Thursday, 13 December, 2018 - 1:15 pm

In 1985 librarians at the Library of Agudas Chassidei Chabad in New York realized that books were being stolen. Rare books and manuscripts were slowly disappearing.

It was soon revealed that a wayward relative of the Rebbe had been clandestinely entering in the thick of night, swindling books and selling them.

Eventually, a court case ensued. The defendant argued that he was ‘taking his share of the inheritance.’

On today’s date 32 years ago, 5 Tevet, the US Federal Court ruled that the books – collected painstakingly over many years by the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe – belong to the Chabad movement.

On the surface it seems like an inheritance dispute.

But, amongst Chabad Chassidim “Hey Tevet” has become a great festival.

Why? True, it’s only appropriate to have the books returned to their rightful owner and utilized for their inherent value versus their monetary worth, but is there any significance beyond that?


After learning that his son Yosef was still alive and was the viceroy of Egypt, Yaakov and his family migrated from the Holy Land to Egypt.

As this week’s parsha Vayigash tells, “He sent Yehuda ahead of him.”

Why did Yaakov send an advance team?

The Midrash explains that Yehuda went ahead to establish a Yeshiva, an academy of Jewish learning. Without a Torah institution waiting in the wings, Yaakov could not move to Egypt!

Certainly, this emphasizes the great need for Torah study as the heart and backbone of Jewish life.

But, one still wonders, why couldn’t Yosef set up the Torah academy? Yosef remained pious and certainly had the power to establish a school. In fact, Yosef had already founded a Torah school for his own children! Yet, Yaakov insisted on sending Yehuda ahead to accomplish this goal. Why?

While a phenomenal saint – who maintained his faith, integrity and piety under the harshest circumstances imaginable – Yosef was now engaged in the most mundane and political realm possible. As viceroy, he now saw the world through the corrupt lens of power and politics.

Notwithstanding Yosef’s great commitment to Torah – it was not his primary occupation. His worldview may have been informed by Torah – but he was no longer fully immersed in Torah.

In order for Torah study to thrive it cannot be seen as simply another subject in the curriculum. Torah is the soul of the Jewish people, inseparable from its students.

Yaakov knew that surviving the challenges of Egypt – assimilation or oppression – would only be possible if Torah was the mainstay of the Jewish people. As such, the Torah school must be headed by a person who is completely immersed in it and removed from mundane affairs.


If Torah books are viewed as a prized heirloom passed down from one generation to the next, then ownership disputes may persist.

But, the Rebbe’s library never was a collection of important scholarly works. It was the soul of the movement itself. Just as the Rebbe is inseparable from his Chassidim, similarly his books are part and parcel of the Chassidim.

The Torah books don’t belong to the Jewish people. They are the Jewish people.

A federal judge acknowledged this fundamental reality in 1987. And, so said the Torah thousands of years ago.

In this spirit, let’s fill our homes with more books of Torah and inhale the breath of its wisdom.

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