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The Last Stop Before Moshiach
by Rabbi Zvi Homnick
FIRST STOP
 
My first experience with formal education actually took place in the Lubavitch institution of Oholei Torah in Crown Heights.  I was three and a half years old at the time, and my parents decided to enroll me in a preschool day camp program.  Since we lived then in East Flatbush, Oholei Torah was the closest day camp that provided bus service to our area.  At that time, the early grades were housed in a small two building campus on Eastern Parkway between Buffalo and Rochester Avenues.  Although, obviously, I have very few memories from that period of my life, there are a number of memory snapshots that are still quite vivid in my mind.  One of them is of one day during nap time, when I climbed out of a second story window and lowered myself onto the door of the building which was kept propped open to let in some air, and then slid/jumped down from there to the ground to go off and explore. 
 
The Morah (currently a great-grandmother residing in Crown Heights, may she live and be well) had stepped out for a moment while her cute little charges were supposedly snoozing away, and upon returning discovered that one was missing.  When the others told her that I had gone out the window she became somewhat hysterical, alerting everybody on the staff and creating all around pandemonium, which is what I encountered when I decided to make my entrance shortly after.  I don't recall many more details, but I do remember that despite the home I grew up in being one where corporal punishment was the norm, my father thought the whole thing was pretty hilarious, and even though he gave me a stern warning with a scary (trying not to burst out laughing) face not to do it again, I didn't get hit. 
 
Years later, my father told me that one of the reasons that he had me begin my schooling at such a young age (I began first grade that fall) was that in addition to my advanced reading and comprehension skills, my late mother could not handle me at home when I would get frisky.  Apparently, my early behavior fit exactly what would today be diagnosed as attention deficit disorder with hyperactivity.  I would go from sitting still for hours, completely absorbed in what I was reading or viewing or playing with, to complete distraction and bouncing off the walls.
 
[I continued in that day camp for a number of years until so many of the other groups had left Crown Heights and East Flatbush that it became way too Lubavitch dominated for our taste.  In retrospect, it probably is a good thing that I don't have many memories from that time since, to tell the truth, most of my encounters with Lubavitcher kids in my early years (on the school bus we shared Sunday afternoons during the school year, in Oholei Torah day camp, and one nightmare summer in Camp Gan Yisroel) fell a good deal short of pleasant.]
 
So, how did I survive my school years in the days before Ritalin?  The yeshiva/s I went to held religious studies in the morning and secular studies in the afternoon.  The Rebbis who taught in the mornings were allowed to apply corporal punishment at their discretion (and if you came home and complained that the Rebbi hit you, your father would most likely hit you again since the Rebbi must have had good reason).  We experienced the glories of spanking, smacking, whacking with rulers or pencils (on heads, knuckles, upraised thumbs – one Rebbi had an oversized novelty pencil, oy vey), being conked with thrown objects, as well as the more benign standing in corners, and the highly bizarre being forced to kneel under one Rebbi's desk with your neck wedged between the leg of his chair and the side of the desk. 
 
The teachers in the secular studies department, on the other hand, were absolutely forbidden from such forms of retribution (except for the standing in the corner bit) and the worst thing they could do is kick you out of class or send you to the principal's office.  This double standard was strongly reinforced at home as well, and I knew that if I got in trouble with the Hebrew studies department I was as good as dead, but if I got in trouble with the English studies department it was no big deal.  Thus, I learned to sit still for hours during the morning (mostly reading other material, daydreaming, or even listening when absolutely necessary), and release any pent up energy during recess, lunch, the English studies classroom and outdoors after school (during the months when it was still daylight outside).
 
After having attended the same yeshiva through the fifth grade, I transferred to a new yeshiva.  I don't recall the reasons for the switch that came up at that time, but it wasn't until I was much older that my father informed me that the real reason was that although the Hebrew studies principal couldn't have been more supportive, the English studies principal of the first yeshiva had refused to take me back as he felt they could not handle my disruptive behavior.  That was a real eye-opener for me, to discover that I had actually been kicked out of yeshiva, but what impressed me more was the wisdom of my father in protecting me from that information.  I wish I could say that I made it through my developmental years without receiving any negative messages from parental and educational authority figures, but at least I was spared the devastation of walking around thinking that my mother didn't want me at home anymore and the yeshiva didn't want me in their school anymore because I was too difficult to deal with.
 
Another tidbit that my father shared with me more recently was that my first ceremonial educational experience, the “bringing to cheder” (of which I have zero recollection), also took place in Oholei Torah with the late Reb Michoel Teitelbaum.  So it turns out that my long and convoluted spiritual (and oftentimes not so spiritual) journey simply brought me back to the very first stop on that journey.  
 
LAST STOP
 
"Ten exiles Lubavitch was exiled,” with the final exile being in the United States of America, which began with the arrival of the Rebbe Rayatz in 1940 (and moving into 770 Eastern Parkway) after having survived the devastating bombardment of Warsaw and a miraculous escape from war torn Europe.  A little over one year later, his son-in-law, later to become the Rebbe, experienced his own miraculous escape and arrived on these shores on the 28th day of the month of Sivan 1941.  The Rebbe explains in a number of talks why America is the last stop of Lubavitch in exile.  The reason given is that the event of the “Giving of the Torah” was not fully felt on this side of the globe since when one shines a light on top of a round sphere it remains dark on bottom.  The coming of the Rebbe Rayatz to America was in order to bring the “revelation of the Giving of the Torah” to the “lower hemisphere” (relative to the Middle East), which is the final stage before the revelation of Moshiach.
 
The significance of the Rebbe's own arrival in America is explained as being in order to reveal the koach (power, which in the Hebrew numerical system equals 28) of the month of Sivan, that is to say the power invested into the world through the “Giving of the Torah.”  The difference between these two missions is mirrored in the difference of approaches between the Rebbe Rayatz and the Rebbe.  When the Rebbe Rayatz arrived, he announced that “America is no different,” while pointing out and emphasizing the tremendous challenges and resistance, as well as the negative traits from which these derived.  He spoke about the “ice of America,” the coldness towards spiritual matters and the preoccupation with materialism, and the need to wage war against these traits and attitudes.  He issued proclamations calling for repentance in preparation for Moshiach, but he also highlighted the possible threat of the war reaching our shores, and warned that those who don't repent will be left behind.
 
Reading the talks of the Rebbe Rayatz from those years provides an extremely stark contrast with the approach of his successor.  In fact, it is so extreme that there were those from within and without that saw this shift as some sort of compromise of values.  The Rebbe, however, made it clear that this was not the case, and was most emphatic that nobody should extrapolate from the change in approach that it is any way acceptable to alter or compromise the smallest detail of Jewish law, custom or belief, so as to bring the Torah “closer” to the people.  Clearly, the differences in approach are not simply stylistic but have roots in the loftiest of the spiritual realms as alluded to in Chassidus, and from which we can glean some understanding on a simple level.
 
Bringing the “revelation of the giving of the Torah down to the lower hemisphere” is a “top-down” effort, which in order to be successful must overwhelm any resistance and overpower any opposition.   On the other hand, “revealing the power of the Giving of the Torah” is a “bottom-up” effort to extract the hidden potential for G-dliness from within the realm of the physical and its inhabitants.  Thus, by definition, there needs be a radical shift in approach focusing on the latent and inherent goodness within each individual rather than the negatives that need to be overcome.  This is accomplished by seeing and relating only to the good within each individual and situation, and avoiding negative messages at all costs.  Nothing has changed in terms of the demands of Torah and Chassidus, and in fact, in many ways and on many levels the Rebbe demands more than in previous generations as per the unique times we live in and the unique powers we have been granted.
 
These two phases in completing the final mission before Moshiach, bringing the transcendent light of Torah down to the lowest levels and elevating the lowest people and places to be receptive to the most transcendent aspects of Torah, have been completed, as the Rebbe informed us repeatedly throughout the years 5751-5752 (after having done so on occasion in the late 5740's).  Just as we have succeeded in integrating the innermost essence of Torah and G-d with the physicality of the world, now we are supposed to be focused on integrating our innermost essence with our own physical beings in the single-minded effort to bring about the full revelation of “the days (revelations) of Moshiach.”
 
“NO” TO STOPGAP MEASURES
 
Considering that the Rebbe has told us that we have been successful with this approach, at least insofar as reaching out to our fellow Jews who never had the benefit of a Jewish or Chassidic education, it is shocking that when it comes to “our own,” we are still mired in fighting negativity, bombarding our young people with negative messages and embracing compromise solutions for those that “fall out of the system” or more accurately are “pushed out of the system.”  It seems as if every other month there is a new program for “at-risk kids” or “dropouts” that is predicated on the philosophy of diminished expectations.  In fact, even the “solution” is broadcasting negative messages to these kids by making it clear that we don't believe they are capable of “making it” to become a full-fledged Chassid, Yirei Shomayim and Lamdan.
 
When I got involved in dealing with this issue fifteen years ago, long before it became popular, the greatest difficulty I encountered was not with the kids themselves but the adults in their lives and the adults in positions of power within the community, who thought I was being unrealistic in my expectations of what can be done for and with these kids.  In a matter of years, I saw more and more vocational programs (“at least let him/her keep Shabbos and kosher and feel like a part of the community”) being generously funded and I found myself more and more a lone voice in the wilderness.  I predicted back then that many of these programs would fold (they have) and that others would see themselves as successes if even a small percentage of their graduates remained nominally religious (they do). 
 
In these times, when we are supposed to be making the final preparations for Moshiach as the train is pulling out to take us to our final destination, we need to reject all these “exile mentality” driven stopgap measures and raise our children with the positive messages (which are absolutely real and true) that the Rebbe has given us.  In those cases where we need to “bring back” those who feel that they have been pushed away, we need to convey to them the absolute belief and knowledge that they can reach any heights despite the negative messages that have convinced them that they are unappreciated, unwanted, or incorrigible troublemakers (whether due to any of a number of “disorders” or due to being “a bad kid”).
 
In the spirit of 28 Sivan may we make the proper resolutions as individuals and as communities to live “all of our days to bring to the days of Moshiach,” especially when it comes to the education of our children, revealing within them the fact that they are G-d's “anointed ones,” the “moshiachs” who are meant to lead the way to greet Moshiach himself, immediately, NOW!
 

 


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