Contemporary psychology speaks of a concept called cognitive dissonance. This term means that the human mind cannot simultaneously grasp two contradictory thoughts. If it knows that one concept is true, it cannot accept a second truth that contradicts the first. Instead, it will begin to rationalize and distort one of the ideas until the contradiction fades away.

I always had a hard time finding an example to illustrate this concept, for it was difficult for me to understand how two truths could contradict. If two ideas are contradictory, one of them is obviously wrong. You investigate both ideas until you discover which is wrong and then you proceed accordingly. But if an idea is true, then it represents reality, and if another truth contradicts it, then neither of them can be absolute truth and you’ve got to reach a new understanding that encompasses both.

After the 27th of Adar, I understood the concept of cognitive dissonance. There are certain truths about Mashiach and about the Rebbe that are fundamental elements of every Lubavitcher’s understanding. These truths have not been contrived at a farbrengen of bachurim late one Thursday night, nor do they stem from a song made up for color war at summer camp. They are truths based on the Rebbe’s sichos, the Alter Rebbe’s statements in Tanya, and a rich collection of chassidic sources. They have been the basis of Chabad aspirations, not only in this generation, but in earlier generations.

On the other hand, what occurred on the 27th of Adar — both in 5752 (1992) and 5754 (1994) — and on Gimmel Tammuz also made us realize truths, introducing us to a situation which, however painful, is reality.

Because of the contradiction, there are some — even in Lubavitch — who try to shut the thought of Mashiach out of their minds entirely. “What we believed before Gimmel Tammuz is obviously not relevant now,” they rationalize. “We’ll deal with what will ultimately happen when it becomes a reality. Now, let’s deal with what is in front of us.”

There’s something very inviting about such pragmatism. It puts you squarely with your feet on the ground and your eyes facing forward. But in doing so, it makes you compromise — and not on small things, but on issues that lie at the heart of what Lubavitch believes.

Others minimize Gimmel Tammuz, explaining that it’s something very temporary. “Just another kapital Tehillim, just another hour of mivtza’im, and Mashiach will be here.”

There is something attractive about such belief. In addition to preserving your ideological integrity, it’s reassuring. But it is an oversimplification, making what will be the greatest miracle of all history a forgone conclusion, something to be taken for granted. Perhaps, more important, it oversimplifies the mission in front of us. For it implies that there is nothing left to do and we should just sit back and let the Geulah happen. If only it would be that easy. Look outside, at the world around us. And look into our own souls. Are we and others Mashiachdik? Can we honestly say that we are ready for Mashiach?

Neither compromise is acceptable. And neither reality — neither the ideological reality of the Chabad tradition, nor the physical reality of 27 Adar and Gimmel Tammuz — can be ignored. Facing the conflict between these two positions makes us go deeper. We must look inside ourselves and find a level of soul deep enough to recognize — and resolve — both positions.

Self-confrontation is an integral part of the spiritual legacy of Lubavitch. It is a common saying that in Lubavitch, there is no need for the edifying, ethical teachings of a mussar sefer. Instead, we look in the mirror. What that means is that a person doesn’t think of his character faults academically, to be understood in the abstract. Instead, he looks at himself in the mirror, sees what’s wrong, and goes about changing it.

This approach gives one the inner strength to confront difficulties and challenges honestly. In Tanya,1 when speaking about facing difficulties in earning one’s livelihood, the Alter Rebbe counsels that one should not seek comfort in escapism. Rather, like a son who is being punished by a compassionate father, he should “look straight at his Father, face to face, and endure His strikes with love.”

It was said that the disciples of the Maggid of Mezritch manifested three different approaches in dealing with the evil in other people. One approach was personified by the Rebbe, Reb Zusya. He never saw any wickedness at all. No matter how bad a person was, all Reb Zusya saw was good.

Another approach was personified by the Rebbe, Reb Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev. Reb Levi Yitzchak would see the evil in other people, but he couldn’t accept it. And he would pray until G‑d washed it away.

The third approach was personified by the Alter Rebbe. He would see the evil in others and despite the discomfort, face the problem, and talk to them. Through this, he would be able to teach them a path of Divine service that would enable them to correct their difficulties themselves.

The Alter Rebbe conveyed this ability to face situations honestly to his students and it has become part of the heritage of Chabad-Lubavitch. It is on this heritage that we have to rely in the present moments. It is compromising on reality not to face Gimmel Tammuz. But should Gimmel Tammuz cause us to divorce ourselves from core beliefs that define who we are as Lubavitchers? Instead, we have to live with this paradox and accept its dual dimensions.

There is no way that we can roll back the wheel of history. What happened a year ago, six years ago, and eight years ago are all part of the past and not our present reality. There is no way we can recreate what 770 used to be. But knowing that we can’t go back should not lead to despondency. If we can’t go back, we must go forward. And the path forward will lead to Mashiach.

How can we go forward alone, without the Rebbe?

Most obviously, we can go forward, because we’re not without the Rebbe.

To refer to the example of shlichus: A shaliach does not stay physically close to the Rebbe; he works in a distant community. But because he never forgets that he is a shaliach, he does not act independently. While not shirking his own responsibilities, he does not rely on his own unaided power. In doing so, he opens himself up to a greater force. He’s powered by the Rebbe’s energy. And that makes it possible to achieve far more than he ever could on his own.

Now is there anyone who thinks for a moment that the same input of energy is not being accessed today? Take a look at how Lubavitch has grown in these last six years. There are thousands of chassidim who never saw the Rebbe physically and yet are deeply devoted to him. And they are inspiring others to emulate their example.

The Rebbe defined what we have to do, explaining that the avodah askedof us is different from the life-work required in previous generations. In our generation, the desire for Mashiach has to be in the forefront of our consciousness. The Redemption, moreover, is not a far-off, future dream, but a motif that we should anticipate in our lives and in that way, spread to others.

Particularly with regard to such avodah is the paradigm of shlichus relevant. For anticipating the Redemption is a task that we cannot do on our own. As mentioned in earlier chapters, it is the Rebbe’s avodah. But through learning his teachings, we can adopt his mindset and through seeing ourselves as his shluchim, we can cause this mindset to ripple through the world at large.

There’s no question that without the Rebbe here in a physical way, accomplishing this is much more difficult. Chassidim would often ask: “Why is there no tractate in the Talmud that focuses directly on G‑dliness?” And they would answer: “Because in every generation, there are tzaddikim, righteous men, who ‘resemble their Creator’2 and endow their contemporaries with the awareness of G‑d.3

That was what visiting 770 meant. And today, when we cannot see that in a physical way, the task of revealing G‑dliness throughout the world is more difficult. Moreover, because we do not have the Rebbe’s immediate reinforcement in a concrete way, when challenges arise — and in this task challenges often arise — it is natural to become discouraged. But because it is difficult and at times we feel discouraged, should we abandon the mission the Rebbe gave us?

* * *

Once Reb Yechezkel Feigin, affectionately known to his students as Chatshe, was holding a farbrengen with yeshivah bochurim in a cellar in communist Russia. Needless to say, such a gathering was forbidden, and two of the students were charged with the task of waiting upstairs to keep their eyes open for anything suspicious.

Without any thought of the danger involved, Reb Chatshe farbrenged from the heart. He made demands of himself, and he made demands of the bochurim with whom he was farbrenging. He wanted more sincerity, more commitment. The bochurim understood and took his words to heart. Some began to cry.

Suddenly, one of the bochurim who was on watch upstairs came running down. A suspicious-looking group of men had entered the neighborhood. It was possible that they were KGB agents.

The atmosphere changed immediately. The bochurim quickly suggested various plans. Some thought that they should flee. Others argued that this would arouse suspicion and it was likely that several would be caught. It would be better, they continued, to take out magazines and political science books and pretend they were discussing current events. A third group maintained that the ruse would not help. Instead, they suggested hiding within the building. There was a sub-basement and several closets where they might not be found.

The discussion soon became heated, each one defending his suggestions. Then the other bochur came down. The suspicious-looking group had left as unexpectedly as they had come; the farbrengen could continue.

Reb Chatshe told the bochurim: “Your conduct provokes a question.”

They listened as he continued. “Which is more important to you — material things or spiritual things?”

The bochurim were honest, and right away answered: “Material things.”

“Why, then,” Reb Chatshe asked, “when I spoke to you about spiritual things did you begin to cry, and then when a problem arose about our safety, no one cried?”

“What would crying have helped?” one of the bochurim answered. “Something had to get done.”

“Oh, I see,” Reb Chatshe responded, “crying is for when you know that you’re not going to do anything about a problem.”

* * *

After the Rebbe Rayatz passed away, a chassid wrote to the Rebbe that since the passing of the Rebbe Rayatz, he is very broken-hearted and when he is alone, he often bursts into tears. The Rebbe answered him: “What is accomplished by crying? Is this the Rebbe’s intention? That he wants him to cry?!... In the meantime, the Rebbe’s shlichus is not being carried out.”4

Everyone is broken up about Gimmel Tammuz. But being broken up is a very self-oriented approach. It reflects one’s thoughts about oneself, not one’s thoughts about what the Rebbe wants of us.

But how can we reconcile the contradictory realities mentioned above?

Perhaps the first step in resolving this conflict for ourselves is admitting that we do not have an answer. It is not up to us to explain. Moreover, how can we expect to have an explanation? The Geulah and the truths Mashiach will reveal will transcend ordinary mortal understanding. Is it then so surprising that the path leading to his coming isn’t so easily comprehensible?

Better to leave the job of explaining to G‑d. Or as the Rebbe said5 about the Previous Rebbe: “Let him come. Be it through the door or the window or the roof”; we will not have to tell him how. Our mission is not to explain the entire sequence that will precede Mashiach’s coming. Our mission is to prepare ourselves and the people with whom we are in contact to look forward to his coming.

When discussing the various preliminary phases of Mashiach’s coming, Rambam states:6

All these and similar matters cannot be [clearly] known by man until they occur.... Even the Sages have no established tradition regarding these matters....

Neither the sequence of these events nor their precise details are among the fundamental principles of faith. One should not occupy himself at length... with these and similar matters,... for they bring one to neither the awe, nor the love [of G‑d].

To translate Rambam’s words into a directive for action: Don’t become involved in speculation concerning G‑d’s plans; let’s get on with the job which we have to do.

We are speaking in the plural because achdus is fundamentally necessary to bring Mashiach.7 Moreover, the task requires combined efforts. It is simply too great for any small group of individuals to do on their own.

The active effort to bring Mashiach will itself engender achdus, because there are no unifying factors more powerful than dedication to a higher goal and awareness that we are working toward it together. This spawns a unique camaraderie, like that shared by soldiers manning positions together in battle.

* * *

Before he passed away, Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai called for his students, and when they came, began to cry.

“Why are you crying?” the students asked.

“I don’t know in which direction they will be leading me,” Rabbi Yochanan answered.8

The Rebbeasks,9 “Why was it on the last day of his life that Rabbi Yochanan began taking stock of his spiritual achievements?” And the Rebbe explains that throughout his life, he simply didn’t have time. He was busy studying, teaching, and leading the Jewish people; he did not have time for his private concerns, even concerns of a spiritual nature. On his last day, when his life-work was completed, he began to make accounts.

Speaking to many shluchim — both those who officially hold positions as shluchim and ordinary men and women who have other professions, but who have also taken up the mantle of shlichus — I hear this story told over and over in contemporary terms. “Here a mivtza, and there a class,a mezuzah to put up, a kitchen to kasher, a lecture to attend, and a lecture to give. There’s no time to breathe.”

And this is the answer to the cognitive dissonance mentioned before. To go forward with heads held high, in touch with ourselves — with the world around us and with our spiritual purpose — and to dedicate ourselves to the task the Rebbe set out for us: To make the world conscious of Mashiach and to create an environment in which his mission can be fulfilled.10