Rabbi Chaim Bruk and his family

By R’ Chaim Bruk

This Shabbos, the 3rd of Tammuz, is a hard one for me and for so many around the world as we commemorate the Rebbe’s yahrzeit. Though it’s now 28 years since his soul ascended, the loss is still very palpable, especially for those of us who are the Rebbe’s students, his shluchim and shluchos, serving on his behalf everywhere as ambassadors of light, love, and holiness. It’s not a perpetual state of sadness, as that would be counterproductive, but it’s a deep ache and void, as we yearn to connect in the physical realm with our Moshe, who shepherded us with TLC and taught us how to love Hashem, love His Torah, and love His people.

The Rebbe doesn’t need any vindication, but I think he deserves for the record to be set straight.

The Rebbe was a brilliant Torah luminary, a guide to Yidden on every continent, an ohr l’goyim bringing light to the gentile world, a devoted Rebbe, and a true “rosh Bnei Yisrael,” a visionary in sync with the neshamos of every Jew in his generation. Until this very day, any Jew seeking to connect with him and his legacy of Torah and Chassidus can do so, and so many do. Yet, the Rebbe did have a few antagonists during his lifetime who weren’t kind or respectful, and if we look around the world today, it’s clear that the Rebbe’s battle, fought with dignity and light, has been won. I love history and we owe it to ourselves to know the truth.

In Pirkei Avos, which many Jews, including me, learn each Shabbos after Pesach until Rosh Hashanah, it says that there are quarrels that are for the sake of heaven, with pure intent, like that of Hillel and Shammai, who argued endlessly, but did so with total respect for each other and the opposing opinion. Yet, there is also the arguing that isn’t for the sake of heaven, like that of Korach and his ilk, who did it without respect and without the dignity expected from an aristocratic Jew like Korach who was a prestigious Levite. The Mishnah’s wording is precise, stating, “the quarreling of Korach and his congregation,” not “Korach and Moshe,” because Moshe had no part in the quarrel. Of course, he defended G-d’s honor as did Aharon, the kohen gadol, but he had no hard feelings for Korach, Dasan, Aviram, Ohn ben Peles, Nachshon ben Aminadav, or all the other rabble-rousers involved in the potential coup against Moshe.

The Torah doesn’t believe that it always takes two to tango; Korach was proof that a tango can be one-sided.

The Midrash teaches that the night before the showdown with Korach, Moshe was going from tent to tent, seeking to inspire the opposition to do teshuvah and change their ways. He wasn’t hoping for their demise, seeking to score points by knocking them out, and he wasn’t taking personal offense; he simply hoped that these beautiful Jews who carried ill wishes for him and acted unkindly toward him would look deep inside their soul and find a kinder, more holy, genuine side of their being and choose wisely, recognizing that all the Levite roles were chosen by G-d, not Moshe or Aharon.

The Rebbe was criticized for encouraging his chassidim to stand on the streets offering Jews to put on tefillin with people who, perhaps, didn’t wash negel vasser in the morning. He was attacked for the fact that Lubavitchers don’t sleep in the sukkah. He was scrutinized for encouraging girls of three years and older to light Shabbos candles. He was attacked for his unwavering love for Eretz Yisrael and his unequivocal demand that no part of the Holy Land be given to any gentiles, even with the promise of peace. He was criticized for talking about Mashiach too much. They questioned him for going to the kever of his father-in-law, the previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, so often. They decried him for seeing the miracle in Operation Entebbe. They didn’t understand why he was obsessed with everyone learning Rambam, daily chapters in Maimonides’ codification of Jewish law.

They were wrong on all these issues, and the tides have turned, baruch Hashem.

While he responded individually and collectively to many of these arguments, he never singled anyone out by name, never made it personal, never did it with hatred or animosity. He loved every Jew and there was nothing you could do to change that. His sensitivity extended to every child with whom he interacted, every couple experiencing infertility, every family dealing with the loss of a loved one, every couple struggling in their marriage, every parent shedding tears about the trajectory of their child’s ruchniyus. Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach referred to him as “rosh kol bnei ha’golah,” leader of diaspora Jewry. Rav Moshe Feinstein started wearing Rabbeinu Tam tefillin because the Rebbe asked him to and sent him a pair. The Rogatchover Gaon corresponded with him at length. And Rav Mordechai Eliyahu referred to him as our “kohen gadol.” They understood this was a once-in-a-generation individual who, like Moshe Rabbeinu, cared more about the people and the goal than about himself.

Today, Belzer Chassidim have tefillin booths across Israel doing outreach to Jews who aren’t frum yet. Sephardic men and women are standing on street corners giving out Shabbos candle kits for women and girls. Litvishe Jews and Satmar chassidim are building mikva’os in places like Baku and Spokane. Meaningful Minute and Torah Anytime have hundreds, maybe thousands, of beautiful, realistic nuggets about Mashiach on their various platforms. Visiting kivrei tzaddikim today is more fashionable than meeting with living gedolim, and having pictures of gedolim in Jewish homes is as common as sushi, despite that once being something that “only Chabad does.” The world has changed and, in this aspect, all for the better.

The fact that Tanya, the foundations of Chassidic thought, is being taught at Aish is amazing. The fact that my buddy Yaakov Florans “Flo” and his wife, Sarah, run an amazing kiruv program called “Yehudi” in South Florida is something that the Rebbe would’ve been so excited about. The fact that after Rav Chaim Kanievsky passed away there was a big discussion about his writing on Rambam is awesome. The fact that R’ Shlomo Rechnitz could stand up in Lakewood and demand that every child should be given a spot in school, no matter the family’s financial status or the child’s abilities is something the Rebbe would have encouraged, as I told Reb Shlomo back then.

I’m not a part of the poo-pooing philosophy. I don’t need to take away anyone else’s gadlus, spiritual greatness, to elevate the Rebbe and recognize his genius. I just find it inspiring to know that the Jewish world today is very different, and that is because the Rebbe never surrendered to the reality of “machlokes.” He never thought it was OK to attack a Jew of any flavor for any reason. It’s really a breath of fresh air to see so much Jewish achdus across the board. The Rebbe didn’t need his chassidim to defend him or to fight for him; he fought for issues, and on so many of them he succeeded, sometimes posthumously.

I was in Lakewood this week for a wedding, and the amount of love I experienced from those who know me from their summer visits to Bozeman, and even from those who don’t, was palpable and felt really good. I was honored to get a berachah under the chuppah alongside Rav Malkiel Kotler and that is, thank G-d, a normal thing these days.

The Chasam Sofer (elaborated by his grandson the “Sha’arei Simcha”) explains on our Torah portion, Korach, that there were three groups rebelling against Moshe simultaneously and each for a different cause, even contradictory causes. Korach was upset about the Levite divisions that he felt were unfair. He was a son of Yitzhar, and he believed that with Moshe and Aharon in the highest roles and Elitzafan ben Uziel in a high leadership role, Chevron and Yitzhar’s children were ignored and there needed to be more equality in the Levite family. The 250 leaders who joined Korach were upset about the Levites taking the leadership role away from the firstborn Jews, which happened after the sin of the Golden Calf, and Dasan and Aviram were just upset about leaving Egypt.

The fact that they each had their own set of issues with Moshe and Aharon didn’t stop them from uniting to fight him. The fact that the leaders were screaming that “no Levites should be in service” and Korach was screaming the opposite—“I want a part of the leadership roles of Levites”—didn’t disturb them, because it was all about going after the “system,” and all means were justified in their eyes for the endgame.

Sadly, in the 1980s and 90s, too many pious Jews viciously went after Lubavitch. Yet, at the end, love always wins; today, 28 years after the Rebbe’s passing, I believe that there is a lot of nachas ruach in Heaven, as the Rebbe sees the Jewish world embrace almost everything he believed in and fought for, inching us ever closer to the coming of Mashiach.

Oy, Rebbe, I miss you and will do my best not to let you down!

Rabbi Chaim Bruk is co-CEO of Chabad Lubavitch of Montana and spiritual leader of The Shul of Bozeman. For comments or to partner in our holy work, e-mail rabbi@jewishmontana.com or visit JewishMontana.com/Donate.

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