Friday, June 22, 2018

I Know - Rav Moshe Weinberger - Personal Story with the Lubavitcher Rebbe - Korach 5778

Below, please find this adaptation of Rav Weinberger's drasha from this last Shabbos, parshas Shlach 5778. Rav Weinberger has reviewed this write-up and any corrections are incorporated herein. Enjoy!

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Rav Moshe Weinberger
Parshas Korach 5778
I Know

Despite all of the difficulties caused by Dasan and Aviram, Moshe made one final attempt to speak with them. But when they made it clear that they would not even engage in a sincere conversation with him, saying, “We will not ascend” (Bamidbar 16:12), Moshe became angry. He said to Hashem, “Do not accept their offering!” (ibid. 16). Rashi, quoting the Midrash (Bamidbar Rabah 10), explains that Moshe was saying, “I know that they have a portion in the communal Daily Offerings. May their portion not be accepted favorably before You. Cause the fire to leave it and not consume it.”

First, why does Moshe say “I know that they have a portion…,” as if this is some special secret that only he knows about? Everyone knows that the Tamid, Daily Offering, is paid for with the half Shekel collected from every single Jew. Second, the truth is that no individual has a portion in the Tamid offerings because they are communal offerings, which are distinct from individual offerings and from offerings brought by several partners. In each of these scenarios, there are identifiable individuals to whom the offering is associated. Communal offerings, by contrast, are not attributable to a million individuals. Rather, the Communal offerings have only one owner – the Jewish people as one whole. So how can Moshe say that Dasan and Aviram have a portion in the Tamid offering?

These questions are answered in Likutei Sichos 33 by the tzaddik whose twenty-fourth yohrtzeit is today, 3 Tamuz, the Lubavitcher Rebbe zy’a. There, the Rebbe explains something about tzaddikim in general, but there is no question that he was describing himself to a T. The Rebbe reiterates the point that communal offerings are not ascribed to any one, or even to a collection of individuals, by quoting the Gemara (Zevachim 4a). According to Chazal there, if the kohein bringing an individual offering has in mind the wrong individual, the korban is disqualified. But when it comes to a communal offering, if the kohein thinks about an individual, even an idol-worshiper, it does not affect the offering. This is because the communal offering belongs to only one owner, the Jewish people. After an individual donates his half Shekel to the Beis HaMikdash, the Tamid and other communal offerings purchased with that money is no longer identified with that individual. They are only identifiable as part of something greater, the Jewish people as a whole.

Two Modes of Government

The Rebbe explains that there are two primary philosophies undergirding the various forms of government: those that prioritize the individual and those that prioritize the community. This debate rages on until today. Systems of government which prioritize the community recognize that they must sometimes do so at the expense of individual rights. For example, New York City’s recent stop-and-frisk policy was based on statistical data and was successful in reducing crime in communities plagued by high crime rates. Yet because of the program’s nature, the subjects of the policy disproportionately belonged to certain races, regardless of whether they, as individuals, had any greater likelihood of possessing contraband. To the extent a policy favors the community, it will come at the expense of individual rights.

And in this example, governments which prioritize individual rights over those of the community would say that it is better to allow crime rates in impoverished communities to increase rather than infringe on the rights of any individuals within those communities. These two general approaches are mutually exclusive. Any increase in the emphasis of one comes at the expense of the other.

This tension between the needs of the group and the needs of the individual is extremely difficult to balance, even for much smaller collectives. Within a family, for instance, if there is only one child, it is not very challenging. But in families with two or more children, the parents naturally tend to govern based on the wellbeing or vision of how the entire family should look. Children who do not neatly fit into this overall vision often suffer. It is very difficult to act with every individual child according to his or her nature without this negatively affecting other children or the family as a whole.

The challenge becomes even more difficult for teachers and rebbeim. Most work to enable the class as a whole to prepare for the next regent or test, even though some children are left behind. It is a rare teacher who is able to drive the class as a whole forward while working with individual students who would otherwise feel left out, giving them what they need to succeed as well.

The tzaddik is the rare individual who knows how to contain within himself an impossible duality –  unbreakable focus on the welfare and development of the entirety of the Jewish people with an unwavering focus on the wellbeing and growth of every individual. This is why Moshe Rebbeinu said “I know that they have a portion….” In almost every way, the individual Jews’ portions in the communal offerings is lost. Only the tzaddik has the ability to see every individual’s portion within the national offering.

My Story

While the Lubavitcher Rebbe concerned himself with building Jewish institutions and Jewish life in every nook and cranny throughout the world, most stories people tell about him involve the Rebbe’s unique ability to take care of individuals’ needs, no matter who they were or where they lived. In fact, this time last year, a book was published called “My Story,” recounting 41 individuals’ stories of their encounters with the Rebbe.

I would therefore like to share my own story with the Rebbe: When I was in my last year of college at Yeshiva University, I was at a crossroads – facing what I felt was the most critical decision in my life. On one hand, I considered attending law school. I had even attended the Kaplan LSAT preparation course, though I spent most of those classes listening to Simon and Garfunkel on my Walkman. My mother was an extremely strong and persuasive proponent of this option. And my father always told me that it was better to go into a profession than into business because it would be easier to find a job even in difficult economic times. But my heart told me that I should continue learning Torah and pursue chinnuch, teaching in yeshivah. It was an extremely difficult choice.

Despite the fact that the Lubavitcher Rebbe was no longer holding individual meetings, I traveled to Crown Heights one Sunday. I did not have a clear plan, but I knew that the Rebbe finished Micha and left to daven at the grave of his father-in-law, the Friediker Rebbe zy’a, at the same exact time every Sunday. I suppose that I planned to try and catch the Rebbe’s attention and ask my question before he got into his car. If he normally left at, for example 3 p.m., I waited outside 770 Eastern Parkway at 2:55. I was initially pleasantly surprised by the fact that there were only three or four other people around. I thought it might be easier than I had originally anticipated to catch the Rebbe’s attention. Unfortunately, at approximately 2:59, hundreds chassidim appeared seemingly out of nowhere and gathered on either side of the sidewalk between the exit from 770 and the Rebbe’s car.

Not being a particularly pushy individual, I found myself about three rows back from the front of the row of people on my side of the sidewalk. My hopes of even catching the Rebbe’s eye now seemed completely unrealistic. A few of the chassidim around me, however, seemed to feel bad for me, realizing that if a young man like me, with a little kippah srugah, knitted yarmulke, was there, I must have some important reason for wanting to see the Rebbe. They therefore pulled me to the front row. Thankful for their help, I hoped that I would at least have the chance to make eye contact with the Rebbe.

When the Rebbe emerged from 770, he walked extremely quickly, carrying a siddur in one hand and a bag of kvitelach to bring to the Ohel in the other hand. With each step he took, he nodded purposefully at those in the crowd around him. As he sped past, I sadly realized that the Rebbe did not even notice my presence and I was not able to make eye contact.

The Rebbe began to duck into the car waiting for him when he paused for a moment. He then turned around and walked straight up to me. He stood about one foot in front of my face without saying a word. After a moment, looking at me straight in the eyes as he did so, he simply pumped his fist into the air in a gesture which said to me, “You can do it! You will succeed!” And just as quickly as he had come, he turned back toward his car, got in, and left. The chassidim around me were baffled, and asked me what was going on and why the Rebbe had stopped and gestured to me.

Afterward, when I returned home to process what had happened and what the Rebbe’s message meant to me, I understood it to mean that despite the fact that Torah and chinnuch held a more uncertain financial future, that I could do it, and that I would succeed. My mother, however, was convinced that the Rebbe was telling me, “You can get into Columbia Law School!” But in the end, I took the Rebbe’s encouragement to mean that I should continue to pursue my dreams of continuing to focus on Torah and chinnuch.

That is why we need and love true tzaddikim like the Lubavitcher Rebbe. While they live and die for the welfare and development of the Jewish people, they continue to concern themselves and care about every single one of us as well. They tell each of us, “I know. No one else may understand you, but I know your pain and your deepest desires and dreams. I haven’t forgotten about you.”

May Hashem send the ultimate tzaddik, Moshiach Tzidkeinu, into the world soon in our times so that we can also return to Yerushalayim for the ultimate fulfillment of our national and individual potential.

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