Rising From the Ashes 1
“I know the thoughts (Yirmiyah 29:11).” – The shevatim involved
themselves with the sale of Yosef. Yosef busied himself with his sackcloth
and fasting. Ruvain busied himself with his sackcloth and fasting. Yaakov
busied himself with his sackcloth and fasting. Yehudah was busy attempting
to take a wife. HKBH involved Himself in creating the light of Mashiach.
(Bereishis Rabbah 85:1)
The holy seforim emphasize that life sprouts and blossoms only
after deterioration and destruction. Before a seed takes root, it rots
and disintegrates, leaving behind only the smallest germ of vitality, the
kusta d’chiyusa, from which life springs anew.
HKBH orchestrated the conditions that would be necessary to create the
light of Mashiach, to germinate and sprout the light that would eventually
illuminate the world. Here too, renewal and life had to rise from within
decay and disintegration. And so it was. The thrust of the
midrash is that wherever you looked at the nascent Jewish people at
that point, nothing whole and together could be found. In every corner,
someone was dealing with some deficiency or other2. The Klal Yisrael of the time was broken and
crushed. Ironically, precisely such a sorry state provides the fertile
ground for planting the tiny kernel, the kusta d’chiyusa, that
Hashem planted just then, and would nurture until the coming of Mashiach.
How are we to understand this magic, vital element that survives
disintegration and provides the essential vital force of future growth?
We do not have to look long or hard. It was their broken-heartedness
itself. Each one of those mentioned in the midrash had some past mistake
or miscalculation weighing heavily upon him. It was not the activity of
donning sackcloth or fasting that made them noteworthy, but the mental
anguish that they evidenced. Each one carried a heavy burden that burst
his heart. The kusta d’chiyusa was not their incredibly lofty
achievement of other, happier times, but their dejection and
The very last verses of the Torah showcase a small handful of Moshe’s most
significant accomplishments. Among them is his breaking of the
luchos. Now, we understand that Hashem gave His after-the-fact
approval to what we could have imagined might have met with Divine wrath.
How, though, can his breaking the luchos be seen as one of his
crowning achievements? After the awful sin of the Golden Calf, Moshe knew
that there would need be a process of tikun and rebirth. But where and
how would such tikun begin? Moshe knew of but one way. The hearts
of the 600,000 members of Klal Yisrael needed to burst; the
rebuilding a failed nation would begin with the broken hearts of its
members. He broke the luchos in their presence, the shock of which
completely demoralized them. Their broken state was the kusta
We could propose an alternative to the identity of the kusta
d’chiyusa. Many people are so crushed by their failures that they sink
into an abyss of despair. This is not what the midrash describes.
None of the figures accepts his fallen state, but does something about
it. This is what they mean by busying themselves with their sackcloth and
fasting. It represents a confidence that mistakes can be rectified and
repaired. They did not just mourn for the past, they did something about
Put more simply, they refused to make peace with their deficiency. Their
intransigence towards their errors, their refusal to accept – this itself
is the kusta d’chiyusa.
It is in our blood as a people. We sunk to the 49th level of degradation
in Egypt, but we merited redemption because we refused to accept our
subordination to the Egyptians. Chazal teach that it was in the merit of
our emunah, our faith, that we were redeemed. What was this
faith? It was faith that we would be redeemed. What nurtured it?
Chazal4 speak of scrolls which they
delighted in on Shabbos. These scrolls spoke of a future redemption. Flat
rejection of their status quo was the kusta d’chiyusa, the kernel
from which sprang the beginning of their redemption. These are
the “thoughts” that Hashem says He knows: the sackcloth and fasting are
not emblematic of despair, but of the certainty of rising above it.
This has played a central role in our survival as a people for the two
millennia of our exile. Only through our refusal to accept galus
have we survived it.
What is true of ourselves as a nation holds true of us as individuals.
Each one of us must absolutely refuse to accept the position of failure.
Whenever we should stumble, we must realize that Hashem is prepared to
right him, to pick him up and hold him erect once more. We need just
believe that it will happen, and He will do it. This is the key to our
redemption, personal and collective.
This is also the theme that unites the two holidays that Chazal gave us.
Chanuka and Purim both commemorate great miracles Hashem wrought for us.
Their celebration provides illumination for the long path of our
Both happened only because we refused to accept our failures.
At the time of Chanuka, the Jews were mired in despair. A small band of
people resisted a mighty power. They did not fight because they were so
desperate they had nothing to lose. To the contrary, their attitude was
one of utter confidence in the impossibility of losing. They would not
make peace with their situation; in that merit, Hashem assisted them
miraculously. Much the same happened at Purim. There, it was a single
individual who refused to resign himself to their state. Mordechai had
complete confidence that “relief and deliverance will come to the Jews5.”
So it is with all the miracles and wondrous deeds that were shown to us.
We helped bring them about by our refusal to accept our fallen state. The
light of Mashiach depends on this as well. Our faith in his coming, our
refusal to be without it, is the kusta d’chiyusa that sustains and
nourishes his long-awaited light.
1 Based on Nesivos Shalom, pg. 250-251
2 The Rebbe assumes here that each of the incidents mentioned
in the midrash deals with some sort of aveirah and its aftermath.
3 As could be imagined, the Rebbe explains our avodah
on Tisha B’Av in the exact same terms in his section on Bein
HaMetzarim. The beginning of the rebuilding of the Bais
HaMikdosh, the tikun after the churban, is in the broken-
heartedness we display on Tisha B’Av.
4 Shemos Rabbah 5:18
5 Esther 4:14
Text Copyright © 2007 by Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein and Torah.org