To build a brick wall you need bricks. To make a watch you need gears, springs and balance wheels. To create a community you need people.

You can't build a lasting building out of half-baked bricks. You can't assemble an accurate timepiece unless each of its components has first been honed to precision. Nor, it would seem, can you put together a perfect world out of imperfect individuals.

The 25th of Adar I, 5752 (February 29, 1992) was a Shabbat like many others for the Chabad-Lubavitch Chassidim residing in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn, New York.

Because it was Shabbat Mevarchim (the Shabbat preceding the start of a new month in the Jewish Calendar) they joined their Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, in his synagogue at 8:30 am to recite the book of Psalms, as is the Lubavitch custom. This was followed by the usual Shabbat morning service, in the course of which the Torah section of Vayak'hel (Exodus 35-38) was read. Following the service, some rushed home for a quickly-eaten Shabbat meal. Within the hour they were back, joining those who had remained in the synagogue as well as numerous other community residents who had prayed that morning in other neighborhood shuls. By 1:30 p.m., the time that the Rebbe's weekly Shabbat farbrengen (gathering) was scheduled to begin, several thousand Chassidim crowded the large room at 770 Eastern Parkway.

Shortly thereafter, the Rebbe entered. For the next three hours he spoke, expounding on a variety of Torah subjects. In the short intermissions between his talks, the Chassidim sang and raised small plastic cups of wine to say lechaim to the Rebbe. A Shabbat like many others for the Chabad-Lubavitch Chassidim of Crown Heights.

In one of his talks, the Rebbe dwelled on the fact that the Torah reading of the day, Vayakhel, is on many years read together with another section, Pekudei. Because of the varying length of the Jewish year, the annual Torah reading cycle includes certain sections that are sometimes combined with each other to form into a single reading. An interesting feature of these potential "pairs" is that often their names express opposite meanings. For example, Nitzavim, which means "standing," is often joined to Vayeilech, which means "going."

Vayakhel and Pekudei form one of these paradoxical pairs: Vayakhel, which begins by telling how Moses assembled the Children of Israel, means "And he assembled" and is related to the word kehillah, "community"; Pekudei, which begins with an audit of the Sanctuary's components, means "the counted things" and "the remembered things"--the emphasis on the item within the whole and the individual within the community.

In other words, explained the Rebbe, Vayakhel and Pekudei express the contrasting values of community and individuality, and the need to unite the two: to build a community that fosters, rather than suppresses, the individuality of its members; and to cultivate an individuality that contributes to, rather than conflicts with, the communal whole.

Then the Rebbe asked a question: If that is the case, why does Vayakhel come before Pekudei? Don't we first need to develop and perfect the individual, before hoping to make healthy communities out of him and his fellows?

But this, the Rebbe explained, is the Torah's very point: Make communities, even before you have perfect individuals. People are not bricks or gears, which must be individually forged to perfection before they can be assembled together in a constructive way. People are souls, with the potential for perfection implicit within them. And nothing brings out a soul's potential as much interacting and uniting with other souls. Imperfect individuals, brought together in love and fellowship, make perfect communities.

The farbrengen having ended, those who had not yet done so went home for the Shabbat meal; they, too, had to hurry, as the short winter day was already drawing to a close. As soon as Shabbat was over, a group of scholars (called chozrim, or "repeaters") gathered to recall and write down the Rebbe's words (it being Shabbat, no electronic recording devices were employed at the farbrengen). Within 24 hours, the Rebbe's words were transcribed, translated into half a dozen languages, and faxed to hundreds of Chabad-Lubavitch centers around the world. The Rebbe's Chassidim now had "material" to study, disseminate and implement until next Shabbat's farbrengen, if the Rebbe did not deliver a weekday address before then (as he often would).

But on Monday afternoon, 27 Adar I, 5752 (March 2, 1992), the Rebbe suffered a stroke that paralyzed his right side and, most devastatingly, robbed him of the ability to speak. There was no farbrengen on the following Shabbat, nor on the Shabbat after that. In the summer of 1994, the Rebbe's soul ascended on high, orphaning a generation.

The Rebbe's Chassidim are still waiting for the next farbrengen. In the meantime, they're making communities.