Thursday, July 31, 2008

Rabbi Manis Friedman at Skokie Chabad July 27

Rabbi Friedman, shlita (term of respect/honor), wrote one of my favorite recently read books, Doesn’t Anyone Blush Anymore?, about modesty and relationships. When I saw the note in Likutei Peshatim, our community bulletin, that Skokie Chabad lined him up to speak, I decided to attend. I arrived at about 8:20 Sunday evening, just in time for Rabbi Friedman to begin. This was a wonderful speech, highlights of which I will try to summarize here. Rabbi Friedman almost convinced me to convert! I do not consider myself Lubavitch/Chabad, but I certainly admire the worldwide movement. Chabad did record the speech, so it is available by request:
Rabbi Friedman’s speech was about Moshiach, and he also addressed the question of whether the last Lubavitcher rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, z”l, was Moshiach. Big questions, big rabbi, big speech, and I thought he handled these well.

Rabbi Friedman considered strict belief in G-d really inferior to knowledge of G-d’s existence. He compared belief in G-d to belief in idols; we can only believe in idols because they are not real. With G-d, on the other hand, we have that in us. We got our belief in the Torah at Natan Torah—the event at which G-d gave us the Torah. G-d said to Moshe Rabbeinu, “I will speak to you, the people will hear, and the people will believe in Me forever.” Well said!

From there Rabbi Friedman moved to Moshiach, the promise of the Messiah. How do we “get” our belief in Moshiach, he asked? It is one of Rambam’s 13 Principles of Faith. If you don’t believe in the coming of Moshiach, then you don’t believe in the Torah. Now that the Temples are gone, we temporarily observe 270 of the original 613 mitzvahs. But every mitzvah is eternal; every mitzvah will be (or has the potential to be) observed forever. “Temporary” is not true. The fact that there are mitzvahs we don’t/cannot keep simply reflects the fact that we are in golus, which is a temporary situation. Rabbi Friedman mentioned another mitzvah that has never been fulfilled—building cities of refuge. (I did not know this.) The last time period when Jews could keep all the mitzvahs, Rabbi Friedman said, was during the time of David HaMelech. For this to recur, we need world peace, all the Jews assembled together, and the Third Temple. If you believe the world will stay the same, as it is today, then you don’t believe in Moshiach or the Torah. Belief in Moshiach, he said, means belief in the permanence and eternity of the Torah.

Moshiach will not need to perform miracles. Miracles are exceptions to the laws of nature suggest that nature is unholy. Torah tells us “Make this world holy.” This world is holier than the Next one, he said. (This surprised me, and I had to reread my notes. For the past 10 years all I’ve heard is that all we’re doing in this world, Olam Hazeh, is preparing for the Next One, Olam Haba.)

There is a tendency to replace knowledge with faith. (And that’s bad.) Moshiach is a Halachic necessity and a physical inevitability. (I like Rabbi Friedman’s optimism. He sounded very confident.) Belief in Moshiach is a step back from that. To illustrate, Rabbi Friedman mentioned former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin shaking hands with the terrorist mass murderer Yassir Arafat on the White House lawn in 1993. Rabbi Friedman asked, “Why must I believe in Moshiach and shake hands with Arafat?” The implication was he would rather (falsely) believe in Arafat and shake hands with Moshiach.

Briefly, on the belief that Rebbe Schneerson is, was, or could be Moshiach: Rabbi Friedman said the rebbe wanted people to stop believing in him as Moshiach. Rabbi Friedman really considers the idea an insult to the rebbe. Rabbi Friedman called the rebbe the Moshiach of his time (and every era has a Moshiach). He mentioned the rebbe’s tefillin campaign, which persuaded many Jews to add one additional mitzvah. For the first time in 2000 years, he said, no country suppresses Yiddishkeit. He gives the rebbe credit for that, and I don’t disagree with him.

What would it take for morality to take over the world? Rabbi Friedman considered the power the pope has—the spiritual leader of about one billion people. The pope gave a speech at an orthodox shul when he recently visited New York. Rabbi Friedman said this was a missed opportunity; the pope should have gone to the shul and listened. To the pope, Rabbi Friedman said, “Keep the mitzvahs you’re supposed to keep: get married!” Rabbi Friedman said the pope has the power to move the world in the direction of becoming good overnight.

A joke in Israel: Ariel Sharon is fine. It’s Olmert who is in a coma! He continued talking about Israel’s ability to change the world: We are not here to export oranges. We are here to export Torah. We could say, “We’re going to live by Torah and fight by Torah.” The Israeli government is a fraud. It is afraid of winning “Because they’ll hate us.” Then Rabbi Friedman shouted, “Hello!” This was pretty funny coming from Rabbi Friedman. But his point was serious. He mentioned the recent prisoner swap, in which Israel gave up a living murderous terrorist and child-killer for a couple of corpses. Embarrassing.
On Moshiach, again: our responsibility is to bring him, not believe in him.

I wish my notes were more complete; I didn’t bring a pad with me, and I had very little to write on. I’ll be better prepared in the future.

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