This Lubavitcher Rebbe’s yartzeit (anniversary of passing) falls this year (5775 / 2015) on Shabbat, when we read Parshat Korach, the story of Korach’s rebellion against Moshe’s leadership in the wilderness. The Rebbe has an in-depth insight to one of Rashi commentary on this reading that is especially meaningful to share on the Rebbe’s yartzeit, because it highlights two aspects that are very Rebbe-esque.

The verse “Al Tayfen in Minchasam” (16:15) says, Moshe cried out to G-d and said, “Don’t turn to their (the rebellious ones’) offering.” Rashi gives two interpretations of this, here’s the second one: Do not accept their offering: According to its Midrashic interpretation, he (Moshe) said: I know that they have a portion in the daily communal offerings. Let their portions not be accepted favorably before You. 

One of the (many!) questions the Rebbe points out in this Rashi is that communal property and communal offerings are not made up of a lot of individual portions. Once you donate and it becomes communal property the individual no longer has rights to it. So why is Moshe telling G-d to please avoid the specific segments of the communal offering that belong to the rebellious crowd? It’s no longer an individual offering, it is now communal!

The answer to this explains the Rebbe (almost autobiographically!) lies in the words Yodaya Ani I Know. The truth is that according to Jewish law, individuals who contribute to community, it becomes communal property and loses all individual rights. But remember Moses’ initiation as a Jewish leader! He was the shepherd who went after that lost sheep. Moses cared about the individual! And as the Rebbe explains, this is the hallmark of great Jewish leadership, The Waldo credo: “Never get lost in the crowd!” (The Rebbe doesn’t mention Waldo of course, but its a familiar visual expression of this concept. We did it here as a Purim theme in 2009).

So while Halachicly and legally they have no private share in communal offerings, Moshe says “I Know!” as leader of the Jewish people I never lose sight of the personal in the communal, I always seek to find the individual in the crowd. So in that sense, they do have a private share of the communal offering – and I’m asking G-d to please ignore that.

This is so autobiographical about the Rebbe in so many ways. Instead of speaking of the Jewish people or Jewish community, or collective words like most communal-minded Jews say, the Rebbe often said “each and every Jew” which emphasizes the individual. The Rebbe oft-quoted Isaiah’s verse “And you will gather the Jewish people, one by one” which is the verse we chose to inscribe on our Ark, in the hopes that Shabbos House live by the Rebbe’s vision of gathering Jews, but recognizing and valuing and cherishing – each and every one. And the Rebbe sent Shluchim and reached out to Jews in farflung communities that were few in number, because to the Rebbe it wasn’t about numbers. People who remember the Rebbe, often speak of this unusual quality, to have global vision and vast knowledge, but always focus on the person, on the individual.

One more thing that makes this Rashi interpretation very Rebbe-esque: the positive twist. Listen, the whole Korach story is unpleasant. And in this verse and this Rashi, Moshe comes across (rightfully so!) as firm, disciplinary and even vindictive. But that’s not what the Rebbe takes away from this Rashi. The Rebbe sees in this Rashi a vision of Jewish leadership, to the Rebbe this Rashi includes rather than excludes. It celebrates the positive vision of never losing sight of the individual in the crowd, even though the context is a negative one. And this positive twist is typical Rebbe, always finding the good in people, and the positives in Jewish learning.


Speaking of the Rebbe and of Waldo, here’s a related thought about the famous Kinus HaShluchim photo taken every year.  Every year, around this time, Chabad Shluchim from all over the world gather in Crown Heights for the Kinus, the annual conference. Its usually a few thousand men sometime at the end of November, the women have their conference in February.  Every year they take this group photo. It doesn’t change much, aside for growing larger every year. It’s always in front of the Rebbe’s synagogue and office, 770 Eastern Parkway. All the men have black hats, dark suits, many wear glasses. Finding your Chabad Shliach is like finding a needle in a haystack. For good reason, they call it the Where’s Waldo picture.

Here’s a paradox. Everyone has the black hat, everyone has a beard. It looks like one big sea of sameness. But as anyone who has been to multiple Chabads knows good and well how different we are. Yes, we share the same mission and dedication, but we each express it and develop it in our own way. So many of you have commented to me on the interesting differences between Chabad Houses you’ve visited.

Chabad celebrates individuality, each Chabad House is unique, it’s not a cookie-cutter franchise. The Rebbe encouraged each Shliach to build on their own personal strengths, and on the strengths and needs of their particular community.

This concept is oft-repeated in the Rebbe’s teachings. Klal and Prat, community and individual. In fact the Rebbe’s very last farnrengen in 1992 was about this very subject (Vaykahel vs Pekudei). And the Waldo analogy is accurate, because Chabad shares the same message and life-lesson as the Waldo books: “You are never lost in the crowd!”

Taking this photo is not a job for your iPhone. To properly make this huge image, in which every single face is in focus, Chabad retains the professional services of veteran photographer Don Holloway, a specialist in these types of pictures. (He has since retired, after many years of doing this photo, but it is still no job for amateurs!)

The Rebbe was this type of expert. He envisioned the huge spectrum of the Jewish people, the global picture, from Thailand to Toronto, Laos to Los Angeles etc,… and yet was deeply concerned with each and every Jew, an incredible vision where each individual Jew is in sharp focus.