On entering the Rebbe’s room for a private audience, a Lubavitcher communal leader noticed that the Rebbe’s expression had a hint of sadness. With some boldness, he asked the Rebbe what was troubling him.

The Rebbe replied that there was a family in Crown Heights with six children — five boys and a girl. The boys had already grown up, married, and assumed positions heading Lubavitch outreach centers in cities throughout the world. A while ago, the girl had also married. Recently, she and her husband had written the Rebbe, asking if they should assume a position in a distant city.

The Rebbe gave his approval contingent on the consent of the girl’s parents. Although this would mean that the elder couple would be alone, they willingly agreed.

“At the present moment,” the Rebbe concluded, “the parents and their daughter are at the airport saying farewell. Many tears are being shed. It’s true that they are tears of joy, but they are crying all the same. And when they are crying, how can I not cry?”

Parshas Massei

Among the concepts taught in Parshas Massei is the commandment to set aside cities for the Levites. All of the other tribes were given a specific portion of land for them to populate. The Levites, by contrast, were given 48 cities that were dispersed throughout the entire Holy Land, several in the ancestral heritages of each of the other tribes.

Why this distinction? Because the Levites were given the mission to serve as teachers and spiritual leaders. Such a person must realize that he cannot fulfill his mission by remaining secluded in an ivory tower. Instead, he must become integrated with the people as a whole.

This concept has implications on many levels. On the most obvious, a teacher should not wait for a student to come to him. He must be willing to go out to the student and attract his interest. Moreover, his “going out” should not be an occasional visit, after which he retreats to his own spiritually secure community. Instead he should be willing to make the investment to live permanently among his students and become involved with them in an ongoing manner.

There is, however, a deeper point. True teaching comes from living with a person. The Bible praises Elisha as one “who poured water over Elijah’s hands.” In other words, he performed manual tasks for him, helping him in the ordinary details of day-to-day life. Our Rabbis ask: Why isn’t Elisha praised as being Elijah’s student?

They answer that Elisha learned more from living with Elijah and performing these basic tasks on his behalf than from hearing his teachings. When a person lives together with a teacher, he does not receive mere abstract knowledge. He sees how the teacher has integrated his values and objectives into his own life. The Torah insights the teacher imparts are not just lofty ideals, but active principles. The student can see these principles bring about results in the way the teacher relates to his family and to others, and how they endow his life with more meaning and purpose.

These are the types of lessons that make an impression on a student and empower him to change his own life. In order to teach in this manner, the Levites were commanded to live dispersed among the other tribes.

Looking to the Horizon

Parshas Massei is always read in the period of time known as the “three weeks” interposed between the commemorative fasts of the Seventeenth of Tammuz and Tishah B’Av. These fasts mark the conquest of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Holy Temple. As such, it is a time when we focus our attention on the idea of exile and our people’s hope for Redemption.

A person may legitimately ask: “What does it mean that we are in exile? It does not appear that I have been taken from another place and transported here. This feels like my home.”

It’s true, we feel at home in our present environment. Why shouldn’t we? It offers peace, prosperity, and opportunities for growth that no culture in history has ever experienced. For this, we must be very thankful.

Simultaneously, there is something missing. When the Temple was standing, it afforded every visitor a direct appreciation of G‑dliness. A person felt as if he had seen the Divine.

This is what it means to be in exile. It is not necessarily about suffering difficulty and hardship, but the inability to appreciate G‑dliness.

This is what we lack today. And as a result, there is something missing in all the good that we do have. It isn’t bad, it just isn’t life at its fullest.

As we become conscious of the nature of exile, a thirst for Redemption is kindled, for every person sincerely desires to live a life connected with G‑d.