ESSAY: The Soul of a Conflict
Every folly has its kernel of truth, every crime a virtuous
objective at its heart. What is needed is a burning and a
THE WRITTEN WORD: His Guiding Vision
What motivated the Rebbe? What drove his unceasing labor
and unprecedented achievements?
By his own account, the Rebbe was a man obsessed. Indeed,
what could be more single-minded than reality?
DIALOGUE: Mister Menachem
When Science-fiction becomes a reality
The Soul of a Conflict
And the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them and
their homes; all Korachs people and all their property...
And a fire came forth from G-d and consumed the two hundred
and fifty men who offered the ketoret.
Every folly has its kernel of truth, every crime a virtuous
objective at its heart. For the essence of man is unadulterated
good; it is only that, at times, something might go awry in
the process from motive to deed, so that a lofty ideal is
corrupted to a lowly end.
The same was true of the mutiny of Korach, to whom our sages
refer as the father of all discord and strife.
Korach challenged the authority of Moses, the truth of the
Torah, and the very structure of the community of Israel as
ordained by G-d. But the principle behind his arguments was
a positive one, and the ambition that fired his deeds was
The entire community is holy, argued Korach to
Moses and Aaron, and G-d is within them. Why do you
exalt yourselves above the community of G-d? Why does a Jew need Moses to teach
him the word of G-d and Aaron to perform the service in the
Holy Temple in his stead, when he himself possesses a soul
that is a spark of the divine flame? Why cant he realize
his relationship with G-d on his own, without teachers, leaders
and priests in his spiritual life? The essence of Korachs
arguments is, of course, true: the soul of man is literally
a part of G-d, and it requires no intermediaries
in its connection with its source. Indeed, the prophet prophesies
a future world in which No longer shall a man teach
his fellow... for all shall know Me, from the least of them
to the greatest.
Korach erred in attempting to force this perfect state on
a yet imperfect worlda world in which we do require
guidance in the realization of our intellectual and spiritual
potential, and in which the decree of refinement, spirituality
and manifest connection to G-d varies from individual to individual.
Korach was driven by his frustrated desire for the office
of Kohen Gadol (High Priest), to which Moses had appointed
his brother Aaron, as G-d had instructed. The Kohen Gadol
was the one who, representing the people of Israel, officiated
at the most sacred services in the Holy Temple. It was he
who offered the ketoret (incense) in the
Holy of Holies (the innermost chamber in the Temple) on Yom
Kippur, marking the point at which the most sacred elements
of the three dimensions of realitytime, space and soulconverged,
the holiest human being entering the holiest place in the
universe on the holiest day of the year. But to yearn for
a greater closeness with G-d than one is capable of or even
permitted is a most positive thing; indeed, the tension between
what one is able and required to achieve and that which lies
beyond ones reach is the essence of a spiritually productive
life. Korachs ambition turned destructive when it crossed
the fatal line from yearning to deed, from striving toward
a holier state to acting as if one had already achieved it.
Korachs ideology and ambitions were positive, but the
truth of a thing depends on its parameters as much as on its
content. Given free rein to expand beyond the bounds of the
permissible, they became a malignant cancer that consumed
this wise and virtuous man,
ultimately leading him to open rebellion against those appointed
by G-d to head the Jewish people and to denial of the divine
communication to Moses.
The Swallowed and the Consumed
The dichotomy within Korach between his motives and his deeds
was also reflected in the two distinct groups which made up
his following. Joining Korach in his rebellion were two
hundred and fifty men from the people of Israel: leaders of
the community, of those called to the assembly, men of distinction. These individuals were driven by
the aspiration to be kohanim gedolim; indeed, when
Moses challenged them to offer ketoret as a test of
whether they were worthy of such a high spiritual station,
they eagerly did so, although they knew that Aarons
two elder sons, Nadav and Avihu, had died in a similar attempt.
But Korachs camp also included a mob of rabble-rousers,
including the infamous Datan and Aviram, jealous of Moses and discontent with the burden of
the divine commandments he had introduced into their lives.
The difference between these two groups is illustrated by
the manner in which they met their tragic end. The two hundred
and fifty men who offered the ketoret were consumed
by a heavenly fire, while Datan and Aviram and their ilk were
swallowed up by the earth. As for Korach himself, the Midrash
tells us that since he was responsible for both these groups,
he received both penalties: his soul was consumed by fire,
and his body was swallowed by the earth.
Korachs mutiny also had both a soul and a body: the
positive forces that agitated it and the negative form they
assumed. At its climatic end came a separation of these two
elements: its soul ascended on high in a holy
conflagration (fire being the process in which
the energy implicit in a substance is released and rises through
the atmosphere), while its body fell away to be
absorbed by the earthly abyss.
Released from its iniquitous embodiment, the spirit of Korach
could now be reclaimed for its pure and holy applications.
Based on an address by the Rebbe, Shabbat Parshat Korach
5717 (June 22, 1957) and on other occasions
His Guiding Vision
From the time that I was a child attending cheder,
and even before, there began to take form in my mind a picture
of the future redemptionthe redemption of Israel from
its last exile, a redemption such as would explain the suffering,
the decrees and the massacres of galut...
From a letter by the Rebbe dated Nissan 11, 5716 (March
The following is a freely translated excerpt of an address
delivered by the Rebbe at a farbrengen held on Shabbat
Parshat Pinchas, 5744 (July 14, 1984):
...In regard to what has been discussed abovethe Redemption
and the era of Moshiachthere are those who wonder (though,
for obvious reasons, they do not openly express their amazement):
How can a person appear in public, week after week, and repeatedly
speak of one subjectthe coming of Moshiach? Furthermore,
this person always stresses that he is not merely speaking
of the concept, but of the actual coming of Moshiach, here
on physical earth, and immediately, on this very dayShabbat
Parshat Pinchas, 5744! He then instructs, on each occasion,
to sing May the Holy Temple be rebuilt speedily in our
days, emphasizing that speedily in our days
should not be understood as speedily, tomorrow,
but as speedily, today!
Certainly, every Jew believes that Moshiach can come any
momentafter all, I await his coming every day
is one of the fundamental principles of the Jewish faith.
Stillthey wonderto sense that Moshiach will come
at this very moment is hardly consistent with the reality
of our lives. So why does this man speak incessantly about
this, on every occasion, and with such single-minded intensity,
as if to forcefully ram the idea into the minds of his listeners?!
Their conclusion is that all this is a nice dream (and, as
we say in our prayers, May all my dreams be positively
fulfilled for me and for all of Israel)nice,
but not very realistic. So whats the point of speaking,
in such length and frequency, about ones dreams?
The truth, however, is the very opposite.
In a maamar (discourse of chassidic teaching) based
on the verse, When G-d returns the exiles of Israel,
we shall be as those who have dreamed, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi explains that
our current state of galut (exile) is comparable to
a dream, in which a persons sense of perception can
tolerate the most contradictory and irrational things.
In other words, our current reality is a dream,
while the world of Moshiach is the true reality. In a single
moment, we can all wake from the dream of galut and
open our eyes to the true reality of our existencethe
perfect world of Moshiach. It is in the power of each and
every one present in this room to immediately wake himself
from his dream, so that today, Shabbat Parshat Pinchas, 5744,
before we even have a chance to recite the minchah
prayers, indeed this very moment, we all open our eyes and
see Moshiach, in the flesh, with us, here in this room!
Editors note: In 1995, William Morrow & Company published
the first widely-distributed book of the Rebbes teachings,
Toward a Meaningful Life, by Rabbi Simon Jacobson,
editor-in-chief at Vaad Hanachot Hatmimim/The Meaningful Life
Center. Among the many responses received at our office was
a letter from a woman who, as a child of five had met the
Rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneersohn. That letter described
her first meeting with the Rebbe in 1946, When he was
not yet the Rebbe and ... walked freely around the neighbourhood
(of Crown Heights). Below is an extract from a second
letter that describes subsequent sidewalk conversations
with the Rebbe.
Kol hakavod on Toward a Meaningful Life.
The book is a beautiful kiddush Hashem,
and does full justice to the Rebbe himself.
As a yiddishe maidele
who was born into a traditional family in Crown Heights in
1940, and who had the great zchus and mazal
from Hashem to know the Rebbe as a beloved childhood friend
whose name was Mister, or so I thought then - the
book brings tears to my eyes and overwhelming feelings both
of joy and loss to my heart. Since I read Toward a Meaningful
Life, I have been deluged with memories of events that
Id forgotten for approximately 45 years
I knew the Rebbe first as Mister, and then when I learned
that Mister was not his name (as I thought it was when I was
5) I asked him his name. But I just couldnt get the
name that he told me he must have been saying Schneerson
so he told me that we had similar names, and could
I say Menachem. That I got immediately, and so he told me
to call him Mr. Menachem. Which I did.
It was not until I saw a picture of him, taken about 1950,
that I realized that my beloved Mr. Menachem was also the
Rebbe. I had been praying for the Rebbe forever, or so it
seemed, but I never knew that I was also praying for one of
the dearest friends I ever had
Mr. Menachem always asked me what books I was reading. When
I was seven Spring of 48 I think I discovered
Science Fiction in the library on Schenectady. I loved it.
I gave him rave reviews of two authors, Robert Heinlein and
Isaac Asimov. He was intrigued by the idea of teaching children
science through fun-to-read novels. I always told him he should
read them, that he would love them. He always told me that
he only read Jewish books. Then one day, a year or more later,
I told him about Asimovs book Foundation.
If you havent read Asimovs Foundation Series then
I should tell you its about a secret foundation set
up by a psychohistorian name Hari Seldon. The purpose of psychohistory
and the Foundation was to perfect the Universe. Which is basically
what I told him.
Anyway, Mr. Menachem later told me he read the book
which floored me and told me to concentrate on Asimov,
not Heinlin. [And he was right.] He then went on to tell me
hed written to Asimov and had gotten a reply. I was
thrilled that Asimov thought enough of him to write
back [Told you I didnt know who I was talking to. At
that point I had no concept of what he truly was, much less
what he would become.] He was corresponding with Asimov, and
as far as I was concerned that was even better that writing
to Jackie Robinson,
which I think I told him.
Then he asked me what I thought of the idea of setting up
a foundation. I thought it was better than Asimov and Robinson
combined and told him so. He then told me he was setting up
a foundation. I was so excited I started jumping up and down,
telling him I wanted to join, please, please please. He said
I could. Well, he did set it up, and I did join for a while.
He was talking about Chabad and his shluchim. Maybe other
things that I havent found out yet. Who knows?
Adapted from the teachings of the Rebbe by Yanki Tauber
. Talmud, Sanhedrin 110a; et al.
. Tanya, part I, ch. 2.
. Cf. Rashi, Numbers 16:7: How did Korach,
who was a wise man, come to such folly...? (Indeed,
since the Torah does not tell us anything about Korachs
life prior to his rebellion against Moses, how do we know
that he was a wise man? Obviously, then, it is his very
folly that reveals his wisdom. Examining his arguments and
actions, we uncover the positive and desirable elements
that gave rise to them.)
. Ibid., verses 5-7 and 18; Leviticus ch. 10; see
Shaloh, Parshat Korach (p. 358a). A similar phenomenon was
found among the high priests of the Second Temple period,
who bought the office from the Roman rulers of the Holy
Land. As the Talmud (Yoma 9a; Jerusalem Talmud, ibid., 1:1)
relates, because they were not worthy of entering the Holy
of Holies, none of them survived even a single Yom Kippur.
Nevertheless, there was no lack of bidders for the post
each year! For these were people who so greatly desired
to experience the ultimate manifestation of G-dliness on
earth that they were ready to forfeit their lives for it.
. Datan and Aviram were the two Jews whom Moses witnessed
quarreling in Egypt (Exodus 2:13) and who were at the heart
of virtually every conflict with Moses in Egypt and the
desert (see Midrash Rabbah, Shemot 1:34 and 25:14; Tanchuma,
Shemot 10; et al).
. Numbers 16:1. See Yalkut Shimoni on verse.
. Midrash Tanchuma, Korach 9; et al.
. A similar process occurred with the bursting
of the vessels in the primordial world of Tohu,
in which the divine light was too intense for its defining
parameters and ascended to its supernal source while its
broken vessels fell to form the substance of the material
universe (see Maamar Acharei Mot 5649).
. Likkutei Sichot, vol. XVIII, pp. 202-211; ibid.,
pp. 187-191; et al.
His Guiding Vision
. Igrot Kodesh, vol. XII, p. 414.
. Yehi Ratzon recited during the priestly
blessing on the festivals.
. Torah Ohr, Vayeishev 28c.
 The letter was printed in The Week in Review
vol VII no 23 entitled When the Rebbe was Mister
. Roughly: Well done!
. Glorification of G-d.
 American baseball player, played for the Brooklyn