An Encounter with Chabad

Rav Yair Dreifuss • 2018

the fear of Yom Kippur is not a fear of the King on His Throne of Judgment, Rather, it is a consequence of the great abundance and endless purity that descend on the world at that time

The Alter Rebbe’s teachings on the Days of Mercy moved me deeply and made a tremendous impression on the formation of my Avodat Hashem. The Alter Rebbe writes about the puzzling verse “Forgiveness is with you, so that you may be held in awe,” (Psalms 130:4) – for does not forgiveness relieve fear? He explains that the fear of Yom Kippur is not the result of judgement. Quite the opposite: the source of fear is the overflow of mercy present on this day. The Hassid cannot contain this abundance of love and purity: he fears that he is not worthy. This very feeling provokes the awe of the Yamim HaNoraim: Will we be able to sustain the divine Will that has vanished into kingship and existence? Will God wish to redeem us? The anxiety of being unfit to receive Godly mercy and redemption – that is the deep fear. This is the culmination of the created man’s experience: hopelessness. From here, one’s heart is opened to love God, to contain abundance without limits.

I remember when I heard this teaching of the Alter Rebbe many years ago: that the fear of Yom Kippur is not a fear of the King on His Throne of Judgment (as I had been taught in the yeshivas of my youth). Rather, it is a consequence of the great abundance and endless purity that descend on the world at that time. Its uncontainability means there are no vessels to hold it in, so the vessels break - and this very experience of abundance shocks and awakens fear. This teaching caused a fundamental revolution in my understanding of the Yamim HaNoraim. I am deeply grateful to the Alter Rebbe for having opened my eyes and sweetened the experience of Yom Kippur, turning it into one of pleasure and a full heart.


“There is none but Him” (אין עוד מלבדו) – this is the motto of Chabad. Its meaning: the negation of any ‘independent’ existence of the world. The world does not exist in and of itself, explains the Alter Rebbe: rather, everything is Godliness.  The subjective perspective that the world is a differentiated, particular yesh – this is blindness. The purpose of the Hassid’s work is to return the yesh to the ayin, to merit the mystical awareness that ‘there is none but Him.’ Many Chabad terms are developed from this concept, such as “nullification of the yesh” (ביטול היש): submission, a willful gesture in which the ego hides its yesh in the face of divine Ein Sof. Also “nullification in reality” (ביטול במציאות): an enlightened situation of the ego becoming ayin, the dissolution of the differences between Creator and created, the created being enveloped in the light of Ein Sof.

This Chabad notion of a purifying ‘nullification’ does not stop with negating the (independent) world, but rather continues to religious faith itself. Even such a realm - with all its spirituality - is stepped in terms and concepts that separate it from the Ein Sof. This position requires deep reflection and has far-reaching consequences for Avodat Hashem.

We will consider several of these consequences here, beginning with the Chabad effort to dull the drama of the Yamim Noraim, turning them instead into a thing of “Yesh and something of its own.” in the presence of Whom everything is considered as nothing (כולא קמיה כלא חשיב), there is no acute significance to the Days of Mercy over any other days. The holy days - as well as the divine holy names - belong to the Revealed, to the low, baseline service of God. Above that - the purification of man and his self-nullification.

The Onset of a Feminine Age


In a different place, the Alter Rebbe teaches that there is Torah of Sinai - the element of erusin (engagement) - and the Torah of Messiah - the element of nisuin (marriage). At Mount Sinai, the external Torah was shown - the Torah as erusin - and only in the future will the internal element - the joy of Torah, the element of nisuin - be revealed:

“To understand what is said with regards to the future - ‘Gladdening the groom with the bride’ - this is the matter of erusin and nisuin (engagement and marriage). At that point, it was the element of erusin, for at the giving of the Torah (although there was a face-to-face revelation) it was only done so on the external level of permission and prohibition (איסור והיתר). But the inner dimensions of Torah…was not revealed and still isn’t….And this is similar to the aspect of erusin, for there too only an external knowledge is present, not internal…but in the future, when there is a revelation of the internality of the Torah…this will be the aspect of nisuin….And for this reason, the groom says “Behold, you are consecrated unto me…” and the bride is silent; but in the future, when she rises up and above, she will also be impressed and the “Voice of the bride” will be called.”

The Alter Rebbe ties together the revelation of the Torah of nisuin - the Torah of pleasure and internality - and the awakening of femininity and the female voice. These thoughts were strengthened by the last Rebbe, Menachem Mendel. He taught that feminism is one of the signs of redemption, the Shekhina’s shaking off some dust. The Alter Rebbe forged a new path to speak not only about man but also to man and his identity - to spread Torah and a new language, a Torah of pleasure and present being, partnership and unity between masculinity and femininity in a person, and to signal towards a rising liberation of feminine consciousness. Leaving galus with mercy is not only dependent on God’s renewed revelation, but also in discovering the face of another person.

Balancing these sides is vital for the existence of Torah and faith. The heart does not reveal to the mouth: a Torah that is completely open revealed will lose its spirit, its charisma. Though it is the foundation upon which tradition is built - the mandatory anchor of commitment to the covenant - still faith needs purification, so that it does not itself becomes yesh, something that exists in and of itself.

The shidduch (coupling, match) of a woman to a man is suspended  between two elements: (1) the coincidence of their encounter (2) the dimension of eternity in this match, an awareness of “‘Forty days before the infant’s creation, a bas kol (heavenly voice) cries out: ‘The daughter of ploni (e.g. John Doe) to ploni!'” (Sotah 2a).

The problem: how to hold these two contradictory truths together?

On the one hand: an incidental pair amid a potentially infinite set of matches, the non-absolute nature of the shidduch. On the other hand: the mindset and faith that ‘A woman to a man – this is from God’, literally, and forty days before the infant’s birth the bas kol cries out its soul mate.

The sources describe the tension between the deterministic understanding of coupling (per Laban) and the Jewish perspective, which sees the shidduch as an act of free will.

Laban gives his sister Rivkah away as though a demon had forced his hand, unwillingly:

“And Laban and Betuel answered and said: ‘This is from God, we cannot speak ill or good of you. Here is Rivkah before you- take [her] and go, and she will be a wife to the son of your master, as God has spoken.” (Genesis 44:50-51).

A similar situation is described when Laban gives Rachel over to Jacob:

“Laban said, ‘Better that I give her to you than that I should give her to an outsider. Stay with me.’…When morning came, there was Leah! So, he said to Laban, ‘What is this you have done to me? I was in your service for Rachel! Why did you deceive me?’ Laban said, ‘It is not the practice in our place to marry off the younger before the older.’(Genesis 29:19)

Laban’s decisions are the results of a whisper and a dream:

“But Laban said to him, ‘If you will indulge me, I have learned by divination that the LORD has blessed me on your account.’” (Genesis 30:27)

“I have it in my power to do you harm; but the God of your father said to me last night, ‘Beware of attempting anything with Jacob, good or bad.’” (Genesis 31:29)

Laban does not love simple humanity. Guessing, divination – these are close to his heart and beliefs. He knows how to separate religion from life. The happenings of human sickness, love for a woman – these do not belong in the divine realm.

By contrast, the match of Rivkah and Yitzchak is described as a human, real, natural happening: its beginning is incidental, its continuation full of the doubts and wonders that accompany a fateful human act.

The final verse that closes the circle of Rivkah and Yitzchak’s relationship further strengthens the human dimension of this event by describing the deep attachment between family and love:

“Isaac then brought her into the tent of his mother Sarah, and he took Rebekah as his wife. Isaac loved her, and thus found comfort after his mother’s death.” (Genesis 24:67)

In the first stage Yitzchak brought her to his house, then she became his wife – and only then did love arise. And in the final stage – the family is restored and complete, with Rivkah filling the void left by Sarah’s passing.

Marital love is not the reason for marriage, but its result. Mussar books teach us that actual love is the outcome of giving. One does not give because he loves; one loves because he gives.

The contrast between Eliezer and Laban is especially prominent in the verses describing the decision-making process in Laban’s home (Genesis 44:50-51, see above). The phrase “this is it” contains a negation of the possibility of human interference – “We cannot speak ill…” Eliezer, on the other hand, is engaged in very human efforts that are cut off from any apparent divine interference, and he must therefore resort to pleading and persuasion.

It is only in retrospect that Rivkah is understood as an ultimate continuation of Sarah.

Also, Jacob’s love for his wives is all human, described in a way that is in direct opposition with Laban’s ideology.

Rabbi Yosi bar Chalafta and the Matrona – A Closer Look at a Well-Known Midrash

…A certain [non-Jewish] matron once asked Rabbi Yosi bar Chalafta, “In how many days did the Holy One, Blessed Be He, created His world?”

“In six days,” he answered.

“And what has He been doing since then?”

“The Holy One, Blessed Be He, sits and makes matches,” he answered, “assigning the daughter of this man to that man, the wife of this man to that man, the possessions of this man to that man.”

“If that is difficult,” she scoffed, “I, too, can do the same. I have so many manservants and maidservants; in no time I can match them up.”

Said he to her: “If it is easy in your eyes, it is as difficult before the Holy One, Blessed Be He, as the dividing of the Red Sea.”

Rabbi Yosi bar Chalafta went.

She went and took a thousand manservants and a thousand maidservants and lined them up opposite each other. She then said, “This one will marry that one and this one will marry that one,” and married them all that night. The next day, those who were thus united came to her; this one’s head was injured, that one’s eye was out of its socket, another one’s leg was broken. She asked them, “What’s the matter?” This woman said, “I do not want this man,” while this man protested, “I do not want that woman.”

Straightaway, she summoned Rabbi Yosi bar Chalafta and admitted to him: “There is no god like your God: it is true, your Torah is indeed beautiful and praiseworthy, and you spoke the truth!”

This midrash comes to teach us that couples and families are a divine miracle.

Since the Earth was created and became ‘natural,’ humans believe in their own powers and those of rationality and put their trust in them. Yet the heart opens more and more to spiritual dimensions.

The value that remains a principle in our human society today, that every man has a specific woman for him – has provoked both protest and interest.

Moreover: the pairing of man and woman is a Jewish idea.

The matron’s failure in finding a match for her servants is not only a sign of the miraculous nature of such an activity, but also a testament to the truth of the Jewish tradition. The matron’s admission of “There is no godod like Your God…” is not only an acknowledgement of the value of family, but also of the God of Israel and the Torah.

Family is the foundation of Israelite faith. The Shekhina rests only upon Israelite families.

Rabbi Yosi bar Chalafta reveals the secret of free will: it is possible to escape arbitrariness through free choice. Partnership and family can be free choices.

It is impossible to force desire. Freedom is human essence, and in its godly essence is revealed.

The Ramba”m identified human freedom with the essence of godliness. The Ra”m already taught [above] that freedom of desire – ‘if he wished, him and her’ – is the fundamental human basis of a couple. The willed, desired decision reveals the place of godly absolutism in the depths, in the ‘oneness’ of the soul.

Avoiding arbitrariness – this is possible in deciding on a specific woman. The decision has the power to turn strangeness into intimacy, family. Through the decision, man leaves behind second doubts and establishes a covenant, an intimacy with his mate.

There are many who have been married to their spouses for years without ever deciding to do so truly.

The source of tears is the internal rift that is not bridged, based on the absence of a “Yes” from the deepest place in one’s heart.

The Multiplied Identity of Marriage- The Teaching of the Beit Jacob from Izbica

According to Beit Jacob, every marriage has two levels: revealed and hidden.

One level is the expression of choice. The woman marks life with the light of desire, longing and images. This is called ‘going with the partner,’ a marriage of ‘a revealed world,’ the partnership of Jacob and Rachel. The other level is the true story of marriage, revealed only in retrospect. This perspective is a mother’s, called ‘the match came to him’ – the marriage of Leah and Jacob, a hidden world. According to the Ar”izal, Leah is connected to the mother, to Eve – mother of all life.

The Admu”r teaches that in general, one does not split the truth of his existence into two: he wants to live life according to known desires, with everything ‘in control.’ Thus, he resists the ‘motherly’ essence and perspective on his existence. The mother represents authentic preparations, warning against deviations whose source lies in impulse and seduction.

Married life is a jumble of seduction, risk and desire – characteristic of this immature and early stage of shared life – and  the level of marital maturity that grows and gains substance from mis-match, from the failures and tensions of married life.

In Imago therapy workshops (based on Dr. Hendrix’s theory) couples facing difficulties are invited to see these troubles as an invitation to bring one another ‘to light.’ Someone said that true partnership happens when one reveals that his partner is not the person he thought she was…

The love and the Shekhina that dwell in the house allow such opposites to coexist and be held together.

ישיבת שיח יצחק גבעת הדגן - אפרת, מיקוד: 90435