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HOW LONELY SITS THE CITY

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The YouTube lecture series “How Lonely Sits the City” is based on a Chassidic discourse by the Rebbe Rashab, Rabbi Shalom DovBer, the fifth Rebbe of Lubavitch. This series explores G-d’s desire to reveal Himself in the physical world, as originally experienced in Gan Eden (the Garden of Eden), the Tabernacle, and later the Temple. In these holy places, humanity could directly experience God’s essence.

The work of humanity in Gan Eden, the Tabernacle, and later the Temple was to project an additional revelation of G-d’s presence to the already given revelation. This means that these sacred places inherently contained a certain, G-d-given level of spiritual revelation. The work of Man consisted in adding to that revelation by fulfilling G-d’s commandments. From Gan Eden, the Tabernacle, and later the Temple, this revelation of G-d spread throughout the world automatically refining and infusing every corner of the world with His presence.

However, after Adam’s sin, his task changed. Disobedience to G-d’s commandments led to exile, where humanity was expelled from G-d’s presence. Adam was no longer appropriate to live in Gan Eden and was therefore thrown out. Moreover, he was sent to all the corners of the world to refine them, making them appropriate for the revelation of G-d. This means that before Adam’s sin, the world was automatically refined, but now, it had to be done by Man himself.

In this exile, humanity cannot directly manifest G-d’s essence in the same way as before. Even after receiving the Torah, the fulfillment of commandments does not accomplish the same revelation as in Gan Eden. Instead, the task is to refine the world so that G-d’s presence can once again be revealed.

This refinement process occurs through adherence to the Torah and the mitzvot (commandments), the 613 commandments for Jews and the 7 Noahide Laws and their ramifications for non-Jews.

The comparison with the Book of Lamentations chapter 1: 1-4, which describes Jerusalem as a lonely and abandoned city after its destruction, illustrates the concept of exile as a time of “darkness”. This darkness does not refer to the intrinsic nature of humanity but to the absence of Divine light that illuminates the world. In this context, exile does not imply that someone is inherently “dark”, but rather that the world is enveloped in darkness due to the lack of Divine revelation.

We can see this also in Song of Songs 1:6, the verse

Look not upon me, that I am swarthy, that the sun hath tanned me; my mother’s sons were incensed against me, they made me keeper of the vineyards; but mine own vineyard have I not kept.’אַל-תִּרְאוּנִי שֶׁאֲנִי שְׁחַרְחֹרֶת, שֶׁשְּׁזָפַתְנִי הַשָּׁמֶשׁ; בְּנֵי אִמִּי נִחֲרוּ-בִי, שָׂמֻנִי נֹטֵרָה אֶת-הַכְּרָמִים–כַּרְמִי שֶׁלִּי, לֹא נָטָרְתִּי.

provides a poignant metaphor. Here, “black” metaphorically alludes to the diminished visibility of Hashem (God) during exile, akin to the diminished light of the sun. The Jewish people, likened to the moon that reflects the sun’s light, struggle to reflect Hashem’s light in a world where His presence is less perceptible.

The Jewish people are particularly commanded to refine the world to a high degree through the 613 commandments of the Torah. With Matan Torah, the giving of the Torah to the Jewish people, they became empowered to perform this refinement work (though, as mentioned, not in the same degree as before Man sinned).

However, since the new task of refining each corner of the world (after sinning) was given to Adam, the first human, and he was sent out to the world to refine it, it applies to all humanity. Non-Jews do not perform this refinement in the same way as Jews, who do so with 613 commandments. Rather, through living a life according to the Seven Noahide commandments and their ramifications, they elevate every part of the world. This mandate remains relevant and valid for all people. The Torah provides guidelines and a moral compass that all people can use to contribute to the pursuit of a refined and just world, wherein the presence of G-d can manifest itself.

By Angelique Sijbolts


Text Mechon Mamre.org


With thanks to Rabbi Tuvia Serber for the inspiring lessons, feedback and input

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