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    Stop Pounding
    Rabbi Sam Wolfson
    was giving his
    speech to the Jewish
    Federation about the
    “Tragedy of Jewish
    Toward the end of his long speech, the
    Rabbi clapped his hands… waited 10
    seconds… and clapped his hands again.
    The Audience looked puzzled. The Rabbi
    then explained that every time he clapped
    his hands, some Jew married a non-Jew.
    Immediately, Morris jumped up from his
    seat in the audience and shouted, “Nu… So
    Stop With Your Clapping!”
    A Blossoming Staff
    It is a baffling story. The portion of Korach
    tells of the “Test of the Staffs” conducted
    when people contested Aaron’s appointment
    to the High Priesthood. G-d instructs Moses
    to take a staff from each tribe, each inscribed
    with the name of the tribe’s leader; Aaron’s
    name was written on the Levite Tribe’s
    staff. The sticks were placed overnight in
    the Holy of Holies in the Sanctuary. When
    they were removed the following morning,
    the entire nation beheld that Aaron’s staff
    had blossomed overnight and bore fruit,
    demonstrating that Aaron was G-d’s choice
    for High Priest.
    In the words of the Torah (Numbers 16):
    “And on the following day, Moses came to
    the Tent of Testimony, and behold, Aaron’s
    staff for the house of Levi had blossomed!
    It gave forth blossoms, sprouted buds, and
    produced ripe almonds. Moses took out all
    the staffs from before the Lord, to the
    children of Israel; they saw, and they took,
    each man his staff.”
    What was the meaning of this strange
    miracle? G-d could have chosen many
    ways to demonstrate the authenticity of
    Aaron’s position.
    What is more, three previous incidents
    have already proven this very truth: the
    swallowing of Korach and his fellow rebels
    who staged a revolt against Moses and
    Aaron; the burning of the 250 leaders who
    led the mutiny; and the epidemic that spread
    among those who accused Moses and
    Aaron of killing the nation. If these three
    miracles did not suffice, what would a
    fourth one possibly achieve? What, then,
    was the point and message of the blossoming
    One answer I heard from my teacher was

    this: The blossoming of the staff was meant
    not so much to prove who the high priest is
    (that was already established by three
    previous earth-shattering events), but rather
    to demonstrate what it takes to be chosen as
    a high priest of G-d, and to explain why it
    was Aaron was chosen to this position.
    What are the qualifications required to be a
    From Death to Life
    Before being severed from the tree, this
    staff grew, produced leaves, and was full of
    vitality. But now, severed from its roots, it
    has become dry and lifeless.
    The primary quality of a Kohen Gadol, of
    a High Priest, of a man of G-d, is his or her
    ability to transform lifeless sticks into
    living orchards. The real leader is the
    person who sees the possibility for growth
    and life, whereas others see stagnation and
    lifelessness. The Jewish leader perceives
    even in a dead stick the potential for
    Let There Be Life
    How relevant this story is to our
    Following the greatest tragedy ever to
    have struck our people, the Holocaust, the
    Jewish world appeared like a lifeless staff.
    Mounds and mounds of ashes, the only
    remains of the six million, left a nation
    devastated to its core. An entire world went
    up in smoke.
    What happened next will one day be told
    as one of the great acts of reconstruction in
    the history of mankind. Holocaust survivors
    and refugees set about rebuilding on new
    soil the world they had seen go up in the
    smoke of Auschwitz and Treblinka.
    One of the remarkable individuals who
    spearheaded this revival was the
    Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem
    Mendel Schneerson (1902-1994), whose
    30th yartzeit is this coming Tuesday, the
    third of Tammuz, July 9. The Rebbe, and
    other great Jewish sages and leaders from
    many diverse communities, refused to yield
    to despair. While others responded to the
    Holocaust by building memorials,
    endowing lectureships, convening
    conferences, and writing books – all vital
    and noble tributes to create memories of a
    tree which once lived but was now dead —
    the Rebbe urged every person he could
    touch to bring the stick back to life: to
    marry and have lots of children, to rebuild
    Jewish life in every possible way. He built
    schools, communities, synagogues, Jewish

    centers, summer camps, and yeshivas, and
    encouraged and inspired countless Jews to
    do the same. He opened his heart to an
    orphaned generation, imbuing it with hope,
    vision, and determination. He became the
    most well-known address for scores of
    activists, rabbis, philanthropists, leaders,
    influential people, laymen and women from
    all walks of life – giving them the
    confidence to reconstruct a shattered
    universe. He sent out emissaries to virtually
    every Jewish community in the world to
    help rekindle the Jewish smile when a vast
    river of tears threatened to obliterate it.
    The Lubavitcher Rebbe urged his beloved
    people to use the horrors of destruction as
    an impetus to generate the greatest Jewish

    renaissance and to create “re-Jew-
    venation.” He gazed at a dead staff and saw

    in it the potential for new life.
    His new home, the United States, was a
    country that until then had dissolved Jewish
    identity. It was, as they used to say in those
    days, a “treifene medinah,” a non-kosher
    land. Yet the Rebbe saw the possibility of
    using American culture as a medium for
    new forms of Jewish activity, using modern
    means to spread Yiddishkeit. The Rebbe
    realized that the secularity of the modern
    world concealed a deep yearning for
    spirituality, and he knew how to address it.
    Where others saw the crisis of a dead staff,
    he saw an opportunity for a new wave of
    renewal and redemption.
    Who was the Rebbe? One way to answer
    this question is this: He has that unique
    ability to see crisis as opportunity. Where
    others saw the end, he saw the beginning.
    Where others saw disintegration, he saw
    the potential for birthing. It remains one of
    the most empowering messages for each of
    us as an individual, and all of us as a
    The Phoenix
    Rabbi Yehudah Krinsky, one of the
    Rebbe’s secretaries, related the following
    “It was around 1973, when the widow of
    Jacques Lifschitz, the renowned sculptor,
    had come for a private audience with the
    Lubavitcher Rebbe, shortly after her
    husband’s sudden passing.
    “In the course of her meeting with the
    Rebbe, she mentioned that when her
    husband died, he was nearing completion
    of a massive sculpture of a phoenix in the
    abstract, a work commissioned by Hadassah
    Women’s Organization for the Hadassah
    Hospital on Mt. Scopus, in Jerusalem.

    “As an artist and sculptor in her own right,
    she said that she would have liked to
    complete her husband’s work, but, she told
    the Rebbe, she had been advised by Jewish
    leaders that the phoenix is a non-Jewish
    symbol. It could never be placed in
    “I was standing near the door to the
    Rebbe’s office that night, when he called
    for me and asked that I bring him the book
    of Job, from his bookshelf, which I did.
    “The Rebbe turned to Chapter 29, verse
    18, “I shall multiply my days like the Chol.”
    “And then the Rebbe proceeded to explain
    to Mrs. Lifschitz the Midrashic commentary
    on this verse which describes the Chol as a
    bird that lives for a thousand years, then
    dies, and is later resurrected from its ashes.
    Clearly then, a Jewish symbol.”
    “Mrs. Lifschitz was absolutely delighted.
    The project was completed soon thereafter.”
    In his own way, the Rebbe had brought
    new hope to this broken widow. And in the
    recurring theme of his life, he did the same
    for the spirit of the Jewish people, which he
    raised from the ashes of the Holocaust to a
    new, invigorated life. He attempted to
    reenact the “miracle of the blossoming
    staff” every day of his life with every
    person he came in contact with.
    To Expel or Not to Expel?
    Rabbi Berel Baumgarten (d. in 1978) was
    a Jewish educator in an orthodox religious
    yeshiva in Brooklyn, NY, before relocating
    to Buenos Aires. He once wrote a letter to
    the Rebbe asking for advice. Each Shabbos
    afternoon, when he would meet up with his
    students for a study session, one student
    would walk into the room smelling of
    cigarette smoke. Clearly, he was smoking
    on the Shabbos. “His influence may cause

    his religious class-mates to also cease
    keeping the Shabbos,” Rabbi Baumgarten
    was concerned. “Must I expel him from the
    school, even without clear evidence that he
    is violating the Shabbos?”
    The Rebbe’s answer was no more than a
    scholarly reference: “See Avos Derabi
    Noson chapter 12.” That’s it.
    Avos Derabi Noson is a Talmudic tractate,
    an addendum to the Ethics of the Fathers,
    composed in the 4th century CE by a
    Talmudic sage known as Reb Nasan
    Habavli (hence the name Avos Derabi
    Noson.) I was curious to understand the
    Rebbe’s response. Rabbi Baumgarten was
    looking for practical advice, and the Rebbe
    was sending him to an ancient text…
    I opened an Avos Derabi Noson to that
    particular chapter and found a story about
    Aaron, our very own High Priest of Israel.
    Aaron, the sages relate, brought back
    many Jews from a life of sin to a life of
    purity. He was the first one in Jewish history
    to make “baalei teshuvah,” to inspire Jews
    to re-embrace their heritage, faith, and
    inner spiritual mission. But, unlike today,

    during Aaron’s times to be a sinner you had
    to be a real no-goodnik. Because the Jews
    of his generation have seen G-d in His full
    glory; and to rebel against the Torah way of
    life was a sign of true betrayal and
    How then did Aaron do it? He would greet
    each person warmly. Even a grand sinner
    would be greeted by Aaron with tremendous
    grace and love. Aaron would embrace these
    so-called “Jewish sinners” with endless
    warmth and respect. The following day
    when this person would crave to sin, he
    would ask himself: How will I be able to
    look Aaron in the eyes after I commit such
    a serious sin? I am too ashamed. He holds
    me in such high moral esteem. How can I
    deceive him and let him down? And this
    person would abstain from immoral
    He Gave Them Dignity
    We come here full circle: Aaron was a
    leader, a High Priest, because even his staff

    blossomed. He never gave up on the dried-
    out sticks. He never looked at someone and

    said, “This person is a lost cause; he is
    completely cut off from his tree of any

    possibility of growth.
    He is dry, brittle, and
    lifeless.” For Aaron,
    even dry sticks would
    blossom and produce
    This is the story
    related in Avos Derabi
    Noson. This was the
    story the Lubavitcher
    Rebbe wanted Rabbi
    Berel Baumgarten to
    study and internalize.
    Should I expel the
    child from school was
    his question; he is,
    Jewishly speaking, a
    dried-out and one tough stick!
    The response of an Aaron is this: Love
    him even more. Embrace him with every
    fiber of your being, open your heart to him,
    cherish him, and shower him with warmth
    and affection. Appreciate him, respect him
    and let him feel that you really care for him.
    See in him or her that which he or she may
    not be able to see in themselves at the
    moment. View him as a great human being,

    and you know what? He will become just
    *) The nucleus of this idea was presented
    by the Lubavitcher Rebbe to a group of
    young Jewish girls—the graduates of Beis
    Rivkah High School and counselors of
    Camp Emunah in the Catskill Mountains,
    in NY, on Thursday, Parshas Korach, 28
    Sivan, 5743, June 9, 1983. Credit to the late
    Rabbi Jonathan Sacks for his masterful