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  • Rabbi Mordechai Lipskier

What one secular judge thought of the Rebbe.

Vayigash- Hei Teves It’s no secret that among the most powerful and prestigious, where we’d expect the greatest commitment to honesty, we find instead corruption and fraud. In fact, the FBI states that its criminal investigative priority is “… violations of federal law by public officials at the federal, state, and local levels of government.” There are people whom we admire from a distance and yet the more we get to know them the less we respect them. Oftentimes, those who from a distance seemed kind or humble, upon closer inspection will be recognized for their selfish and devious ways. Conversely, there are people for whom our respect deepens the more we get to know them. In this week’s parsha, Yosef tells his brothers that the people of Mitzrayim are appalled by shepherds. Why? We know that the Mitzriim worshipped their sheep as gods. Shouldn’t it follow then that shepherds would be held in high esteem? The Sifsei Chachomim[1] explains: The Mitzriim knew that just by spending a little time with the sheep, it would become obvious that they are merely animals with no godly abilities. The Mitzriim were appalled by shepherds because they called their bluff! Yiddishkeit is different. Hashem encourages us to get to know Him, to study about Him, to probe and to ask questions. This is especially true regarding pnimiyus haTorah. As the Sifri[2] states: “Do you want to know ‘He Who said and the world came to be’? Study agadah. Through this you’ll get to know Him and cleave to His ways.” Unlike a politician, Hashem is confident that the more we dig, the deeper our conviction of His truth becomes. And the closer we get to Him, the more we want to emulate Him. (Furthermore, the more secure we are with our beliefs, the more helpful we can be to those who are still struggling and questioning.)

A good barometer for authenticity is the fact that the closer we get to someone the more impressed we become. In 1985, a grandson of the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe challenged the present Lubavitcher Rebbe in court over ownership of the prized library in 770. He claimed that it was part of the family estate, of which he was a legal heir, while the Rebbe proclaimed that it belonged to the Chabad movement. During the year-long court case, the lawyers probed deeply into the life and lifestyle of a Rebbe. Initially, the judge himself was under the impression that Chassidic Rebbes lived like princes and amassed great personal wealth. At the conclusion of the case, the judge stated that there were two compelling arguments which ultimately convinced him to rule in favor of the Chabad movement. One was that it became clear that a Rebbe doesn’t say anything untruthful. Secondly, due to all the probing, and especially through the testimony of Rabbi Luis Jacobs, it became abundantly clear that the Rebbes had disdain for money and power. As such, the judge ruled that since they had no interest in amassing a library for their own personal use or wealth it belonged to the Chassidic movement. The more knowledgeable this non-Jewish judge, son-in-law of the Protestant theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, became of the Rebbe, the more respect and reverence he had for him. Let’s be inspired on this auspicious day of Hei Teves marking the victory of the seforim, to delve deeply into the Torah, and live by its timeless message, thereby ushering in the era of Moshiach when the truth of Hashem’s existence will be revealed for the entire world to see. Gut Shabbos, Rabbi Mordechai Lipskier [1] Vayigash 41:34 [2] Devarim 11:22


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