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Happy Birthday to the Army of Moshiach
by Rabbi Zvi Homnick
As I left my teen years behind, I entered the period of my yeshiva life when my friends began to get married, and participating in weddings and sheva brachos became a relatively frequent occurrence.  Because I was younger than most of my friends and fellow students, this period covered a number of years, until my own wedding.  L'Chaim's and aufrufs, chasunas and sheva brachos, became a blur in my memory with the odd exception that stands out for some reason or another.  One aufruf that stands out in my mind, took place in an out of town community.  The chassan invited a group of his friends to come and spend the Shabbos with his family, so we packed up and went.
This chassan and his brother were two of the funniest people I knew, although due to differences in temperament, one was more pleasantly humorous and the other more biting and prone to devastating putdowns.  They were part of an extremely large family, the members of which had the reputation of each being a unique character in their own right.  I had met the father a few times and he seemed a serious, quiet, mild mannered man, not the type to produce such an eclectic and oddball brood.  Other friends informed me that it was actually the mother who brought the hilarity to the family mix.  Spending a Shabbos with a family that large (I come from a family of nine) was an experience, but it was nothing compared to meeting a wisecracking middle aged Chassidic mother with a headscarf almost down to her eyes who could keep people rolling on the floor for hours.  Her own kids rolled their eyes at their mother's standup routines and rapid fire delivery, but we the guests, were spellbound.
I am sad to report that a significant part of her repertoire was mocking and deriding Lubavitch, with a distinct lack of respect toward the Rebbe.  Even then, as I laughed along (may G-d forgive me), it seemed like going a bit too far and bothered me quite a bit.  That nagging sense of inappropriateness remained with me long after I forgot the actual jokes (most, anyway), and the issues raised were high on my list to explore when I began to look into Chassidus in earnest.  Those issues included, first and foremost, the heavy use of military terms and imagery.  To religious Jews, all the talk of soldiers, armies, tanks, parades and campaigns, seems anathema (and a broad target for lampoonery).  And of course, referring to G-d as the Commander-in-Chief is, for someone looking in from the outside, up there on the weirdness meter. 
Another easy target for satiric humor, which came up at the time, is the custom to celebrate birthdays (think cone hats and party favors), something which most Jews consider to be not a Jewish custom.  On top of that, to make such a huge deal about the Rebbe's birthday, with talk of learning and doing good works as “presents” to the Rebbe is completely beyond the religious worldview of any other Jewish group.  Even Chassidic groups known for fanatical devotion to their Rebbes, have no such concept as giving the Rebbe “nachas” (except in terms of sharing good news or anything that brings cheer to their Rebbe) or spiritual “gifts.”  There is no such idea as learning or davening or doing any other good deed, in order to give nachas or anything else to or for the Rebbe.
There are many sources to support the idea that we can and must learn lessons in the service of G-d from the natural world around us, and particularly from the traits and characteristics of our host nations during our protracted sojourn in the diaspora.  As the Rebbe points out (sicha VaYeishev 5752), the Talmudic dictum “when you go to a city, do as its customs” is not simply a lesson in proper etiquette, but a directive to utilize the traits and characteristics of that place to transform it into a dwelling place for G-d through Torah and Miztvos.  Unlike all other countries, the United States, as the lone superpower of the world, home to the largest number of Jews in the world, and the headquarters of the leader of the generation, can serve as a lesson for all Jews around the world. 
One of the most outstanding features of America is the fact that it has far and away the finest military the world has ever known.  We are not speaking of the superiority in firepower and sheer volume of military hardware that America enjoys, or the technological advantages of its armed forces.  No, it is the American fighting man, who has proven himself in theaters of war across the globe, in humid tropics or on frozen tundra, on land or at sea, in sand blown deserts or densely tangled jungles, over a period of centuries.  To many war analysts and historians, this remains a mystery that defies logic.  How is it that America in this day and age, with a volunteer army of kids that have for the most part grown up living a soft life with luxuries unimaginable in an earlier age, produces the world's finest and fiercest fighting men and women?
What makes this even more mysterious is the idea that a soldier is, first and foremost, required to follow orders, even in the face of extreme personal danger.  That is why the training period of a soldier is at least as much about breaking down the soldier's sense of individual choice, as it is about building up his fighting and survival skills.  So how is it that a society which fosters an unprecedented lack of respect for authority can produce soldiers with a level of commitment to their mission that is the envy and wonder of the world?  How is it that kids coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan with crippling wounds, overwhelmingly express pride and satisfaction in their service to this country, and wish only to return to fight alongside their comrades in arms?
When we look around at the society at large, we see a steep decline in mental and emotional health, the mind and heart being, in most cases, the source of all personal drive and motivation.  This is reflected in the breakdown of societal mores and the lack of stability in family life.  Similarly, within the armed forces, there has been a demonstrable uptick in the need for mental health and family counseling services provided by the military health establishment.  Interestingly enough, studies have shown that the motivation for joining the military is a significant factor in the likelihood of ever needing those services.  There are many reasons and motives that might lead an individual to sign up, including career opportunities, educational opportunities, family expectations, and many others.  Those who fare the best statistically, in their personal lives as well as their military careers, tend to be those that cite personal ideology as the prime impetus in their decision to serve.
Chassidus explains that the rational and emotional faculties that are housed in the heart and mind, are limited and relatively external manifestations of one's true inner being.  However, there are two “faculties” that are truer expressions of the core essence of the unlimited soul, and when revealed transcend the limitations of heart and mind and actually govern them.  These are oneg (pleasure, delight) and ratzon (pure unadulterated will, desire).  Each of these has the power to overcome the rational mind and alter one's emotional responses, and in fact, can do the same with each other.  When the will is revealed and expresses its pure willpower, it can turn a pleasurable experience into a source of pain and a painful experience into a source of pleasure.  Conversely, when the soul's sense of delight in something is expressed, it drives the will to pursue that pleasure at all costs. 
The difference between the way these two forces operate is that will dictates to all the other faculties, whereas delight enlists all the other faculties.  When I truly want something that I know to be irrational and even harmful, the rational mind rebels at the thought and the emotions recoil.  The power of will is such that the mind and heart are forced to submit and come up with ways and means to achieve the objective that will has decided upon.  And when the will is fulfilled, there is a sense of satisfaction that includes the entirety of the person.  Delight, in contrast, enlists the rational mind to come up with reasons why it is a good idea and how to attain it,  and excites the passions of the emotions in pursuit and anticipation of the sought after pleasure.  That is because it is a more direct expression of the essence of the person's being, and as such, the mind thinks of it in terms of “my delight” and the heart feels that it is “my pleasure.”
There is a Talmudic dictum that has the standing of a legal principle, which states, “A person wants a kav [small measure of produce] of his own, more than nine kav of his fellow.”  Something that a person acquired through his own labors has greater worth to him, many more times than that of what was given to him by another.  The Rebbe explains this concept (Likkutei Sichos vol. 17 pg. 336, Bechukosai) as it relates to a person's efforts in fulfilling his divine mission in this world:
“Just as it is up Above – that the delight of Atzmus [G-d's Essence] ('He desired') is achieved specifically through avoda (toil and effort) – the same holds true by the person down below:
“'A person wants a kav of his own' particularly – his will and delight are invested into that which he struggled for through labor and exertion.  Those things that he receives from Above through gratuitous generosity, not having struggled for, do not express the ultimate intent that exists Above (the intent of Atzmus), and therefore there is not present within them (even for the person) the delight of the soul.  It is specifically 'his own kav,' which he acquired through toil, that we say 'A person desires' – 'desire' in this context meaning (also) the innermost aspect of ratzon (desire), the faculty of delight of the soul.”
The Rebbe applies this concept to the work of the shluchim, the Chabad emissaries, whose mission is to complete the work in exile and bring about the revelation of Moshiach (see Likkutei Sichos vol, 29 pg. 358, Simchas Torah 5746).  Over the years, starting in a letter written in the first year of his leadership (Likkutei Sichos vol. 12 pg. 148, Igros Kodesh vol. 4 pg. 230), the Rebbe referred to three levels of shlichus, each representing a greater degree of self-nullification to the “sender,” the lowest level being someone who undertakes to carry out the mission he is sent on because he wants to.  The next level is someone who submits to the point that he is merely a conduit, such that the instructions of the sender are actualized through him, and the highest level is one who has negated and transformed his entire existence to the point that emissary and sender are one.
In the years 5743/1983 and 5744/1984, the Rebbe held farbrengens on the 20th of Av, the yartzeit of his late father, and at those farbrengens spoke regarding the conferences of emissaries to the Holy Land, which are held on or around that date.  In those talks, the Rebbe introduced the idea of a fourth level of shlichus, in which the individual has not simply submitted and/or negated his existence to one degree or another, but he has actually harnessed all of his “self” motivation and drive to carry out his mission.  On the following Shabbos in 5744 (Sefer HaShlichus pg. 350, unedited), the Rebbe elaborated on this, relating it to the concept of “his own kav.”  The Rebbe explains there that this is not something that becomes a factor only after a person has passed the first three levels, but should be a driving force at each and every level.  The work of reaching out to each and every Jew to bring them closer to G-d through promoting Torah and Mitzvos and spreading the wellsprings of Chassidus, the work of preparing myself and the world for redemption, the work of trying to invest every aspect of my being into that work, needs to be “my” thing, “my” concern, “my” all-consuming passion.
That is the hallmark of the ultimate soldier.  He is a volunteer who is passionate about serving his country to the point that he feels that he “owns” the issue of protecting his country and securing its vital interests.  Such a person is invested not simply intellectually and/or emotionally, but with his “delight” and “desire,” the expressions of his very being.  He wants to serve and can imagine no greater pleasure than to serve, and so, is more than ready to submit to following orders, to endure pain and hardship, put his life on the line and put the welfare of his buddies and his country before his own.  Consequently, his greatest challenge is not from the enemy he faces on the battlefield, but from those fellow citizens who do not value and appreciate his sacrifice and contribution, and even mock his jingoistic patriotic fervor.
The prophet describes the Jewish nation as a newborn baby born at the time of the exodus from Egypt, on the first Pesach.  Additionally, the description of the actual exodus is the first time that the Torah refers to the Jews as the “armies of G-d.”  This designation alludes to the mission of the Jews to conquer the world for holiness, which will only be complete with the coming of Moshiach.  In order to fulfill that mission properly, it is not enough to function as a mercenary or a submissive conscript, or even a devoted servant.  One has to invest his entire being, not only the “ten faculties” of his mind and heart, but he has to feel that his entire existence is about one thing, and one thing only, “to bring to the days of Moshiach.”  That is why he exists, why he was born in the first place, and why he is reborn each morning.   
For generations, the spiritual significance of birthdays and the customs associated therewith were not revealed to the masses or even the spiritual elite.  It was reserved only for those leaders who were direct heirs to the leadership of the Baal Shem Tov.  It was in our generation that the Rebbe Rayatz made these traditions public and had them publicized in the HaYom Yom of Yud-Aleph Nisan, the birthday of the Rebbe (see Sicha VaYeira, 20 Cheshvan 5740, Likkutei Sichos vol. 20 pg. 386).  This was revealed during WWII, when Jews were being slaughtered by the millions, which the Rebbe Rayatz proclaimed as the “birth pangs of Moshiach.”  Because we are “the final generation of exile and the first generation of redemption,” when the end is finally in sight, we need to know that we were born to fulfill the final mission for everyone that came and died before us.
We have not been given the luxury of living for ourselves and minding our own business, or even the opportunity to offer up our lives to sanctify G-d's name.  We have a very specific job to accomplish, which is to complete the conquest of the world for G-d and holiness.  That is the significance of the birthday of the Rebbe on 11 Nisan, the leader who was born to the role of overseeing the completion of the mission and to usher in the next era.  By extension, the birth of every person in the generation takes on a significance not present, and therefore not known, in earlier generations.  “As in the days of your going out of Egypt,” on Pesach we were “born” straight into the “army of Hashem,” so too, in the time when “I will show you wonders,” every Jew starting with the children has to know that he or she was born and exists to serve as soldiers in the army of Moshiach, under the authority of the Commander-in-Chief.  We each need to feel that the final efforts along with the desire to bring Moshiach are “my” thing that I “own,” “and he should not be embarrassed before those who mock,” as we “do all that you can” in this month of Nisan to win this “galus war,” immediately, NOW!


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