Thoughts on the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s 25th Yahrzeit

This Shabbos, we read the Torah portion of Korach in synagogues across the world. It is also “Gimel Tamuz” (the third day of the Hebrew month of Tamuz), the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s 25th yahrzeit.

A brief synopsis of this week’s Torah portion: Following on the heels of the incident with the Spies, controversy erupts. Our sages say, “What is a controversy that is not for the sake of heaven? It is the controversy of Korach and his whole faction” (Avos 5:17).

Korach, Moshe’s first cousin, leads a rebellion against the leadership of Moshe. Korach and his 250 followers accuse: “You take too much honor upon yourselves, for the entire congregation is all holy, and G-d is in their midst! Why do you raise yourself above G-d’s community?” (Numbers 16:3).

What was Korach’s complaint? He was not opposed to hierarchy within the Jewish community. In fact, he didn’t want to negate the priesthood; he just wanted to join it. Rather, Korach was asserting that since the purpose of Judaism is to carry out the mitzvos, it makes no difference who a person is. The physical act of doing a mitzvah is the same, regardless of who does it.

Unsure how to react, Moshe consults with Hashem, who tells him that He will conduct a test that will demonstrate who is worthy of holding the highest positions.

Moshe then tells Korach and his company, “In the morning, G-d will make it known who is His (for Levite service), and who is holy (for priesthood), and He will draw them near to Him.”

Why did Moshe tell them to wait until morning? Couldn’t they have settled it right away?

Here are three answers. The first two are from Rashi, and the third is from the Rebbe:

  1. Moshe wanted to give them time to recant their position.
  2. By saying that they should wait until morning, Moshe was hinting that Hashem’s division of the Levites, the Priesthood, and everyone else was as fixed as the distinction between night and day. Neither could be changed.

Before I share with you the Rebbe’s answer, I wonder: Why do we need a third answer? What is lacking from the two answers I just presented?

  1. How long does it take to recant? A minute? A day? As there is no fixed amount of time, waiting until morning is either not enough, or it is too long, or perhaps just right.
  2. Since the controversy took place during the day, then if Moshe’s intent was to allude to the fixed division between day and night, he could have merely waited until the evening; it does not seem necessary to wait until the following morning.

We therefore have two answers that may leave us wanting more, and I introduce to you the third answer:

As mentioned, Korach was distraught that when it came to the actual performance of a mitzvah – and as our Sages tell us, “Action is the main thing” – every Jew is identical. Why, therefore, should Moshe be elevated above everyone else?

Moshe’s response: Morning.

It is not enough to do the mitzvos; they must be done like the “morning,” that is, they must shine like the brightness of morning.

There is indeed a difference between the mitzvos performed by Moshe and those performed by everyone else; Moshe’s mitzvos are always like “morning.”

 * * *

When the Rebbe passed away 25 years ago, countless people were in mourning. Yet in the years since that fateful day, we have endeavored to transform mourning into morning. Darkness to light. Sadness to joy.

The Rebbe set up a global network of his representatives, and empowered everyone he encountered to make the world a better place.

Neither my wife Tzipah nor I had the privilege of meeting the Lubavitcher Rebbe in person. We consider the right to be his shluchim our greatest privilege. We are so fortunate to be the Rebbe’s shluchim, together with our children. Our shlichus with the college students of Queens has brought so much light into our lives.

Of course being a chasid of the Rebbe means learning his teachings and following his directives; but sometimes you also get a wink, so to speak, from Above.

In November of 2006, we took a group of students to Crown Heights for an inspirational Shabbaton. Included in the group was a young man named Avi, who we were just getting to know at the time. In conversation at the Shabbos table, I mentioned that neither Tzipah nor I ever received a dollar from the Rebbe, as thousands of others did on Sundays during the Rebbe’s lifetime. The dollars were meant to be given to tz’dakah, though most people gave a different bill to tz’dakah, keeping the precious dollar received directly from the Rebbe’s hand.

“You never received a dollar from the Rebbe?” Avi ask incredulously. As a young boy, Avi’s parents had taken him many times to get dollars from the Rebbe. “I have a bunch of dollars, I’ll give you one,” Avi said.

The truth is that Tzipah and I didn’t take Avi too seriously. We didn’t know him then as well as we do today, over a decade later.

A month after the Shabbaton, and thanks to the generosity of George & Pamela Rohe, we signed the papers to purchase a small house on 69th Avenue, which was to be our new Chabad House. The following day, we were in our apartment on Jewel Avenue, and heard a knock on the door.

It was Avi. He was holding a framed picture of the Rebbe handing him a dollar as a tiny little boy, and beneath the picture was that very dollar. Avi gifted us this special brachah from the Rebbe, one day after we closed on our Chabad House. A wink from Above.

This framed picture and dollar hangs on the wall at the entrance of our home. Though the Rebbe is no longer physically alive, we feel his presence more deeply than ever.

Another story:

We moved to Queens in November of 2004, with our one-year-old son Mendel in an infant car seat. A few months ago, Chabad was asked to run a “t’filin booth” at an Israel program sponsored by the Hillel at Queens College. I had a scheduling conflict, but Mendel – now 15 years old -- was still home from his Pesach break and was happy to participate.

Tzipah and Mendel went to campus together, and our son wrapped t’filin on many students with so much excitement and enthusiasm. The Rebbe did not speak to Mendel’s parents; the Rebbe did not meet Mendel. Yet we feel that we have been personally sent and entrusted to fulfill his holy mission.

The Rebbe offers a clarion call to brighten our lives, and the lives of those we encounter, with the light of Torah and mitzvos. The Rebbe encourages us to never be satisfied with our spiritual state, to always yearn to grow

With the Rebbe’s vision at the forefront of our minds and hearts, the future is bright. Bright as morning.

 By Rabbi Shaul Wertheimer
Chabad on Campus of Queens