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A Rebbe Zusha Story for Chanukah: I had no Intention

Rabbi Meshulam Zusil of Anapoli, better known as Rebbe Zusha, was a senior student of the Maggid of Mezritch. The eldest brother of the renowned Rebbe Elimelech of Lizhansk, Rebbe Zusha is known to have been a Torah scholar and a genius in earnestness and sincerity. Many of the stories about him highlight his earnest nature. He passed away on the 2nd of Shevat, 5560 (1800) and was brought to rest by the side of the Maggid of Mezritch in Anapoli.

Once, before Chanukah, one of Rebbe Zusha’s friends from among the tzaddikim of the generation asked him if he had had the time to learn the Arizal’s mystical intentions (kavanot) for lighting the Channukah candles.

“That is not Zusha’s way,” Rebbe Zusha answered. “Zusha lights the candles, and the moment that Zusha performs the mitzvah, all the secrets are revealed. Zusha does not have to learn the mystical intentions ahead of time. And even if he were to learn them ahead of time, it would just reduce and limit the revelation of light.”

What is greater: learning Torah or performing its mitzvot? The sages of the Mishnah period debated this point and eventually determined that Torah study is greater, for it brings one to fulfill the mitzvot.[1] Chasדidut, however, teaches that in the days of Mashiach, it will be determined that the performance of a mitzvah is greater than Torah learning. The future greatness of the deed was captured in Rebbe Zusha’s Chanukah candle-lighting. By means of the deed, all the secrets of the Torah will be revealed. Then it will be known that the deed is not only the ultimate goal of learning Torah, but that the deed infuses the learning with a unique revelation. “As such, we can say that the deed is greater, for it brings one to learn Torah.”

From Rebbe Zusha’s words, we understand that he followed this unique approach with respect to every mitzvah he fulfilled. Nonetheless, he expressed his approach in this story specifically, by Divine Providence, regarding Chanukah. Rebbe Zusha’s approach can be likened to the abrupt, impulsive action taken by the Maccabees, who burst forward suddenly with a bold rebellion against the Hellenists. Chanukah also expresses a spirit of spontaneity and openness to the moment’s Divine inspiration. In the language of Kabbalah, Chanukah is a holiday of rectification of chaos.

Kabbalah speaks of two Worlds, or states of consciousness, known as chaos (תֹּהוּ) and rectification (תִּקּוּן). Where the World of Chaos, which comes first both chronologically and developmentally is powerful, stormy, and unpredictable, the World of Rectification is modest, settled, and harmonious. Nonetheless, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, who often repeated that “deeds are paramount,” stated that the formula for bringing the Mashiach was to bring the lights (or, energy) of chaos and insert them into the vessels of rectification. The Hasmonean[2] who rises against the most powerful culture in the world without fully thinking through the possible repercussions provides an example of one who utilizes the great energy of chaos and in doing so mimics the Greek warrior who has no boundaries. His goal, however, is completely different from the Hellenist’s goal. The Hasmonean sacrifice is made for the sake of reaching a world rectified under the rule of Heaven. The miracle that followed the war, whereby the candles of the Menorah burned for an unnatural amount of time also demonstrated the same wondrous cooperation between chaos and rectified order. While the number seven symbolizes nature and order, on Chanukah, that order was breached, and the candles in the Menorah burned for a miraculous eight days. The Hasmonean is one who cries out “Mashiach Now,” and indeed, in Hebrew, the letters of “Hasmonean” (חַשְׁמוֹנַאי) can be rearranged to spell “Mashiach Now” (מָשִׁיחַ נַאוֹ).

How is the greatness and superiority of deed over learning expressed here? Chaos always seems coarse and impervious, an obstinate reality that leaves little room for communication. According to the Arizal, one of the reasons for the shattering of the World of Chaos was the lack of inter-inclusion between its elements, i.e., the sefirot. Thus, loving-kindness could not communicate with might and vice versa. This is a dangerous situation, but the forces acting under the envelope of the World of Chaos do display power and determination that cannot be found in states of rectification that are based on orderly conduct (and compromise).

For this reason, deed, as one of the soul’s instruments (or garments, as they are known in Chasidic thought) manages to express the intensity of God’s will in reality far more than any of the other two, more spiritual instruments/garments, speech and thought. Thought wanders all over the place and speech can be interpreted in many different ways and in many different contexts. Deed, conversely, is solid and final; it creates facts.

In a famous letter that the Maggid of Mezritch sent to his son, he praises each of his disciples for his own particular lofty character. About Rebbe Zusha, the Maggid writes that he has ascended above and beyond the path upon which Rebbe Schneur Zalman of Liadi (the Alter Rebbe of Chabad) treads in his wisdom. Rebbe Zusha’s path is the path of the supernal crown.  His concrete deeds that do not filter through the intellect and thought are necessary  to reveal the pleasure inherent in the crown. Skipping over the intellect allows for deeds that capture the holy chaos of the crown, like the figure of Rebbe Zusha himself.

Image by esbeitz


[2]. The numerical value of “Hasmonean” (חַשְׁמוֹנַאי), 415, is the same as that of a “righteous warrior” (צַדִּיק גִּבּוֹר).


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