This email was sent by Rabbi Elchonon Tenenbaum, Shliach in Napa Valley and Campus Rabbi at Touro University California:
Together with Jeff Morgan of Covenant Wines, I produce a limited reserve of Zinfandel named Cuvee Chabad which is sold through Covenant. It is a unique way to benefit Chabad and be involved in the wine industry of Napa Valley.
This year I decided to participate at the annual Kosher Wine and Food Expo KFWE in New York, to assist Jeff at the Covenant booth, and to meet people interested in his own wine.
Speaking after the event, I asked Jeff how it went. He said, “If you want to know how much wine I sold and how successful it was, let me tell you that I am still working on processing the numbers and do not have an answer.”
I told him that I have a personal indication of how well it went, which I saw as meaningful and a highlight of the event.
As I was walking around and meeting people, a Yungerman from Lakewood recognized that I am a Lubavitcher chossid and began a conversation. He shared with me that through the 80’s he would go to 770 for Farbrengens and reminisced about how meaningful they were. He asked me what I do; I replied that I am a Shliach in Napa Valley, and told him about my partnership with Covenant.
He told me how he’s impressed with the incredible Shluchim all over the world, doing incredible work, and how amazed he is by the mesiras nefesh of the shluchim, many living without some of the basics.
He then said, let me tell you a story you should hear:
When Rav Shimon Schwab (1908-1995) was a young man, he spent a Shabbos with Rabbi Yisrael Meir Kagan, the Chofetz Chaim (1838-1933). That Shabbos left an indelible impression on the young Rav Schwab, who told many famous stories regarding the events of that weekend. One of those stories contained the following powerful ethical lesson.
The Chofetz Chaim asked Rav Shimon Schwab, “Did you know that I am a Kohein?”
Rav Schwab answered, “Yes.”
The Chofetz Chaim then asked, “Are you a Kohein?”
Rav Schwab said no.
“What about a Levi?”
“Also not,” said Rav Schwab.
The Chofetz Chaim then asked Rav Schwab a very strange question: “Why are you not a Kohein?” Rav Schwab gave the obvious answer. His father was not a Kohein.
The Chofetz Chaim persisted, “Why wasn’t your father a Kohein?”
The Chofetz Chaim then continued, “Do you know why your father was not a Kohein and my father was a Kohein? Because there was once a time in Jewish history when our teacher Moshe called out, ‘Who is for G-d? Let them gather to me.’ My great-great grandfather answered the call and your great-great grandfather did not answer the call. That is why my father was a Kohein and your father was not a Kohein.”
“What a pity,” said the Chofetz Chaim. “When Moshiach comes, everyone will yearn to do the Avodah, but ‘V’HaZar HaKarev Yumas,’ any non-Kohein or Levi who does an Avodah will be put to death.
“I will do the Avodah, and you will not, because when Moshe screamed ‘Mi Lashem Eilai,’ my grandfather went running to join him, while yours did not. Because of this all their descendants lost the chance to participate in the Avodas Bais HaMikdash for all generations.”
Concluded the Chofetz Chaim, “in your life, remember that when you hear the call ‘Mi LaHashem Eilai’ – who will stand up for Kavod Hashem even before a hostile crowd? – you must go running. If you don’t, you will lose out forever.”
When he finished relating the story, he said, “the Shluchim answered the call of Moshe Rabeinu – and you are one of those!”
As he was telling me the story, I was thinking about the Rambam at the end of Sefer Zroeim. When he finished I said, “Do you know that it’s a clear halacha in Rambam – and a most extraordinary Halacha at that?”
“ולא שבט לוי בלבד אלא כל איש ואיש מכל באי העולם אשר נדבה רוחו אותו והבינו מדעו להבדל לעמוד לפני ה’ לשרתו ולעובדו לדעה את ה’ והלך ישר כמו שעשהו האלהים ופרק מעל צוארו עול החשבונות הרבים אשר בקשו בני האדם הרי זה נתקדש קדש קדשים ויהיה ה’ חלקו ונחלתו לעולם ולעולמי עולמים ויזכה לו בעה”ז דבר המספיק לו כמו שזכה לכהנים ללוים, הרי דוד ע”ה אומר י”י מנת חלקי וכוסי אתה תומיך גורלי”
(רמב”ם הלכות שמיטה ויובל פרק יג הלכה יג)
“Not only the tribe of Levi, but any one of the inhabitants of the world whose spirit generously motivates him and he understands with his wisdom to set himself aside and stand before God to serve Him and minister to Him and to know God, proceeding justly as God made him, removing from his neck the yoke of the many reckonings which people seek, he is sanctified as holy of holies. God will be His portion and heritage forever and will provide what is sufficient for him in this world like He provides for the priests and the Levites. And thus David declared [Psalms 16:5]: “God is the lot of my portion; You are my cup, You support my lot.”
(Rambam Hilchos Shemita Veyoval, Chapter 13, halacha 13)
He looked at me in surprise, and pulled some people over and says to them, “listen to this Chabadnik quoting Rambam.”
I followed up with him by email a few days later and this is the email he wrote back: “It was a pleasure to meet you, it was the highlight of the show. I look forward to visiting you in Napa Valley one day soon. Fortunate are you to be from those that the Rambam is referring to.”