BDE. #RebPinye in #Pinchas! A great & simple teacher, I learned so many and one things from him, a shapeless shaper, deep impressions but light marks, kindly yet unwavering… much to miss, remember, cherish, live with… an icon, a symbol but also a close listener, ever present.
That was my initial tweet upon learning of R’ Pinchas (known affectionately as “Reb Pinye”) Korf’s passing at age 86, during the week when we read the Torah portion of Pinchas. Afterwards on Saturday night I took some time to articulate and express some memories and lasting impressions of this beloved teacher and mentor of ours from our yeshiva years in Crown Heights, Brooklyn:
Much was shared re Reb Pinye Korf this week. I’d hope to explain & expand my initial tweet after his passing via personal memories & lasting impressions. He was our teacher in 5749/1989 & we saw & absorbed a lot from him in yeshiva overall. Sorry if this tweet thread runs long >
Where to begin? Well, since it is now Motzai Shabbos, probably best to start with the Melava Malkas he hosted for us on Sat Nights in his apartment home. Reb Pinye sang with us “Al Tirah Avdi Yaakov”, read with us from Friediker Rebbe in HaTomim, it was a close feeling.
There was a sweetness to those Sat Nights, informal, relaxed, warm, the subject matter was light, the setting had built-in & expected traditions. I remember the cooked potatoes, eggs, the herring, cookies. First at 1650 President, later at 888 Montgomery (after the fire).
Reb Pinye would often emphasize the phrase/call: “Chassidim Anu (we are Chassidim!) – uBameh Anu Chassidim? (but with what are we Chassidim?)” Granted we are, but how do we live with it? How does it affect us? How do we express this identity?
There were some Chassidim for whom there was some tension between the old inward-bound teachings of the 6th generation, vs. the more outward-bound style of the #Rebbe in the 7th generation of Chabad. But to me Reb Pinye was a seamless synthesis of both.
He vibrantly lived with Rebbe’s farbrengens & directives, his selfless #Bittul dedication to that was iconic, but also was very old-school Chabad-style. To Reb Pinye, the #Rebbe “muhnt altz!” demands of us everything, the old ways & the new, “altz ayns” it is all one & the same.
Generally, depending on time of year, Reb Pinye farbrenged with us either Thurs night or Sat Night, (btw, he actually almost never refused to farbreng) and a great deal of it would be about the “Mugedike sicha” the edited published Rebbe’s farbrengen of the previous Shabbos.
Reb Pinye’s learning the Mugedike Sicha with us each week was a highlight and for me his most memorable teaching. As was his way, he didn’t add much insight or explanation or embellish with flourishes or parables, his style was to stay true to the original: authenticity.
But while Reb Pinye hardly added much of his own, he did have a takeaway, a key distilled insight from almost all the Mugedike sichot of 5749: The Rebbe asks of us (“muhnt”!) that we be BOTH “In Velt un Oys Fun Velt” within the world AND beyond the world. He kept repeating that.
It took later learning of Kuntres Eitz Chayim 6-10, parts of Eter, many more sichot, all the maamorim seeking synthesis of Sovev & Memaleh to appreciate this & apply it on a deeper life level. But this motto, mantra, life perspective was first ingrained by Reb Pinye.
I think about this all the time, it is front of mind for me in my life & Shlichus work. My kids know it well, many of my students know this, too. The tension, the balance, the synthesis. It’s so deep at the heart of Chabad, and this I (began to) learned from Reb Pinye.
Ah, this tweet thread grows long, but there’s so much from Reb Pinye, he taught us & showed us the ways of Chassidus in our formative yeshiva years. Another aspect of his style, I especially appreciate now when I am older, remembering in hindsight: his active focused listening.
Reb Pinye took each of us boys seriously, listened intently, & offered advice & guidance. He would lean in earnestly, sway his head from side to side, sometimes chuckle into his beard. He took time for us, he cared, & looked out for each of us, especially if s/o needed more TLC.
He was always old-school, it was his hallmark. There were others who may have been more dynamic, engaging, relevant or more aware of the times. But Reb Pinye related to the person, whether individually, or also at farbrengens, reaching out – connecting.
And yet, he was surprisingly relevant, also. His answers to some of us were very fitting to what was needed. But more than anything else, it was his “Tzugetrogenkayt” his accessibility, his listening ear, the time he took with anyone. All kinds of people. Even some unusual types.
He cared a lot for those on the fringe or periphery. I know this also from a different angle. When I was 19 (in 3rd year Beis Medrash) he had some first-year on the edge students that he had trouble engaging, & felt he wasn’t reaching, maybe they needed something different.
It was an unusual arrangement (as I was myself a student and only 2 years older than them), but he asked me to step in to teach that group. I did so for a good part of that year. I wish I remembered the specific things he told/guided me during that period, but overall it was warm words about the preciousness of each student, and how Chassidus can reach them & transform their lives, each in their own way. (Thinking back, I wonder if his asking me to teach them was (also) for my benefit).
BTW, he believed in us, encouraged us, yes there was a rule a mashpiya was required at a farbrengen, but when he left, he told us to farbreng on by ourselves… He was one of the only old-school types that truly felt that this current generation had the same challenges & strengths as the prior, even if the context or format totally changed.
Reb Pinye’s strength was his Bittul, total & utter selflessness. Not dry, had geshmak, a sense of humor & twinkle in his eye. But he was a soldier more than anything else. Not a decorated officer, no helmet or heavy gear, just a soldier in a cap, earnest, devoted, unwavering.
can’t write this without recalling a most memorable farbrengen exchange about Bittul “what do you think Pinye, Bittul means to be a rag?” asked Reb Mendel Futerfas to Reb Pinye, “no, Bittul is the greatest source of strength!” said R’ Mendel. While that made me rethink Bittul –
I feel witnessing Reb Pinye’s form of utter #Bittul, helped shape us yeshiva students. He was a shapeless shaper. Many teachers have their personality, their style, their approach, but Reb Pinye’s contribution was that he didn’t have a shape (tziyur). A tziyur-less tziyur.
Another listening pose I remember of Reb Pinye was when others were farbrenging, he’d lean in to listen. Even when he sometimes slightly dozed off into his beard in yeshiva, he was listening. Ever present.
A few years ago at a Chabad on Campus Pegisha, Shabbos afternoon workshops were held in classrooms of the yeshiva building, wandering about I heard the strains of a Niggun sung. I followed it & found Reb Pinye farbrenging. I sat down & it was the same as 30 years ago. That was Reb Pinye: an always Chassid, persistent and consistent.
There’s so much more to share about Reb Pinye but this thread is already too long. Many stories he told, what he taught, impressions, memories, and that one life-long teaching for me about within the world yet beyond it. May his memory be a continued blessing.