In 1905, during the Russo-Japanese war, the Rebbe Rashab (the fifth Lubavitcher Rebbe) made an enormous effort to send matzah and wine to Jewish Russian soldiers on the front. In return, the Rebbe received a telegram of gratitude from the soldiers, which they signed, "Soldiers of the Trenches of Shanghai".

This account reminded our Rebbe (the 7th, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson) of something told by the Alter Rebbe (the first of the dynasty) explaining why some letters written by the Baal Shem Tov are signed "Yisroel from Akuf". The Baal Shem Tov did not mean literally that he was from Akuf, since we know that he was from the town of Tlust. Rather, Tlust had been a walled city, but the stones of the walls were long gone and all that was left were deep ditches down to the foundations. The Baal Shem Tov's parents were so poor that they could not afford a regular house and lived in those dug out places. That was where the Besht was born and that is why he sometimes referred to himself as being from Akuf, which means "ditches" or "trenches". The Rebbe Rashab concluded by saying that it was with the strength of the trenches of the Besht, i.e. he knew what it meant to come from a "low place", that he was able to push away the trenches, meaning the low places, of others.

Since this story was told during Passover, there must be a connection to the meaning of Passover for us, today. During the holiday of Passover we are confronted with two opposites:

1) The Jewish people, because they had sunk to the level of the Egyptians, were in a very lowly spiritual state - the 49th Gate of Impurity. For this reason, the great kabbalist Rabbi Yitzchak Luria of Safed explains that the redemption from Egypt had to be in great haste, because had the Jewish people remained in Egypt even a short while longer they would have fallen to the lowest (50th) gate, and it would have been impossible for Moses to redeem them.

2) In contrast, at that very same time, there was an enormous revelation: the King of Kings, the Holy One Blessed be He, revealed Himself to them, "in His honor and His essence" (from the Passover Haggadah). Chasidism explains that "in His honor" means Kingship of the Infinite (Malchut d'Ayin Sof) - the highest level of the high; and "in His essence" means the Essence of the Infinite - a state of such pure divinity, it is indescribable, sometimes called "the Hidden Beauty". Even at the time of the Holy Temple, there were not revelations like those.

Just like in the redemption from Egypt the Jewish people were taken in a very short time from distress to liberation, so it will be in the future redemption….

The point is that these revelations came at the same time as an extreme, aggravated state of lowliness. This is what is described in the verse, "From the depths of my distress I called G‑d's name." (Psalms 118:5) It is specifically when we call out to G‑d from the depths, that "G‑d (the end of the verse), answered me with liberation".

It is the same for us now. Each year on Passover, the Seder is a process of drawing the revelation of G‑dliness into the world, from the highest - "Kadesh" (meaning holy), to This World - "Nirza" (meaning that our service be accepted). Only when we truthfully recognize our present spiritual darkness and confusion - and call to G‑d from there - will G‑d respond with divine revelation.

This applies also to Mashiach. When you tell someone that Mashiach can be here within the hour, his first reaction is to think about how lowly the world is and how we are dwelling in redoubled darkness, how he is also on an extremely low level and how improbable it is that in such a short time there could be such a jump (pesach) from extreme lowliness to complete liberation. We answer that just like in the redemption from Egypt the Jewish people were taken in a very short time from distress to liberation, so it will be in the future redemption, as it says, "Just like in the days of leaving Egypt, [in the future redemption] I will show you wonders!" (Michah 7:15) And the liberation (i.e. the revelations) of the future redemption will be even greater than during the redemption from Egypt, as it says, "And your eyes will [truly] see your Master", i.e. physical eyes will see G‑d's essence.

The more we spread the teachings of the Baal Shem Tov, the more we dispel the darkness of the current exile….

This is the connection of the above story to Passover. The Baal Shem Tov was born and revealed during a period of extreme physical and spiritual poverty, when the Jewish people were in an induced slumber, disconnected from their spiritual source. Just like whispering a person's Jewish name into his or her ear can bring them out of a state of unconsciousness, so also the revelation of the soul of the Baal Shem Tov (literally "Master of the Good Name") could arouse the Jewish people from their slumber. The more we spread the teachings of the Baal Shem Tov, the more we dispel the darkness of the current exile and hasten the final redemption. Just as in Egypt and again during the time of the Baal Shem Tov the Jewish people "jumped" from darkness and distress to liberation, so it will be with the arrival of the Mashiach.

Shabbat Shalom and a Kosher and Happy Pesach, Shaul

Based on a discourse of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, the 2nd night of Pesach, 1960

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