Friday, July 5, 2019



          This week, on Wednesday morning, our family received the painful and bitter news that our Bubby, my mother’s mother, Rebbitzin Fruma Kohn, passed away.

          Generally, our memories and thoughts turn to the recent past. But for a moment we can turn the clock back to the years before Bubby moved to an assisted living facility in Monsey, before she became a widow from my Zaydei over thirty years ago, to when she and Zaydei arrived in America in the late 1940s.
          During her teen years, Bubby and most of her family endured the painful rigors of Siberia. Terrible as it was, it saved them from an even worse fate at the hands of the Nazis.[1] She met Zaydei, a fugitive orphan, after being released from Siberia, and they married.
          After much travail, they arrived in America. Sometime after they moved to Manhattan’s Lower East Side, Zaydei was offered the position of Rabbi at Anshei Slonim, a prestigious and large shul on the Lower East Side. It was a tremendous opportunity and Zaydei accepted it.[2]
          Bubby, however, wasn’t too excited about being a Rebbitzin. In fact, she was quite upset about it. She had never wanted to be a Rebbitzin and had little interest in assuming those responsibilities. Yet, she became a Rebbitzin. For decades she hosted scorers of people at her Shabbos table in their apartment. She never knew how many guests Zaydei would bring home, and some of the regular guests weren’t mentally stable. Bubby did tremendous chesed, much that we probably didn’t even know about. She served so many people from that diminutive kitchen in her apartment.
          For many decades she remained at Zaydei’s side and supported his efforts.
          After his passing she still figuratively remained at his side from afar, refusing to consider remarrying.
          And now, she is once again at his side, atop Har Tamir[3] in Yerushalayim.

          When Korach and his group challenged the authority of Moshe, demanding greater authority, Moshe was stunned. He replied to them, “Rav lachem b’nei Levi – It is too much for you, children of Levi.”[4] Moshe countered that Korach was granted privileged status, and he should be satisfied with that, and not seek more.  
          In parshas Vaeschanan, Moshe Rabbeinu recounted how he pleaded with Hashem to be allowed to enter Eretz Yisroel with Klal Yisroel. After uttering 515 prayers, Hashem replied to Moshe, “Rav lach - It is too much for you! Do not continue to speak to me further about this matter!”[5]  

          The gemara[6] states that because Moshe Rabbeinu used the vernacular “rav lachem” when rebuking Korach, correspondingly, Hashem told him “rav lach”.
          It seems like Moshe is being called to task for using such terminology with Korach. Wasn’t Moshe’s point to them correct? What did he say that was wrong?
          Rabbi Shimon Schwab[7] explains that throughout the forty years they were in the desert, the nation traveled based on the Clouds of Glory that remained affixed in front of their camp. At any time, the Clouds could suddenly lift, whereupon the trumpets would be sounded, and the nation immediately prepared for travel. The men would rush to their tents to pack up their belongings, disassemble their tents, and ready themselves and their children to proceed.
          The only exception was the Leviim. Instead of the Levite men rushing to their own tents when they heard the trumpets, they would rush to the Mishkan. They would hastily but cautiously disassemble the structure of the Mishkan, cover the vessels, and ready everything for travel. Their wives had to take care of their own tents and families without their husbands. It was a tremendous sacrifice for the Levite men and the women.
          When they finally arrived at their destination, while their wives set up their own tents, the men reassembled the Mishkan. They erected the heavy boards and inserted them in the sockets, etc. It was an arduous task and had to be performed with precision. After performing all the difficult labor, when the Mishkan was finally set up, the Levites had to immediately step aside. The Levites could not be in the “Camp of the Divine Presence” which rested as soon as the Mishkan was set up. After the Levites toiled to set up the Mishkan, the Kohanim took over, offering Korbanos, and doing the required Avodah. It was understandable that the Levites would feel short-changed. Why should they do all the hard work and then have to step aside for the Kohanim?
          Moshe Rabbeinu turned to Korach and the Levites and declared, “rav lachem - it’s too much for you.” He was encouraging them to recognize the incredible merit they have to have been disassembling and assembling the Mishkan. They should feel privileged to have been chosen to perform whatever task had been ordained for them.
          In life, it’s not what one actually does that matters. Whenever one fulfills the role that Hashem has set for him, that is his greatest blessing and gift.
          At the end of the forty years in the desert, Moshe Rabbeinu begged Hashem to allow him to enter Eretz Yisroel. He reasoned to that he had endured so much as leader of the nation. After leading them out of Egypt, and bringing the Torah down at Sinai, and dealing with all the frustrations and mishaps of the nation for forty years, Moshe felt that he deserved to have the opportunity to bask in the spiritual bliss of the Land.
          To that Hashem replied, “rav lach”. He was essentially telling Moshe, “Remember when you told the Levites that they should focus on the merit they have to perform the role assigned to them. You told them that they shouldn’t feel they are lacking, even though others were granted more prestigious positions. Moshe, you need to remember that message as well. You have accomplished incredible things as the selfless leader of Klal Yisroel. Don’t feel that you are being deprived. You have fulfilled your role with such devotion and dedication, and that is your portion. But it is not your destiny to enter the Land.”
          It is a very poignant and beautiful thought, but one that isn’t easy to live by. Hashem has a plan and a mission for each of us, and it doesn’t always coincide with the plan and path we chart for ourselves.
          Moshe’s message to Korach was that it is incumbent upon every person to fulfill his divinely ordained task to the best of his ability. When a person has aspirations, and life takes him in a different direction, it is difficult to forfeit those hopes. But that is his duty.

          When Korach first presented his audacious challenge, Moshe did not reply to his individual points. He did not escalate the confrontation by allowing it to become personal. Rather he “fell upon his face”, a symbol of complete submission before Hashem. His response symbolized that G-d would be the arbiter of justice, and decide positions of authority and holiness. Moshe would not give any campaign speeches, nor seek any votes. In fact, he had never wanted the position, and had tried to exonerate himself from its responsibilities when G-d originally informed him of his mission.
          Moshe had assumed his position because that is what G-d demanded of him. If Korach wanted to challenge that position, he would have to prove that that is G-d’s Will.
          The conflict would be resolved by the offering of ketores (incense). Unlike offerings which were brought to atone and rectify mishaps, ketores was brought solely to honor G-d. The true leaders were those who were completely altruistic, and assumed the leadership of the nation solely to bring honor to Hashem. It wasn’t about self-aggrandizement or self-promotion, but about assuming the role G-d had set for them. Only the true leader’s ketores would be accepted.
          Fulfilling the role we have been assigned, is often a tremendous sacrifice, and is a scent of divine pleasure, as it were.

          As Bubby ascends to the celestial portion she has achieved through her years of chesed and life, may we, her children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren, learn from her example, and follow in her noble footsteps.

          “It is too much for you!”
          “Each took his fire pan... and placed incense upon it...”

Rabbi Dani Staum, LMSW
Rebbe/Guidance Counselor – Heichal HaTorah
Principal – Ohr Naftoli- New Windsor

[1] Her one sister who escaped deportation to Siberia, was killed by the Nazis, along with her husband and baby.
[2] I am in possession of the original letters of congratulations written by Rabbi Aharon Kotler zt”l and Rabbi Moshe Feinstein zt”l to the heads of the shul upon accepting Zaydei as Rabbi.
[3] adjacent to Har Menuchos
[4] Bamidbar 16:7
[5] Devorim 3:26
[6] Sotah 13b
[7] Ma’ayan Bais Hashoeivah


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