Thousands of students around the world have been turning to to join Rabbi Yechezkel Kornfeld for an in-depth exploration of the Chassidic understanding of G‑d’s unity and His relationship to existence as we know it, “The Infinity of One”

Rabbi Kornfeld, who has served the Jewish community in Washington state for more than 40 years, shares his personal journey to Chabad mysticism, as well as what he hopes the series will accomplish for learners of all backgrounds.

Q: Have you always been an adherent of Chabad?

A: Not at all. I grew up in Manhattan and had what you’d call a fairly typical Modern Orthodox Jewish upbringing. We attended synagogue; I went to a Jewish day school; and I was progressing exactly as I was supposed to. I was curious about Chassidim, but I had no special interest in Chabad. I wanted to get to know the more exotic types with the fur shtreimels on their heads, long robes and long sidelocks.

Q: What ultimately drew you to Chabad?

In my sophomore year at Yeshivah University High School, I heard that there was a student from the Chabad yeshivah, Avrohom Gerlitzky, who would come regularly to learn Tanya—the foundational work of Chabad Chassidism—with a group of guys. An older friend, Tzvi Telsner, urged me to go. So I went.

We hit it off almost immediately. Avrumi, as we called him, was a brilliant scholar, a first-rate Talmudist. Besides that, he opened up a world for me that I never knew existed. Growing up, we knew that there was a G‑d, and that we worshipped Him through learning Torah and performing mitzvahs. But we never actually questioned who G‑d was, and where we and He could interact. It was off-limits. I never knew that Judaism had the answer to those questions.

Through learning Tanya, I became familiar with terms and concepts that gave concrete and logical underpinnings to the Jewish practice I was so familiar with—and I was hooked.

After a while, I began traveling to Brooklyn, to the Chabad yeshivah in 770, to study Chassidus every Thursday night. I also began attending the farbrengens (the ones not on Shabbat) of the Rebbe—Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory.

Finally, after a year in college at Yeshiva University, I traveled to Kfar Chabad, Israel, where I enrolled in the yeshivah there. It was 1970, and I was among the last students to be able to study at the feet of Rabbi Shlomo Chaim Kesselman. He was a mashpia—a mentor and teacher of Chassidus—par excellence. It was a transformative experience.

Rabbi Shlomo Chaim Kesselman was a “mashpia,” a mentor and teacher of Chassidus, par excellence. (Photo: “HaMashpia”)
Rabbi Shlomo Chaim Kesselman was a “mashpia,” a mentor and teacher of Chassidus, par excellence. (Photo: “HaMashpia”)

When I returned to the U.S., I was a full-fledged Chabad Chassid, steeped in the enlightening philosophy and empowering lifestyle of Chabad. I studied in 770 until 1974, when I married.

Q: What brought you to Washington?

A: In 1972, Rabbi Sholom Ber and Chana Levitin founded a Chabad center in Seattle. Things were growing quickly, and they needed another couple to help out.

We settled near the Chabad center, and I worked with college students, day-school students, adult students—everyone.

In time, G‑d blessed us with a large family. Today, they’re all married. Most of them are Chabad-Lubavitch emissaries all over the world, living in places like London, South Africa, Florida and New Jersey. They keep us busy trying to see the grandchildren once in a while.

Around 10 years ago, I was asked to take the pulpit at Congregation Shevet Achim on Mercer Island in Lake Washington, east of Seattle.

Q: What is it that inspired you about the Chassidic approach?

A: As a Modern Orthodox student, I was stunned to discover that Judaism actually has an understanding of things that I thought were simply not discussed. I was so surprised to see Chabad students discussing these lofty matters in such a matter-of-fact way—to know the nature of our relationship with G‑d, the soul and how it all comes together just floored me.

Now, using relatable terms in plain English, I’m trying to share these very same concepts that lit up my life so many years ago.

Click here to register for the free online course “The Infinity of One”.