The spirit of Purim begins to rise to the fore of our consciousness with the mere mention of the month of Adar. It is as if, regardless of what is taking place, individually or collectively, at that time, we all are able to breathe a sigh of relief, as the light nature of the month becomes fixed within our purview.
As such, we are often caught off guard when just a week into the month Tachanun is omitted due to the observance of Zayin Adar, the day on which Moshe Rabbeinu was born and ultimately passed on. This event is not unrelated to Purim, which is just one week out, since the Jews were saved during the Purim story on account of Moshe Rabbeinu and the great merit that his birth brought to the world for all time. The Gemara relates that when Haman’s lot fell out in the month of Adar, he celebrated prematurely, thinking that the passing of Moshe on the 7th day of Adar was surely a bad omen for the Jews. The Gemara, however, continues that he didn’t realize that Moshe was also born on the 7th day of Adar, and in that merit, the Jews were ultimately spared from Haman’s evil decree.
There is something rather mysterious about this Gemara. Why wasn’t Moshe’s passing on the 7th of Adar a bad omen for the Jews of that time? Both events happened in the same month, on the same day. Why did his birth counteract his demise and not vice versa?
In an article I wrote immediately following Simchas Torah, titled “Finding Moshe Rabbeinu’s Burial Place,” I went through a number of sources who address the rather cryptic verse towards the close of V’Zos Haberachah, when the Torah tells us that nobody can pinpoint where Moshe was buried until this very day. I quoted the commentators Komarna and the Meor Einayim who both say that Moshe is interred in the heart of every Jew. Essentially, they are saying that Moshe lives on through us. There are other aphorisms of our sages that indicate that there is a soul spark of Moshe in every generation. Ultimately, the point they are driving home is that Moshe did not die, and that is why his passing was immaterial to the merit of his birth that protected us. Perhaps that is the intent of the Gemara, “Moshe lo meis,” which states similarly regarding Yaakov Avinu: Moshe did not die—meaning, that as far as his influence in this world is concerned he hadn’t died.
In thinking about Moshe’s influence upon us the following thought has repeatedly occurred to me. When we say the blessing on the Torah every morning we say, “Blessed are You, Hashem, the Giver of the Torah” in the present tense. One of the important features of our learning experience, day in and day out, is that it be done with the same intensity and effervescence that accompanied it on the day it was given. The Mishnah in Avos, which relates the manner in which the Torah was given to us, says Moshe received the Torah from Sinai and gave it to Yehoshua, who gave it to the Zekeinim, and so on and so forth. Moshe’s role in our acceptance of the Torah is of great importance and cannot be removed from that equation. If Hashem is constantly, every day, giving the Torah to us anew, then Moshe, in some manner, needs to be involved in that transmission.
Although his involvement in the transmission of the Torah is seen as a great accomplishment in his fulfilling life, more importantly, he was the shepherd of the Jewish nation and was tapped to fill that role precisely due to his care, concern, and empathy for every member of his people. When G-d presented an offer to destroy the nation and begin anew around him, Moshe declined, demanding the absolution of the effect of the people’s iniquity and to renew their standing as the chosen nation.
The Lubavitcher Rebbe was a personality who embodied that sense of national responsibility and radiated that in every encounter he had. And while it is normal for us to speak about the Rebbe in those terms, and it even makes sense, the institution the Rebbe set up in order to disseminate Torah and G-dliness throughout the world is known as “shlichus,” invoking the Talmudic concept of “shlucho shel adam k’moso”—someone’s messenger occupies the existential space of his sender. As such, it would follow that if the Rebbe is the embodiment of Moshe in this generation, then that has been conferred upon those who dedicate themselves to furthering his vision for a perfected world.
I mention this here because this week the world lost a shaliach who, for over 60 years, dedicated himself, after traveling with his newlywed wife to a foreign country in a foreign society, to bring Jewish consciousness to the fore within the Jews within whom it may have been suppressed for some time. That shaliach is Rabbi Gershon Mendel Garelik, who was approached in 1958 by the Rebbe’s secretary, Rabbi Chaim Mordechai Aizik Chodakov, who told him that the Rebbe had decided to send him to Europe.
“Europe? Where in Europe?” asked a young Gershon Mendel.
Rabbi Chodakov replied, “What difference does it make? Milan, Italy.”
Rav Garelik repeated the word Italy in childlike astonishment and said, “OK, we are in agreement to go.”
In a video presentation that was completed and released around the time of his passing this past weekend, Rav Garelik reminisces about that day in 1958 at the sendoff party that was made in his honor as one of the first shluchim the Rebbe sent out. Rabbi Garelik retells that he was hoisted on top of people’s shoulders as they danced with him in circles as if he were a chassan. The video is interspersed with sichos of the Rebbe from that event where he poignantly and passionately exhorts his flock that the son of the King can only find true success when he departs from the succor and company of his father who has a long beard and his mother who wears a shaitel, and sacrifices all that for the purpose of disseminating his vision and furthering his dominion.
In describing what it was like for a young man and woman to leave the company of their dear and devoted Rebbe, he described it as jumping from the tenth floor of a building. But there was nothing they wouldn’t do at the Rebbe’s behest. He was called into the Rebbe’s room prior to his departure, where the Rebbe took a Tanya from the shelf and handed it to him, saying that if he is already going, he might encounter someone on the airplane who could use a Tanya so, “Here, take this with you.”
Rav Garelik then went on to relate that they settled into their seats on the airplane when, shortly after takeoff, with his Tanya in hand, he began walking the aisles in search of the person the Rebbe said may need it. He was disheartened when he scoured all the seats in his section and could not find one person who was identifiably Jewish. He said, “If there are no Jews in coach then perhaps I will find some in first class. But after looking through first class his conclusion was the same, so he returned to his seat where he and his wife began to cry over the thought that they had failed in their shlichus even before reaching their destination. Shortly thereafter they were approached by a man who opened conversation with them by saying: “You must be a Lubavitcher! Do you perhaps have a Tanya that I can use?” He was overjoyed to be able to find one Jew—the one Jew the Rebbe had in mind when he sent them off to the airplane.
Rabbi Shais Taub shared with me an encounter he had with a grand-nephew of Gershon Scholem after a speech Rabbi Taub had given in Australia. Scholem, who was the professor of Kabbalistic Studies at the Hebrew University and a foremost expert on Zohar, was largely considered to be an atheist. This grand-nephew of his had similarly grown up irreligious but had begun expressing interest and attending classes in Chabad philosophy. This man’s father, Professor Scholem’s brother, expressed a feeling of discontent regarding his son’s newfound religious interest, and so professor Scholem offered to have a word with his grand-nephew and to test his intelligence to see just how “dangerous” his religiosity would end up being. The professor asked his grand-nephew if he knew the secret to the Lubavitcher organization’s success.
He responded: “They have a general.”
He saw that his great-uncle was not completely satisfied with that response, and the professor then said there are a lot of generals; the success of Lubavitch is that this general has an army.
One such soldier in that dedicated army was Rabbi Garelik, who decided to go wherever in the world the Rebbe sent him. He dedicated his last 60-plus years to that mission and achieved great success in his endeavors. But the Rebbe was very clear when he spoke, exhorting Jews everywhere to teach whatever they knew. If you know aleph, teach it to someone who doesn’t know aleph. Ultimately, the Rebbe sought during his lifetime to fan the flames of Moshe that lie dormant within our hearts and souls, to rise to the fore. It is in this merit that the Jews in the days of Mordechai and Esther merited salvation from a decree of annihilation, and it will ultimately be the turning point that will lead us out of this long and bitter exile, speedily, in our days.
Yochanan Gordon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read more of Yochanan’s articles at 5TJT.com.