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Finding the Individuals within the Community

Finding the Individuals within the Community

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Korah was furious that his cousin Aaron was appointed as High Priest and the sole progenitor of all future priests.

Moses explained that Aaron's appointment was not his own, but G‑d's. Yet Korah continued to argue, and incited the Jewish nation to join him in revolt.

Moses informed Korah that on the following day Korah, his followers, and Aaron too would all offer incense to G‑d. On that occasion, Moses assured, G‑d would clearly identify the one He has chosen to be the leader. And at that point, the Torah tells us, Moses prayed to G‑d, asking Him not to accept Korah's offering.

Rashi, the famed biblical commentator, asks: Why did Moses need to pray? Was he not just acting on G‑d's orders? Was it not G‑d who appointed Aaron to his position? Would not G‑d have to stand up, as it were, for His chosen one—even without Moses' supplication?

The Rebbe addressed each person based on the varying situations. Each groom's individual abilities needed to be uniquely utilized. Rashi answers that Moses was not referring to the incense that would be offered in the next day's showdown. Rather, Moses knew that Korah and the rest of the mutineers had a part in the daily communal offerings brought in the Tabernacle on behalf of the entire nation; his prayer was that these offerings, too, should not be accepted by G‑d.

Rabbi Chaim Joseph David Azulai, known as the Chida, explains that when speaking of a community, we are referring to two dynamics: a) A unified congregation, which joins a variety of people into one communal entity. b) The many individuals who make up the community.

The same holds true with communal offerings. On one hand, the entirety of the offering is being offered by the singular unit known as the "community." On the other hand, every individual has a unique part in the offering.

And Moses prayed to G‑d – not that the offering as a whole be rejected, but – that the unique portions of incense that represented the members of the rebellious faction not be accepted.

A Letter for All

In the early 1980s, the Rebbe, of righteous memory, began a campaign to encourage every Jew to buy a letter in a Torah Scroll. The campaign was based on the biblical mitzvah that every individual write or acquire their very own Torah scroll.

The Rebbe then asked (in the course of a chassidic gathering on the 19th of Kislev, 1982): Why is it that, for many centuries, the majority of Jews did not own their own Torahs?

The Rebbe justified the prevailing custom by offering an explanation similar to the Chida's: When a person is called up for an aliyah at a Torah reading, it is as if the scribe wrote the entire Torah for that individual. How so? Because, though that individual is part of the community, he is entirely unique. And when he is called up to the Torah, it is that uniqueness that is revealed, his individual part in the Torah, and that, the Rebbe explains, is how he fulfills the commandment of writing a Torah Scroll.

Many Individuals, Many Tasks

One might have imagined that the Rebbe's standards for, and expectations from, his own followers might have declined, since his outreach extended to people entirely unaffiliated with Judaism. There is a Chabad saying, used pejoratively, "It did not affect, it not impact." This means that Torah knowledge should not just be a scholarly, theoretical, and conceptual discussion, but rather, should have an effect on the individual.

The Rebbe led the worldwide Chabad-Lubavitch community, but he was also a leader of world Jewry. The Rebbe felt connected to every single Jew. He turned to individuals with no background in Jewish practice and encouraged them to put on tefillin, to light Shabbat candles. He taught that every action, even a "small" good deed, is precious.

The Rebbe often expressed the great pleasure G‑d experiences from even one good deed, done by a single Jew, even once in his or her life. This is the way the he brought tens of thousands of Jews to do hundreds of thousands of mitzvahs.

One might have imagined that the Rebbe's standards for, and expectations from, his own followers might have declined, since his outreach extended to people entirely unaffiliated with Judaism. However, the Rebbe continued to encourage already-practicing Jews to advance in their Jewish observance and learning. We can see this clearly from two letters on the same subject, written on the very same day, to two different individuals.

The Chabad custom is that on the wedding day, the groom says a chassidic discourse about marriage. In the first letter, the Rebbe responded to a groom who told the Rebbe that he only said one paragraph at his wedding (the following translated and adapted from the original):

"Why would you say only a portion of the discourse? Are you not aware of the great significance of this discourse that includes teachings from every one of the Lubavitch Rebbes? What was done cannot be undone; however, gather a group of ten as soon as you receive this letter, and say the entire discourse."

In another letter, the Rebbe responded to a Chabad emissary who wrote about a frequent visitor and student at the Chabad House who was planning his wedding. The Rebbe wrote that the emissary should encourage the groom to say at the wedding at least a few lines from the discourse...

Both letters written on the same day by the same Rebbe. However, the Rebbe addressed each person based on the varying situations. Each groom's individual abilities needed to be uniquely utilized.

Understanding People

A woman, a professor, once wrote to the Rebbe, trying to understand how G‑d could have let the Holocaust happen. As always, the Rebbe responded brilliantly; however, I was most touched by what the Rebbe wrote to the professor towards the end of the letter (adapted here): "I noticed that you signed now using your secular name. I recall that ten years ago I received an invitation to your son's wedding and there you signed with your Jewish name..."

Yes, it is amazing that the Rebbe remembered. Ten years passed since the wedding – a wedding he did not attend – and this was only one among tens of thousands of wedding invitations that he received over those years. However, the fact that this letter attests to the Rebbe's phenomenal memory is not what, in my opinion, makes this letter remarkable.

The Rebbe continues in his letter: "You write that you cannot believe in G‑d after what happened during the Holocaust. Your letter demonstrates the great hatred you harbor towards the Germans for their barbaric acts... As a daughter of the Jewish nation I now ask you, why do you use your secular name that's sourced in the German language?"

The Rebbe concludes, "Perhaps you will do me a favor, and from today on start using your Jewish name."

It is understandable that the Rebbe responded to her question about the Holocaust. However, in his great love for every individual, he did not satisfy himself with doing just that. The Rebbe considered what Jewish act the professor could incorporate into her life—an act that she herself would want to do, for in her mind it would equate with doing something that would make a personal stand against the barbaric Nazis.

This is the way the Rebbe saw things; for every individual there is their unique way of encouraging them in their Jewish growth.

To the Lubavitch disciple, the Rebbe would instruct regarding which chassidic discourses to study, or the extra stringency in Jewish law that he should adopt. From the Israeli soldier, the Rebbe would request that he put on tefillin every day. And the businesswoman, the Rebbe would invite to light Shabbat and holiday candles.

There are so many different people in the world, with their own understanding and with their own way of acting. The Rebbe guided each and every one of them to grow in their unique way.

And to the Rebbe even that one small act was an entire world.

Rabbi Yitzchak Menachem Weinberg, the Tolna Rabbi, leads the Tolna community in Jerusalem and is a sought after lecturer. He has also lectured extensively on the legacy of the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, of righteous memory.
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s May 29, 2014

amazing i didnt know this about the tolne rebbe Reply