ESSAY: The Gap
Life in the space between the ideal and the real
TRANSCRIPT: The Rebbe's Call
Eight years ago, the Rebbe issued an anguished cry that reverberated
around the world
Korach, whose ill-fated challenge to Moses and Aaron's leadership
is recounted in the 16th chapter of Numbers, has come to represent
the very concept of conflict and discord. Thus the Talmud
states: "Whoever engages in divisiveness transgresses
a prohibition of the Torah, as it is written (Numbers 17:5):
'And he shall not be like Korach and his company'"
- when the Torah wishes to warn against the agitation of dispute
and disunity, it does so by instructing, "Don't be like
The Talmud relates that the great sage Rabbi Meir would deduce
a person's nature from his name; the same applies, say the Kabbalists,
to every creature, object and phenomenon. For the letters
of the alef-bet are the building blocks of creation,
meaning that the letters that make up a thing's name in the
Holy Tongue define the "shape" and character of
its soul - of the divine life - force which grants it existence
The same is true of the name "Korach." The three
Hebrew letters that spell this word delineate the contours
of conflicy - the various ways in which the harmony of G-d's
creation might be distorted and corrupted.
The Shape of Reality
If the soul of each individual creation is encoded in the
letters which comprise its name, the inner form of the created
reality as a whole is that of the letter hei. Our sages
deduce this from the verse, "These are the chronicles
of the heavens and the earth when they were created" - the Hebrew word behibaraam, "when they were created,"
can also be read as be-hei beraam, "with a hei,
He created them," to imply that "G-d created the
world with the letter hei.''
The Hebrew letter hei is comprised of three lines:
an upper, horizontal line which forms the "roof"
of the letter; and two vertical lines, one to the right and
the other to the left, which form its walls or "legs."
The right leg is connected to the right end of the "roof"
and extends downward to the bottom of the written line. The
left leg extends along the left side of the hei, but
is not connected to the roof, leaving a small gap between
the upper and left lines.
The letter Hei
The three lines of the hei represent three dimensions
or realms of our reality: thought, speech and action. The
upper line represents the world of thought; the right leg,
the world of speech; and the left leg, the world of action.
We all nurture in our minds a vision of an ideal world -
a world as defined by our purest instincts and our knowledge
of the potential for goodness and perfection invested in it
by its Creator. This is the "thought" dimension
of reality, represented by the hei's upper line. "Speech,"
the endeavor to articulate this vision to ourselves and to
our fellow human beings, is the right "leg" of the
hei. By studying, teaching and communicating the ideals
contained in the world of "thought," we create a
world of words which draws the lofty but abstract upper line
of the hei downward into the more tactual dimension
The left leg of the hei is the world of "action."
This is the realm of our interaction with the physical world
to mold it and transform it in accordance with the vision
we hold in our minds. Like "speech," action is a
downward extension from the realm of thought, a drawing down
of its ideals into a more concrete reality. There is, however,
a significant difference between speech and action, illustrated
by the difference between the hei's right and left
In the realm of speech, we can forge a reality that is a
direct extension of the reality we inhabit in the realm of
thought. We can express an idea as we understand it; we can
communicate a vision as we see it and convey a belief as we
believe it. But when we seek to apply our ideals to the world
of action, we encounter a "gap" - an inherent inconsistency
between the ideal and the real. We act upon the physical world,
we change it and transform it, but sooner or later we encounter
resistance: an insurmountable barrier, an irresolvable conflict,
an unbridgeable breech between our inner truth and an obstinate
The gap between thought and action is an intrinsic part of
the created reality. This is what our sages are telling us
when they say that G-d created the word in the form of a hei:
that this gap is real. It is not an illusion; it is not a
subjective projection of one's personal deficiencies or lack
of determination; rather, it was put in place by the Creator
of the world, who desired that the breach between thought
and action should be a real and inescapable feature of our
existence. For it is this dichotomy, this tension between
the ideal and the real, which lends challenge, significance
and fulfillment - and ultimately, true harmony - to our lives.
The three letters that comprise the name "Korach"
- kuf, reish, chet - are similar in form to the letter
hei. The kuf is a hei whose left leg
extends below the written line; the reish is a hei
that lacks a left leg altogether; and the chet
is a hei without the "gap" - a hei
whose left leg is joined to its roof.
Korach (from right to left): kuf, reish, chet
On the face of it, these are more "harmonious"
letters: the dissonance between thought and speech on the
one hand, and deed on the other, is resolved, or at least
allowed to take its natural course. In truth, however, the
very opposite is the case: these letters spell "Korach,"
the very essence of conflict and disharmony. For each of these
letters is a distortion of the hei - a corruption of
the manner in which the Creator desires that we perceive and
deal with His creation.
The first distorted perception is that of the ultra-realist.
This is a person who not only recognizes the gap between thought
and action, but also accepts it. To this person, the world
is a kuf - a world whose left flank is not only disconnected
from its other two lines but also drops below the area delineated
In a world described by the letter kuf, a different
set of standards governs the world of action than those which
govern the realms of thought and speech. "Certainly,
I have my ideals," argues this approach to life. "I
have my inner truth; I know what's right and what's wrong.
This is the world I inhabit in my thoughts; these are the
ideals I discuss with and advocate to others; these are the
truths which I teach my children. But I'm not so naive as
to believe that these truths can be applied, without compromise
and equivocation, to the world of action. What is right as
an abstract or verbalized ideal simply won't work in the reality
of a material and materialistic world. Can I negotiate a business
deal with the same integrity I demand from myself when I address
G-d in my prayers? Should I assess my physical needs and wants
by the same criteria I apply to my spiritual aspirations?
These are two different domains, and an unbridgeable gap separates
the two. I would never compromise my convictions, but the
way we think and speak about our world will always be of a
higher standard than the way we act in it."
At the other extreme from the ultra-realist is the ultra-idealist.
This is a person who, if he cannot deal with the actual world
as an unbroken continuum of his thoughts and words, prefers
not to deal with it at all. Why sully our lives by venturing
into an arena which, if it does not corrupt us outright will,
at the very least, coarsen our higher sensitivities?
The ultra-idealist's response to the gap between the hei's
left leg and its other two lines is to jettison that leg entirely:
to shun the world of action and devote all his energies and
resources to the worlds of thoughts and words which comprise
the higher two strata of creation. The reality he inhabits
is in the form of a reish - a two-dimensional world
of theory and polemic, devoid of all regard for the state
of the physical universe.
The third corruption of the hei is the chet,
which represents a more subtle, but no less destructive, form
of idealism. Rather than disavowing the left leg of the hei,
it disavows the gap, claiming that no true separation exists
between the various realms of G-d's creation. The material,
says this world-view, is no less sacred than the spiritual;
actions are no less pure than words; both "legs"
are equally connected with the "upper line" and
can equally bring down its ideals into their respective realities.
The problem with this vision of reality is that, lacking
a proper awareness of the true state of the world of action,
one is far too easily satisfied. While the reish thinks
that thoughts and words can take the place of actions, the
chet deludes himself that his thoughts and words are
actions, or that a few vague, symbolic deeds suffice to transform
the world into a harmonious actualization of its highest potentials.
True harmony in life can be achieved only in recognizing,
confronting and grappling with the intrinsic dissonance between
thought and action. If we succumb to the gap, we end up with
a kuf - a physical world that has slipped below the line and gone awry from the principles upon which
it is founded. If we escape the gap by renouncing all the
lies beyond it, we end up with a reish - a world lacking
its most "real" and important dimension.
If we ignore or make light of the gap, we end up with a chet
- a fool's paradise in which nothing has been changed
and nothing has been achieved save in one's own imagination.
Because they fail to deal with the world as it has been forged
by its Creator, each of the three "Korach" approaches
ultimately break down into chaos and conflict.
On the other hand, the hei perspective on life is
the formula for true and enduring harmony. The hei
approach defines the world of action as disconnected from
the worlds of thought and speech but nevertheless confined
to the boundaries delineated by them. In other words, the
gap between the ideal and the real exists, but this does not
mean that we cannot profoundly transform the physical world
with our actions and bring it "in line" with the
ideals which we contemplate and propagate.
The gap is a source of dissonance and tension, but this is
a constructive tension which drives the aspirations, challenges
and achievements of life. For it is our knowledge of our imperfections
which fuels our striving to improve ourselves and our world.
It is our sensitivity to the distance between what we are
and what we ought to be which makes us aware and productive
partners in the divine endeavor of Creation.
Based on the Rebbe's talks on Shabbat Korach 5724 (1964),
5727 (1967) and 5748 (1988)
Editor's note: On Thursday evening, Nissan 27, 5751 (April
11, 1991), the Rebbe issued this impassioned call to his followers
and to the entire Jewish and world community. This unusually
strongly worded message, and the anguished voice in which
it was delivered, shocked and roused his chassidim to a heightened
initiative in the Rebbe's campaign to bring the world to an
awareness of and preparedness for the Redemption .
How is it that Moshiach has still not come? Why are we still
in a state of galut (exile)? Why is our world still a place
in which evil and suffering still prevail?
Why is it acceptable that the Redemption should not come
tonight, nor tomorrow, nor the day after, G-d forbid? The
Jewish nation are "a stiff-necked people." Were
there to be found even a few individuals who would adamantly
insist on bringing Moshiach, he would have certainly long
What more can I do? I have done all I can to bring the world
to truly demand and clamor for the Redemption. But it seems
that all my efforts have been in vain. We are still in exile
and, more significantly, in an internal galut of clouded vision
and distorted priorities.
I have done all I can. I am handing over the task to you:
Do everything in your power to bring our righteous redeemer,
It is not sufficient to mouth slogans. You must take action.
It is my fervent hope that amongst you there will be found
one, two or three people who will figure out what to do and
how do it.
I'm leaving it to you. It is up to each and every one of
you to bring about the Redemption. It is in your hands to
Adapted from the teachings of the Rebbe by Yanki Tauber
 Talmud, Sanhedrin 110a.
 Talmud, Yoma 83b; thus the naming of a child by its parents constitutes
a "minor prophecy," for at that moment they are
granted a vision of their child's soul and inner character
(Shaar HaGilgulim, hakdamah 23).
 As related in the first chapter of Genesis, the world was created
through divine speech: "G-d said, 'Let there be light!'
and there was light"; "G-d said, 'Let the earth
sprout forth vegetation...' and it was so"; and so
 See Tanya, part II, ch. 1; Igrot Kodesh, vol. I, pp 288-290 and
sources cited there.
 Talmud, Menachot 49b.
 The bottom, open side of the hei represents
the vacuum of evil, the "sin which lurks at the opening"
(Genesis 4:7). Thus, the world of Moshiach, when G-d will
"annihilate death forever" and "banish the
spirit of impurity from the world" is represented by
the letter "final mem," whose form is that
of a closed square (as alluded to in the verse, "For
the increase of the realm and for peace without end"
(Isaiah 9:6), in which the letter mem uncharacteristically
appears in its closed form the middle of a word). In this
future world of divine perfection, the gap between spirit
and matter will be closed and the negative "fourth
side" will be transformed into a positive force
 This was the error of the spies sent by Moses to scout the Holy
Land, who refused to leave their spiritual life in the desert
for a material existence of life on the land (see Holy
Land WIR vol X #39).
 This perspective is reflected in Korach's contest of the kehunah
(priesthood-i.e., the ideas that the spiritual is loftier
than the material) and his argument that "The entire
congregation is holy, for G-d is in their midst; why do
you [i.e., Moses and Aaron, the spiritual leaders of Israel]
raise yourselves above the congregation of G-d?" (Numbers
16:3; see our essays "Divisiveness, Division and Distinction,"
in Beyond the Letter of the Law (VHH 1995), pp. 286-295,
and "High and Low," The Inside Story (VHH 1997),
 I.e., into the realm of evil-see note 8 above.
 "This is what man is all about, this is the
purpose of his creation and of the creation of all worlds,
supernal and ephemeral-to make for G-d a dwelling in the
lowly realms (i.e., the world of physical action)"-
Tanya, ch. 33.
 Likkutei Sichot, vol. VIII, pp. 102-113; Sefer
HaSichot 5748, vol. II, pp. 502-503.