In the Radiant Countenance of the Living King
He walks through the corridors of the palace, his head lowered and his eyes to the ground, as if they were created on condition to never look up. The majority of his days have been spent within the palace walls, entering and exiting the many lavish chambers and halls, places where even the greatest ministers have never set foot. Countless times had he crossed the threshold of the king’s room, sometimes with a broom in his hands, sometimes with a hot drink; sometimes he entered to make the bed and other times to lift the blinds. He had become intimately aquainted with every stone and brick, yet he never dared to feast his eyes upon anything above waist height. The king’s shoes had become a most familiar sight to him, yet his face he had never seen. His hands had touched the royal garments each day, brushing away the dust and removing the creases, yet they had never extended themselves to the hand of the king. The majority of the day was spent in the king’s presence, hearing his voice and almost feeling the warmth of his breath, yet never, never, had he stood before him face to face.
He is a servant, a helper in the royal palace, as was his father, and as were his great grandparents. He never desires anything, just to fulfill his task. The King himself is not at all to be found in the confines of his thoughts, the king exalted and lofty – what are the lowly ones of the kingdom to him?
One day it happened. In the early hours of the morning when his hands were involved in making the royal bed and his thoughts we drawn to the many pains of his aging body, his eyes suddenly heard the voice of the king. The king had to call his name twice before it occurred to him that he was being summoned. “Yes, umm, my master the king…” he said as he stood fearfully at attention, “…what does your highness request?”
“Nothing” answered the king in a gentle tone, “just that you lift you face, I would like to look upon your shining countenance, I would like you to greet me…” ■
Let us examine for a moment the scene of our lives, amidst what it takes place. Indeed, a tefillah and another tefillah and at the end of the day yet another one. In the gap between we could identify tens of brachos (at least a hundred). Acts of chesed and mitzvos between oneself and his fellowman are generally scattered across the majority of the day, together with times of learning and many words of Torah and Emunah. In short, with a quick calculation, we enter into the chamber of The King. We are busy in his presence in all sorts of ways, at least a few hundred times each day. Now let us ask ourselves honestly: is our general feeling in anyway like that of one who spends the majority of his day in the presence of such an admired and exalted figure?
What is really happening to us? Why is the avodah that is centered around One who permeates all of existence at every moment, not enough to fill all our senses with alertness and vitality? It’s very simple; it seems that we have never met with Him face to face. Yes, we have heard of him. We even speak about him thousands of times each day; this avodah is passed down to us from our ancestors. We all perform our service in somewhat the same way as our parents, brothers, grandparents, and uncles, and when at a certain point we are appointed with a certain task, we accept it calmly and just go with the flow.
We are so well trained and proficient that there’s almost no chance of us making a mistake, except perhaps when there is a serious change like Rosh Chodesh and the like. Often we enter into His chamber with closed eyes, even the bowing at the threshold our knees know how to do on their own. Because, just between us, who does it make a difference to? … its just a minhag.
But one second … it wasn’t always like this. In the beginning we were very connected, we even trembled when we knocked on The King’s door for a routine visit. The one who ‘calmed’ us down was Amalek – it was he who persuaded us to stop the trembling and the excitement. But with that, the simcha and contentment disappeared too.
Rabbeinu explains in Lesson 30 that the Mitzvos which we received from Hashem are meant to function as a lens with which to perceive Him and to generate a real and enduring connection to Him. Since Hashem is infinite and with eyes like our own it is impossible to grasp even the tiniest degree of his awesome existence. Therefore, because of his mercy and endless love for us, He bestowed upon us a vessel through which we can in fact perceive and connect to Him.
The Mitzvos are Tzimtzumim (constrictions), just as the pupil of the eye contracts, defines and includes within it the vision of what stands before it, enabling a person to observe vast expanses of scenery in one glance. This ability to constrict the vision is called “Chochmah Ta’ta’ah” (lower wisdom), meaning – a low intellect. To define this as much as possible one would say this refers to our practical thought process that navigates us throughout our daily activities. Each person has his thoughts, ideas and calculations but there is also something that activates our senses and arouses us to action. This is what tells us of what we should be afraid and what is fitting to be loved. This intellect, which resides amidst the ‘comings and goings’ of our consciousness, is the vessel into which the perception of Hashem is meant to enter. As long as these perceptions do not penetrate into this part of our intellect, they are nothing more than uninternalized random knowledge and have no affect whatsoever on our real lives.
However, as long as that “Chochmah Ta’ta’ah” is unimpaired and functioning properly, our lives should flourish with ultimate vitality and vigor, at least like one who performs his service in the presence of a king of flesh and blood. The problem begins when Amalek casts this Chochmah (wisdom) down to the lowly aspects of life. Then, what occupy our thoughts are emotional discomfort, negativity and trivial thoughts which shouldn’t cross the threshold of our consciousness at all.
How terribly pained is the soul at the time when the mind falls into this evil negativity, so much so that no-one can bear its cries of distress – this is the way The Rebbe expresses it, nothing less!
Therefore, since we are so severely ill, without respite, we must search for only the greatest of doctors. In a situation such as our own it is impossible to make compromises and accept anything less; we must find the address of the one who truly is able to help.
This doctor is The Tzaddik, who can perform the most complex surgery, to sever and cut free the Chochmah Ta’ta’ah from the sticky klippah (evil force) that Amalek infected it with…
What is required of us as a first treatment is … to simply scream. We must cry out in our pain and call to the king: ‘How long will I be right next to you and yet light-years away. Have mercy, I beg you, look at me, even for a moment, just let me know that you take pleasure in me, I’m not able to work as if it’s all for nothing…!’
A correct outcry, one that comes from humility and strong hope to be heard is like the cries of the Sechinah (divine presence) at chatzos (midnight) – it penetrates the heavens and arouses the absolute mercy and compassion that is hidden within the Heart of The Creator. This mercy showers down like the love of a father overflowing its boundaries, it descends and severs the chains of heaviness and kefirah (heresy), of mockery and disregard that have become entangled and woven into our thoughts.
But this is not the end. Now we must lift our heads and finally look into The King’s shining countenance. This wondrous occurrence happens on each one of the Regalim (three festivals). There is a lengthy explanation of this in the above mentioned lesson for anyone who desires to understand this more, but we must continue…
Now we can understand why the Shabbos before Pesach is called Shabbos Ha’Gadol (The Great Shabbos). Pesach is supposed to turn our lives into something ‘Gadol’. If Amalek desired to shrink us into something miniscule and irrelevant and to depict our Mitzvos and our visits in The King’s home as something without meaning – ‘just an avodah’, Pesach reveals to us that everything we do is simply Gadol, tremendous and infinitely enormous.
This is what happens to us during the night of the Seder. On this night every Jew conducts himself like a Tzaddik with a Seder fitting for one who has attained lofty perceptions. The table is set like that of Kings and the cuisine is far from that of an ordinary night. Every item of food is overloaded with the deepest secrets and meaning. This is the one night when one can find a simple person bursting with holiness just like a great Mekubal (Kabbalist). On the night of the Seder every Jew leans on cushions like a king, gives out Shirayim like a Rebbe, pours wine and says over Torah (the Haggadah) like a Tzaddik.
Did we say ‘like’? No, the night of the Seder is no game, it’s not an ‘as if’. The Seder night is an exposure – a removal of the cover from the dusty faces of our holy lives. On this night we reveal what takes place constantly under the cover of routine and habit, and discover that we are working in the palace of the King. Every movement of ours has meaning, for every motion is performed under the watchful eyes of an awesome and lofty King, in his personal chamber, in the hallways of His palace and in his courtyard.
Let us prepare ourselves to receive the holy days of Pesach, with outcries of hope. Let us scream and request: ‘let me raise my eyes to know my Creator, to stand with him face to face’. And with this Shabbos – a Shabbos that is all greatness, we will leap out of the tiring habitual thought process, to the night of the Seder – a night on which is revealed that our entire lives are arranged in a wondrous seder (order) of the service of the King, and together with all of Klal Yisroel let us merit to illuminate our entire existence with the light of the shining countenance of The King.