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The French Revolution

The modern democratic system of government is an outgrowth of the French Revolution, some 220 years ago. What is less well-known is that the rise of modern democracy coincided with the founding of the Chabad Chassidic movement by Rabbi Schneur Zalmen of Liadi, known as the Alter Rebbe.

Is there any connection between these two developments? At first, the relationship was entirely negative. The Alter Rebbe was at the forefront of opposition to Napoleon, fearful that the new wave of liberalization would have a devastating effect on traditional religious practice.

Although this newfound freedom promised greater equality and rights to the Jewish minority population, who suffered immensely under restrictive laws in anti-Semitic Europe, the Rebbe nevertheless felt that the democratic movement would tear many Jews off the path of observance.

Unfortunately, the Alter Rebbe's apprehensions proved to be correct. France became a center of secularism, and for many years there was only minimal Jewish religious activity in the country. In fact, most French Jews ended up either converting to Christianity or assimilating into the local culture.

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For this reason, the Alter Rebbe played an active role in the French-Russian war against Napoleon. His contributions to the Russian Czar were so substantial that he was named an "honored citizen for generations." The Alter Rebbe and his entire family fled their village of Liady in advance of Napoleon's troops. The Alter Rebbe ordered that the entire house be left bare of all belongings, so that nothing, even a slipper, should fall into Napoleon's hands. This hasty retreat weakened the Alter Rebbe to the point that he fell ill on the road and died in the village of Piena, on today's Hebrew date, the 24th of Tevet.

However, at a certain point there was a change in the spiritual status of France, particularly after the Second World War. A great influx of practicing Jews moved to France, among them many Chabad chassidim, and they opened many new schools and houses of worship. In time, the face of France was transformed, from a bastion of secularism and assimilation to a center of Judaism.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe explained that the rejuvenation of France as a center of Judaism is part of the fulfillment of a prophecy of the end-times. The book of Obadiah mentions France as a place that Moshiach will conquer on his way to introducing a new world order. All people will recognize G-d's majesty and will prostrate themselves to Him.

This conquering, the Rebbe explains, will take place in a spiritual sense. This is precisely what has been accomplished in France by the many Jews who settled there in the wake of World War II. They succeeded in implanting a strong faith in the remnants of the Jewish people living in that country, and the Jewish influence continues to grow and thrive.

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The Rebbe's chassidim in France succeeded in their mission thanks to the groundbreaking work performed by the Rebbe himself, who lived with his wife in France for a decade before the war. The foundations they laid later came to fruition after the war. As the Rebbe's wife, Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka Schneersohn, once said, "We plowed and planted -- and now all you need to do is reap the fruits."

The Hebrew word for France, Tzarfat, also has the numerical value of 770 -- the address of the Rebbe's synagogue and also the numerical value of Beis Moshiach -- "The House of the Messiah." From this house came the power to transform France to holiness and turn it into a center for preparing the world for Moshiach.
 

 


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