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Home » Chabad, Korach, The Rebbe

The Rebbe, Thirty Years

Submitted by on June 29, 2024 – 11:16 pmNo Comment | 356 views

Tuesday, July 9, the 3rd of Tamuz, will be thirty years since the passing of the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, my mentor, teacher, and inspiration. He was not just my Rebbe. He was the Rebbe of the people. Jews from far and wide consulted him. They sought his advice, insight, and teachings, but more than anything, they sought his validation and love.

The Rebbe survived unspeakable horrors in the first half of his life. He lived through Pogroms, two world wars, communism, and particularly, Stalinism. He escaped the Nazis in 1941 and settled in the United States where he could finally live in safety. But he never found peace. As a lover of every Jew across the world, the Rebbe never felt at peace until all Jews would be at peace. His life’s long dream was to see the coming of Moshiach when the world would be at peace. And now he left this charge to us.

Most people who survive unspeakable suffering grow jaded. Not the Rebbe. He never stopped believing in the innate goodness of people. He never stopped believing in the future. To him, every Jew was a wellspring of potential and he made it his mission to nurture and elicit it. No wonder so many sought his validation and love.

Was Korach Wicked?
The Rebbe applied this perspective not only to his interactions with people but also to his understanding of the Torah. When he studied the section that describes the rebellion against Moses mounted by a man named Korach, he could not accept that Korach was inherently bad. He believed and taught that if we can find even a morsel of goodness in another, we should use it to rehabilitate the entire person.

In this vein, the Rebbe asked why G-d named a portion of the Torah after Korach, a rebel. This itself must tell you that there is something good about Korach. Not just something good but something we can all learn from since his name is part of the Torah and the word Torah means teaching.

The Rebbe also observed that Moses prayed for Korach and his men. Here the Rebbe addressed a curious anomaly. When Korach first mounted his rebellion, the Torah tells us Moses fell flat on his face; he was speechless. Having prayed and saved the Jews from many sins in the past, Moses feared he had run out of good things to say about them.

Then Moses changed his mind. He rose and began to pray. He said, “G-d, the G-d of spirits, would you punish an entire group for the sins of one man?” Mortal kings might punish an entire cabal because they can’t identify the sinners. But you, G-d of spirits, can read the spirit of each person. Why pour your wrath upon the entire group when you can isolate the sinners?

The Rebbe asked, what changed to lift Moses out of his speechlessness? A moment earlier he was out of words, what gave him this new insight, the new approach and argument?

A Change of Perspective
The Rebbe explained that the intervening events gave Moses this new perspective. Moses offered Korach and his henchmen the opportunity to bring incense into the Holy of Holies. He warned them that only one person is permitted to enter the Holy of Holies; only the person G-d deems the high priest. Everyone else would die upon entry. Moses expected the group to back off, but they enthusiastically accepted his offer.

When Moses saw this, he knew they were not at all the sinners they seemed to be. At first, Moses thought they joined the rebellion for the glory. When Moses saw they were willing to die for an opportunity to serve G-d with incense in the Holy of Holies, he saw them for what they truly were. They were not glory seeking rebels. They yearned with every fiber of their being to see G-d as only the high priest could.

After hearing that only one would survive, they would have backed off had they been mere glory seekers. Seeing them willing to risk their lives changed Moses’ perspective. They were fighting not for glory but for a glimpse of G-d. And they were willing to die for it.

Each person in that group knew they were unworthy of the high priesthood. G-d had made His choice. They each knew they would die. And it did not stop them. Moses could only gawk in amazement. A group of people whose desire to see G-d was so intense that they were willing to die for it.

Moses knew only one other person with such a deep yearning for G-d. Himself. He too always wanted to see G-d this way. He said to them, you want to see G-d? I understand, I want to see Him too. However, G-d already made His choice. Just as you can’t change the rules of nature, so can you not change G-d’s appointment of Aaron as high priest. I, too, would willingly die for a chance to bring the incense. But I won’t get that chance because G-d chose Aaron. (See Rashi Numbers 16:5–6.)

He cautioned them that sometimes we must overrule our sacred noble desires because G-d’s desire is more sacred than all. G-d chose Aaron as high priest. Therefore, do what I do and surrender your desire.

Once Moses understood this, he began to pray for the rebels. He no longer saw them as sinners.  He saw them as sacred souls burning with a celestial desire for G-d. Misguided and pig-headed for certain, but sacred and innocent just the same. He arose and said, dear G-d, surely you can discern the difference between the one who sinned and those who were swept up in the momentum of their sacred yearnings.

The Rebbe refused to tolerate the notion that Jews can be inherently sinful. Even those who rebelled against Moses must have had a deep and powerful redeeming quality.

Moreover, even Korach, who led the rebellion, was not all bad. He, too, was driven by a sacred desire. He argued that every Jew is worthy of being a high priest. That no Jew is higher than others. Korach saw the best in people. He knew that in their hearts every Jew feels a connection with G-d. Every Jew is willing to die for G-d. The Torah recognized this when it named a Torah portion after Korach. Rather than bury the name of the wicked, the Torah enshrined it. It serves as a reminder that every Jew loves and feels connected to G-d.

Korach went about it the wrong way. He defied G-d in his love for G-d. He allowed his love for G-d to become twisted. G-d wants us to embrace life and not seek out opportunities to die for Him. But He wants our embrace of life to be driven by our love for Him. That is the message of the naming of a Torah portion after Korach. Despite the sinfulness of his rebellion, he was driven by a cause that should drive us all.

Of all the Rebbe’s teachings, I was moved most by his undying love and confidence in every Jew. His astounding devotion to every Jew led to the establishment of the largest Jewish network of institutions the world over. Each Chabad institution is staffed by a rabbi and rebbetzin inspired by the Rebbe’s devotion to every Jew. There is no such thing as a meaningless Jew. Every Jew is a treasure.

Thirty Years
The other day, I met a friend from Israel who was visiting Canada. He told me he had a meeting with a Chabad rabbi earlier that day and commented that all Chabadnicks seem incredibly nice. He wondered where all that love and enthusiasm came from.

I told him, of course, that he was generalizing, but he insisted that the norm was still astounding despite the exceptions. I had to agree with him. Surely, I replied, the Rebbe’s love for every Jew and devotion to every Jew rubbed off on those who spent time with him.

The amazing thing is that the rabbi he met that day was a child when the Rebbe passed away and yet, the Rebbe’s teachings shaped his life and personality. Thirty years later, the Rebbe’s teachings are more vibrant and alive than ever. May his teachings continue to inspire us until the coming of Mashiach speedily in our days, Amen.[1]

[1] This essay is based on Toras Menachem 5731:3, pp. 368–370; Likutei Sichos 19, pp. 190–195.

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