Publisher’s Foreword

To the exiles who sat by the waters of Babylon, dreaming of the despoiled Sanctuary in Jerusalem, the prophet Yechezkel brought this message of consolation: “Though I have scattered them throughout the lands, I will be for them a little sanctuary in the lands to which they have come.”1

Where is this sanctuary in microcosm?

“Rabbi Yitzchak holds: ‘This refers to the synagogues and houses of study in Babylon.’ Rabbi Eliezer holds: ‘This refers to Beis Rabbeinu, the house of our teacher.’ ”2

* * *

Are these two interpretations opposed? What is the relationship between the miniature sanctuaries of Babylon and the Beis HaMikdash in Jerusalem? Since the Destruction, what is it that makes the Divine Presence choose to reside in particular sanctuaries? And how does this whole discussion in the Talmud find expression in our generation, on the eve of the Redemption?

These and many other, related questions are discussed and clarified in the essay before us, which is based on extracts from talks of the Rebbe Shlita on a number of occasions in recent years. It is particularly relevant today, when building operations are underway to expand the beis midrash of “770” considerably.

14 Kislev, 5752 [November 21, 1991]

A Home Away from Home

One of the chassidim of the Mitteler Rebbe, Rabbi Avraham Dovber of Bobroisk, has described3 his first journey to Lubavitch, which took place when he was six years old. In vivid and powerful terms, he relates the moving moments he experienced, his encounters with the Rebbe and the chassidim.

Perhaps more than anything else, he was inspired by the intense joy that the chassidim felt there. When he asked his father to explain this phenomenon, his father spoke to him about the Beis HaMikdash in Jerusalem. And the boy was bewildered, for this made his question all the more powerful. How could the chassidim celebrate in this manner when the Beis HaMikdash was destroyed?

With the tact of a skilled educator, his father gave him time for his own question to sink in, and then he explained in a calm but heartfelt tone:

Until G‑d, blessed be He, shows His mercy to us, sends us the righteous redeemer... and rebuilds Jerusalem and the Beis HaMikdash for us..., Lubavitch is our Jerusalem; the Rebbe’s shul — our Beis HaMikdash;...and the Rebbe — the Holy Ark, containing the tablets of G‑d’s Torah.

These are sentiments which a father shared with his son at a time of deep feeling. Are they merely sentiments? Is there any basis in our Torah heritage for such feelings and such statements?

By the Waters of Babylon

Significantly, very similar ideas are expressed by the prophet Yechezkel when comforting the Jews with the Word of G‑d, in the wake of the Babylonian exile:4 “So has G‑d, the L‑rd, spoken: ‘Though I have scattered them throughout the lands, I will be for them a sanctuary in microcosm in the lands to which they have come.’ ”

When analyzing this verse, our Sages5 offer two interpretations of the term “sanctuary in microcosm”: “Rabbi Yitzchak holds: ‘This refers to the synagogues and houses of study in Babylon.’ Rabbi Eliezer holds: ‘This refers to Beis Rabbeinu [“the house of our master,” i.e., Rav6 ] in Babylon.’ ”

Similarly, our Sages state,7 “Wherever the Jews were exiled, the Divine Presence accompanied them.” This statement is problematic, for “the entire earth is filled with His glory.”8 There is no place where G‑d is not found. What is meant by saying that the Divine Presence accompanies the Jews into exile?9

From the continuation of the passage, however, the intent becomes clear. The amoraim name certain synagogues in Babylon where there was an actual perception of the Divine Presence, resembling — albeit in microcosm — the manifestation of G‑dliness in the Beis HaMikdash. Not only did G‑d’s Presence rest in these synagogues in a hidden manner, as it does throughout the world at large. In these particular places, G‑d’s Presence could actually be perceived.

The Torah: G‑d’s Haven in This World

Based on the above, it can be explained that the opinions of Rabbi Yitzchak and Rabbi Eliezer differ only in emphasis, not in principle. Rabbi Eliezer would also accept the premise that the Divine Presence rested in all synagogues in Babylon, and Rabbi Yitzchak would agree that the most evident and manifest expression of the Divine Presence was in Beis Rabbeinu.

What was unique about Beis Rabbeinu, Rav’s house of study? It was the center of Torah law for the entire world. To explain: Commenting on the verse,10 “G‑d loves the gates of Zion more than all the dwellings of Yaakov,” our Sages declare:11 “G‑d loves the gates of those who excel in the realm of halachah more than the synagogues and houses of study..., for from the day the Beis HaMikdash was destroyed, G‑d has no [resting place] in this world other than the four cubits of halachah.”

Commenting on that passage, the Maharasha explains that the manifestation of the Divine Presence in the Beis HaMikdash was intrinsically related to the fact that it was the seat of the Sanhedrin, the ultimate halachic authority for the Jewish people. Similarly, since G‑d’s Presence is manifest in “the four cubits of halachah,” the place of the contemporary Torah authority is where the Divine Presence rests. Thus, the expression “sanctuary in microcosm” is an apt description for Beis Rabbeinu, the source for instruction regarding our Torah conduct in exile.

The Return of the Divine Presence

The connection of the synagogues established in exile to the Beis HaMikdash is further emphasized by the continuation of the passage cited above:12 “When they are redeemed in the future, the Divine Presence will accompany them.” The Maharasha explains this to mean that the Divine Presence will not remain in the places where it was revealed during the exile, but will return to Eretz Yisrael together with the Jewish people. Thus our Sages relate:13 “In the future, the synagogues and houses of study of [the diaspora] will be established in Eretz Yisrael.” Moreover, they will be positioned in direct proximity to the Beis HaMikdash, and the revelation of the Divine Presence in the Beis HaMikdash will permeate them as well.14

Furthermore, in the era immediately preceding the Redemption, there will be a foreglimpse of the Beis HaMikdash within the “sanctuary in microcosm” established in the exile. The Divine Presence will be revealed there, and from there will return with the Jewish people to Eretz Yisrael and to Jerusalem.15

A Beacon of Light

Based on the above, the chassid’s memoirs related above take on a different dimension. In every generation there is a Beis Rabbeinu, “the house of our master,”16 a “sanctuary in microcosm” which responds to the urgent needs of the generation and diffuses Torah instruction throughout the world. Thus it serves as the place where the Divine Presence is revealed par excellence.

Since the Divine Presence is revealed for the sake of the Jewish people,17 it is in the house of the leader of the people as a whole, the leader of the generation who is “the heart of the generation,”18 that the Divine Presence becomes manifest during the time the Jews are in exile.

The above concept allows us to appreciate the uniqueness of the Beis Rabbeinu established by the Previous Rebbe in America. Today, the largest segment of the international Jewish community is found in America, and there is located the infrastructure for our generation’s Torah leadership. This country was therefore chosen as the place for Beis Rabbeinu, the center for Torah instruction for the entire world.

Significantly, America has been described19 as “the lower hemisphere.” The Torah was given in the upper hemisphere and it is our task to spread the Torah throughout the world, elevating the totality of our existence. It is this service of — to borrow an expression of the Tzemach Tzedek’s20 — “Making this place Eretz Yisrael,” which prepares us for the age when “Eretz Yisrael will spread out throughout the entire world,”21 in the Era of the Redemption.

The Challenge Facing Our Generation

The connection of the Previous Rebbe’s Beis Rabbeinu to the Redemption is reflected in the very name of the building — “770,” for that is numerically equivalent to the Hebrew word פרצת, meaning “break through.” On the verse concerning the birth of Peretz, the progenitor of the Mashiach,22 פרצת עליך פרץ, our Sages comment,23 “This refers to the Mashiach, as it is written,24 “The one who breaks through (הפורץ) shall ascend before them.” This is the task of Mashiach — to break through the barriers of exile and spread holiness throughout the world, as it is written,25 “And you shall spread out vigorously (Ufaratzta) westward, eastward, northward and southward.”

Furthermore, the number 770 is a multiple of the number seven.26 Our Sages teach,27 “All the sevenths are cherished,” and it has been explained28 that the preciousness of the seventh of a series is reflected in the Jewish people’s task of drawing the Divine Presence down to the earth, so that the Divine Presence becomes manifest as it was manifest in the Sanctuary. This is also the task of our generation, the seventh generation — to hasten the coming of the Era of the Redemption, the era in which G‑d will again reveal His Presence in the world openly, and not merely in microcosm.

This is not a promise of the distant future, but an imminent reality. We are on the threshold of the Redemption and indeed, in the process of crossing that threshold.29 Our Rabbis relate30 that in every generation, there is a potential Mashiach. This means that Mashiach is among us, waiting for us to recognize his mission and create a climate in the world that will allow it to be fulfilled.

May this take place in the immediate future and then, together with all the synagogues and houses of study in the diaspora, the “sanctuaries in microcosm,” we will all proceed to Eretz Yisrael, to Jerusalem, and to the Beis HaMikdash.

An Adaptation of Addresses of the Lubavitcher Rebbe שליט"א
on Shabbos Parshas Noach, 5747, Shabbos Parshas Pinchas, 5751,
28 Sivan, 5751 and Other Occasions