redemption
in the Five Books of Moses. However, there is no mention there
of the person of Moshiach as the divine agent of its realization.
From these verses alone we can only infer that there will
be a redemption (Israel's return to G-d, their restoration
to their homeland, etc.), but not that a human leader will
bring it about.
Yet the Jew's belief in Moshiach is not in some abstract
"historical process" by which the world progresses
to perfection, but that "There will arise a king from
the house of David, who studies the Torah and fulfills its
precepts as David his ancestor ... and he will prevail upon
all of Israel to follow it and repair its breaches, wage the
battle of G-d ... build the Holy Temple on its site, gather
the dispersed of Israel ... [and] rectify the entire world
to serve G-d together." While many of the prophets speak explicitly
of the person of Moshiach, Maimonides wishes to show that
this principle is also contained in the Torah itself. It is
for this purpose that he cites his second proof, from Numbers
Moshiach and the Mitzvot
Moshiach achieves many great things: he liberates the people
of Israel and restores their true independence and sovereignty;
he teaches the divine wisdom of Torah, illuminating the intricacies
of the human soul and the divine essence of all reality; he
is a prophet of the highest order, communicating the word
of G-d to man. But the most important thing that Moshiach
does is to bring about the perfect and absolute implementation
of the entire body of mitzvot, the divine commandments of
the Torah, in the world.
Today, we are capable of achieving only a very limited actualization
of the divine program for life. More than half of the Torah's
commandments (343 out of a total of 613) can be observed only
when the Holy Temple is standing in Jerusalem and/or when
the entire community of Israel resides in the Holy Land. And
even the mitzvot that we can observe in our current state
of galut (exile) are but pale "models" of
the real thing, for the divine commandments can be optimally
fulfilled only in a post-redemption Land of Israel.
Furthermore, while we might do everything in our power to
fulfill the mitzvot that are available to us today, we are
daily confronted with a world that is still at odds with the
will of its Creator. The Torah commands, "Do not kill,"
yet people are killing each other all over the world; the
Torah commands, "Love your fellow as yourself" "Honor
your father and your mother," "Remember the day
of Shabbat to sanctify it," and "Do not cook a kid
in its mother's milk," yet a great portion of those to
whom these commands are addressed are indifferent to, or even
ignorant of them.
In our present-day reality, the Torah seems more like a "religion"
or an "ideal," than the cardinal law of reality.
So the coming of Moshiach, the man who brings about the universal
commitment to the divine law, is not just another event predicted
by the Torah or another of its concepts and principles; it
is the validation of the very essence of Torah as the divine
blueprint for life - as the ultimate description of what the
world can, ought to, and inevitably will, be.
This is the significance of Maimonides' third source for
Moshiach in the Torah. When the Torah commands us to add three
"cities of refuge" upon establishing Jewish sovereignty
over the entirety of the Promised Land, it is not only predicting
the future Redemption, but also stating that the advent of
Moshiach is required for the implementation of a divine command.
Here is an example of a mitzvah, commanded by G-d at Sinai,
whose conditions for fulfillment have never existed, and will
exist only upon the arrival of Moshiach.
These verses establish the third principle that is fundamental
to the Jew's belief in Moshiach: that the Torah's commandments
are the ultimate blueprint for life on earth, and that there
will come a day when the divine plan for creation will be
fully realized in our world. For certainly, as Maimonides
puts it, "G-d did not command it in vain."
Based on talks by the Rebbe in the summers of 5738 (1978)
and 5746 (1986) and on Shavuot of 5751 (1991)
From the straits I call G-d; He answers
me with the expanse of the Divine
"Between the strictures"
is the prophet Jeremiah's description of the period between
the 17th of Tammuz, the day the walls of Jerusalem were breached,
and the 9th of Av, when the Holy Temple was destroyed and
the exile of Israel commenced. To date, these two days are
observed as days of fasting, and the three-week "strait"
between them as a period of mourning and repentance.
The narrow strait, however, is not a roadblock; on the contrary,
it is a mechanism for increased productivity. Hydraulic power
plants, rockets and garden hoses employ it to squeeze a greater
degree of power and velocity from the element they constrain.
The shofar, sounded to waken man to repentance, is also such
a device, its narrow mouth pinching the stream of air expelled
from the blower's lungs into the piercing note that emerges
from its wide, upward-sweeping end.
The same is true of the strictures of Tammuz 17 and Av 9
and the two thousand years of physical exile and spiritual
darkness they mourn. Twenty centuries of suppression have
wrenched the Jewish soul through the funnel of galut, revealing its deepest convictions and provoking
its highest potentials. From these terrible straits we have
never ceased to seek G-d, and it is this seeking that will
yield the "divine expanse" of ultimate Redemption
and the perfect world of the Messianic Age.
"On that day," proclaims the prophet, "the
great shofar will be sounded. And they will come, those lost
in the land of Assyria and those forsaken in the land of Egypt, and bow before G-d on the Holy
On that day, the goodness and perfection of G-d's creation
will burst through the straits of concealment and blossom
into unconstrained realization.
Adapted from the teachings of the Rebbe by Yanki Tauber
 Midrash Rabbah, Bamidbar 19:3, after Ecclesiastes
 Midrash Rabbah, Kohelet 8:5.
 Mishneh Torah, Laws of Kings, 12:5.
 In the covenant He made with Abraham, G-d promised:
"To your descendants I shall give this land, from the
river of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates."
These borders include lands never conquered or settled by
the people of Israel throughout their history.
 Mishneh Torah, ibid., 11:4.
 The Midrash goes so far as to consider the mitzvot
observed in galut as mere "reminders" for
the true mitzvot, those observed in the Holy Land. Quoting
the prophet Jeremiah, "Set for yourself markers"
(Jeremiah 31:20), it says: "Also after you are exiled,
be distinguished with mitzvot-put on tefillin, make mezuzot,
so that these should not be new to you when you return"
(Sifri, quoted by Rashi on Deuteronomy 11:18. See also Nachmanides
on Deuteronomy 4:4).
 Likkutei Sichot, vol. 34, Shoftim (5749); Sefer
HaSichot 5751, pp. 574-576.
 Recited before the sounding of the shofar on Rosh
 Lamentations 1:3; see Midrash Rabbah on verse.
 Exile and spiritual displacement.
 The Hebrew Eretz Mitzrayim (Land of Egypt)
literally translates as "the land of the strictures."