This sermon was delivered on Shabbat Parshat Korach, 3 Tammuz 5779, the 25th anniversary of the passing of the Lubavitcher Rebbe of righteous memory

Many in our community are grateful to the Lubavitcher Rebbe, zt”l, and Chabad for supplying consistent solutions to our first world problems. Chabad has enabled us to go almost anywhere and find a minyan (even one that starts very late), kosher food, and a welcoming atmosphere. But the Rebbe’s influence goes much deeper for many of our children and should for all of us as well. For many of our kids on college campuses, the Chabad House and the rav and rebbetzin at that house are not just places to go for a hot meal, but the result is a lifelong association with someone who taught them to have Jewish spiritual confidence in themselves and faith in other Jews.

The Chabadniks are there for the long run. I recently visited a campus and met its Chabad rav and rebbetzin, who sent regards to a dear congregant of ours who attended this college more than 15 years earlier. The rav and rebbetzin not only remembered this woman, but they knew the names of her husband and children. Only relationships that are built on substance, respect and friendship last that long. The shliach told me that the Rebbe expected that these shluchim would remain permanently at their positions.

This leads me to share some Torah this morning from the Rebbe. In my opinion, the best way to get to know people is through the Torah they teach and the ongoing themes that resonate with them. This is where the Rebbe can have the greatest impact on us. Personally, by learning from the vast library of the Rebbe over the last few years, I feel more closely connected to this great figure.

I will share some of my reflections on a piece from the Likkutei Sichot [Collected Talks], Volume 28, of the Rebbe. This piece was from a talk given by the Rebbe on Parshat Korach, 37 years ago, a talk as relevant today as then.

We read this morning1 about Moshe’s latest confrontation with his adversaries, Datan and Aviram. Negative people find each other, and not only did Datan find Aviram, they also found Korach, and he found them.

Before we get to the Rebbe’s chidush (“novel idea”), we need some background. We have met these two characters before.The first time was when, according to the Midrash,2 they were fighting with each other.3 Moshe tried to intervene, only to have to run for his own life as a reward for his good deeds. We typically find these two as unified by a common enemy in acts of faithlessness, not only against Moshe but against Hashem. These include their breaking of the law that forbade hoarding the manna.4 As explained by the Midrash,5 they had this audacity because they didn’t believe G‑d was watching them. Datan and Aviram also had engaged in many other negative activities and are categorized by the Midrash6 as evil from the beginning to the end.

Yet despite this history, Moshe tried in this Parsha to reconcile with them and help them return from the abyss. He sent for them.7 Rashi8 famously tells us that we learn a lesson from this: When involved in an ongoing dispute you should be the protagonist, the principal actor, the predominant seeker of change. But they had no interest in resolution and continued to make even more hurtful accusations against Moshe.

This is usually where the story of Moshe and these perpetual thorns in his back usually ends. There is only so much an individual can do for people who have no intention of changing.

This is where the Rebbe begins his fascinating analysis. The story was actually not over for Moshe regarding Datan and Aviram. There is still one more chapter to this narrative. In the previous stage, Moshe sent middlemen to his adversaries. Now9 he goes himself to seek a positive resolution.Why? What could he possibly say or do to change their minds? He has already gone beyond any reasonable expectation.

The Rebbe writes:

Dathan and Aviram had openly demonstrated their animosity toward Moses, accusing him of being a despot and an impostor. Moreover, G‑d Himself had already sealed their punishment, instructing Moses to save only the others from Dathan and Aviram's impending fate. Still, Moses did not give up hope that his “enemies” would repent, doing everything in his power to influence them to reconsider. We learn from Moses to always do whatever we can—even when it seems that all hope is lost.10

I want to suggest where this idea is coming from, as it is a common theme in the writings of the Rebbe. In a different context, when talking about Jews who seem far away from Judaism, but not people with terrible character like Datan and Aviram, the Rebbe didn’t like the term kiruv rechokim, “bringing close the distant.” Joseph Telushkin addresses this beautifully in his profound work on the Rebbe, Rebbe: The Life and Teachings of Menachem M. Schneerson, the Most Influential Rabbi in Modern History.

Kiruv rechokim implies a sense of superiority over your fellow Jew. In the Rebbe’s philosophy, there isn’t a lot of space or distance between two Jews.

This is true for Jews at different levels of religion and, I suggest in the context of Moshe vs. Datan and Aviram, for Jews with different temperaments and character traits. Moshe didn’t feel so distant from these two because we are all in fact, relatively close to each other. When it doesn’t take so long to walk the distance, because you feel close to the other, you keep walking back. To Moshe and the Rebbe, you keep trying because they really aren’t so far away.

In the end, Datan and Aviram again rejected Moshe. But what side do we want to be on when fighting with fellow Jews, including relatives? Do we want to be like Moshe or like Datan and Aviram? Which legacy will be written about us by our families and communities?

The Rebbe’s message, which is a reflection of his life and is a reason his followers have been so successful, is not meant as an aberration. It is supposed to be our lives.

It is great to be able to have kosher food from Chabad on a vacation to the Bahamas. It is more essential, however, to live the message of closing the distance between Jews when living in your own neighborhood and house. When we think we have done enough, we have not. We have to try again and reach beyond, more than we thought we could have done.

This is true in every area of life. The Rebbe’s life is a challenge and opportunity for us, not just to get to know him but especially to know ourselves as servants of Hashem and as admirers and friends of our brothers and sisters. Those we already love and those we don’t love, yet.

Our attitudes should be such that we too will be remembered not only 25 years after our passing but like the Rebbe, for generations. If not by the whole world, then at least by our families.