As 20th of Cheshvan is Rebbe Rashab’s birthday wanted to share this Harry Potter analogy and illustration that I shared with my middle school students earlier today.
Some may say it is sacrilegious to use fictional fanciful Harry Potter books and movies to illustrate the unique teachings and writings of the Rebbe Rashab, 5th Rebbe of Chabad, and of Judaism’s greatest thinkers. Of course, we know the difference. But there’s some helpful illustration here:
Many children’s or youth books are stand-alone stories. Some writers are quite good at developing altogether new characters and settings for each book they write. Some really good writers can even successfully write books in totally different genres. Then you have sets of books like The Hardy Boys back when, or The Babysitters Club or Boxcar Children or the like, where it is basically the same set of characters throughout, but the stories are each stand-alone. You don’t have to read those books in order, you can read #17 before #8, or any such order.
Then there are books written in series like the 7 Books of Harry Potter. Each book further develops the plot, builds upon the previous book and adds characters and information that you only learn as you go along. And often its at the very end, at the climax of the series, in that last book or movie, where many loose ends are tied together, the unknown is often revealed and you learn things about the earlier books that you may have to go back and reread in light of what the last book revealed.
In Chassidic literature, the Rebbe Rashab may not have been the first to do this “Hemshech”-series-style (his father the Rebbe Maharash started this before him) but he is certainly best known for it, and no other Rebbe in Chabad does this quite the way he does it. Every Rebbe of Chabad said Maamorim = Chassidic discourses. But most of the Rebbe Rashab’s Chassidic discourses were said in series, they were built as a series is built, they were sequential, followed a theme, each built volumes of text that developed the idea richer and broader and deeper. One Maamar built upon the earlier one, and long strings of them, multiple Maamorim in sequences, sometimes dozens or many dozens, all in series. These series were named for their years, as such there is “Ranat” (5659), “Samech-Vav” (5666) one of the longest, deepest and most advanced, “Eter” (5670) which I loved how it came together, and “Ayin Bais” his most sophisticated and longest series, which I didn’t study much of, and from which our Rebbe drew many of his richest Chassidic ideas.
One more important Potter analogy. The cool thing about Book 7 is how it challenges your assumptions and flips some things around. What you saw as an opposing force or enemy may not be that at all underneath. Much more can be reconciled that seems so from Books 1 -6. It can be a game-changer, a totally new perspective.
Similarly, in Rebbe Rashab’s (as in all of Chassidus, but especially in his writings – and Rebbe mirrors this very much, too) things like finite and infinite or physical and spiritual seem to be opposites, a challenge to one another, and as the Hemshech-the series develops you start to see how they can be reconciled, how they ought to complement, how in some deep wild way, they can even almost be the same.