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  • The Life and Times of Reb Pinye Korf

    After decades of dedicated work in Oholei Torah, in 5774, following the passing of Reb Itche Springer, the mashpia in 770, R’ Pinye was asked to take over his position as mashgiach and mashpia in 770. He divided his time between Oholei Torah and 770. When that position was confirmed, he was approached by the Rebbe’s mazkir, Reb Binyomin Klein who revealed to him an answer from the Rebbe withheld for over three decades…  • By Beis MoshiachFull Story

    Avrohom Rainitz, Beis Moshiach

    One of R’ Pinye’s talmidim told me: Aside from all of R’ Pinye’s special qualities, his outer appearance itself conveyed a message. When you looked at him, you saw a Chassid who, on the one hand, took all matters of holiness seriously, and often exerted himself to carry out the Rebbe’s wishes. However, always, under all circumstances, his face shone with spiritual joy. Spirituality openly shone from him! Just by looking at his shining countenance you could sense the fulfillment of the concept of “taste and see that Hashem is good.”

    CHILDHOOD IN AN UNDERGROUND CHEDER

    Rabbi Pinchas (known as R’ Pinye) Korf was born on 20 Iyar 5695 in Kharkov, Ukraine. His father was the mashpia, Rabbi Yehoshua Korf. During the war, they fled to Central Asia and like many of Anash lived in the cities of Fergana, Tashkent and Samarkand. There, he learned by the elder Chassidim of the previous generation in a secret cheder.

    Although he was a young boy, he attended several farbrengens with the elder Chassidim in Samarkand and remembered some anecdotes which he told Beis Moshiach in an interview:

    After we arrived in Samarkand, I wanted to attend a farbrengen and when I saw R’ Mendel Futerfas sitting and farbrenging, I listened in … It wasn’t an official farbrengen but a heart-to-heart talk that he was having with one of the young married men of Anash. It bothered R’ Mendel that this man’s hair was long in the front and he “sat on him,” until with his clever talk and sharp sayings managed to influence him to get rid of his “chup.”

    It was a complicated situation in which mesirus nefesh was needed for basic things like Shabbos observance and yet, the mashpiim did not let the young men slide on even the smallest details.

    So too, on the first Succos there, I went to R’ Avrohom Maiyor’s farbrengen. He spoke about the holiday from a Chassidic perspective but when a young man walked in who found it hard to withstand the test and grow a beard, R’ Avrohom focused on him and tried in every way possible, including many blessings that he showered on him, if he promised to grow a beard. Late at night, he succeeded in his mission and then he went back to talking about the Chassidic significance of the holiday.

    Aside from the farbrengens, certain sights are etched in my memory like R’ Berke Chein’s dancing on Simchas Torah. He danced with all his might until he would fall down in complete exhaustion. A few minutes later, he would get up and dance again until his strength ran out.

    RABBI NEMENOV AND RABBI GRINGLASS

    The Korf family left Russia in 5706 in the famous escape of Anash via the border city of Lemberg. They arrived in the DP camp of Poking where Anash opened a yeshiva for the tmimim. After two years of learning by R’ Eliyahu Chaim Roitblatt and his own father, he went to learn in the yeshivas Tomchei Tmimim in Brunoy.

    In Brunoy he received the foundation of a Chassidishe chinuch first from R’ Shlomo Chaim Kesselman and then by R’ Nissan Nemenov.

    “R’ Nissan began farbrenging with us and demanding inner avodas Hashem. There were levels in this too, of course. For example, he spoke to me about avodas ha’tefilla only before my trip to the Rebbe.”

    R’ Pinye learned in Brunoy for four years and was a “mekabel pnimi” (one who absorbs the deeper messages of Chassidus) from the legendary mashpia, R’ Nissan Nemenov. R’ Pinye said that in 5713, when he went to the Rebbe and began learning in the central Tomchei Tmimim -770, he missed having a mashpia along the lines of R’ Nissan. He stressed that the mashpiim in New York were obviously very Chassidish, but their approach was different.

    In 5716, when the Rebbe told him to go to Montreal, he received a similar type of “pnimi” guidance from Rabbi Menachem Zev Gringlass: “For example, when I spoke to him about avodas ha’tefilla, and said that I tried to exert myself in avodas ha’tefilla because the Rebbe spoke to me about this in yechidus, he considered it a sort of chitzoniyus, that I wasn’t really holding by avodas ha’tefilla and did it just because the Rebbe ‘pushed’ me into it. He said, you need to daven because you need to daven!”

    GUIDANCE IN YECHIDUS

    In those early years, there were bachurim who asked the Rebbe about everything and received detailed instructions and guidance from the Rebbe. As for R’ Pinye:

    “There were bachurim who asked about everything and they got many instructions. I came with the chinuch of R’ Nissan, that everything needs to be done with kabbolas ol and therefore, there weren’t many questions in yechidus and consequently, not many instructions. What I did have was the Rebbe responding to things I wrote parenthetically.”

    In one of the yechiduyos, he asked the Rebbe for a tikkun for a lack of feeling Ahavas Yisarel and regarding hiddur mitzva. The Rebbe expressed surprise that he was asking for rectification on side issues and yet told R’ Pinye to learn the sichos of the Rebbe Rayatz on the subject of Ahavas Yisrael. As for hiddur mitzva, to learn maamarim about hiddur mitzva such as the quality of a simple servant which is explained at length in Hemshech 5666.

    In 5716, at the beginning of a yechidus, the Rebbe said, “most likely you are reviewing Chassidus in shuls” and expressed his surprise, “Why didn’t you mention this?”

    Then the Rebbe responded to a question about eating mezonos before davening and said he must eat mezonos before davening; otherwise (nowadays), it would disturb the davening.

    When he wrote to the Rebbe about learning Chassidus before davening, it sounded from what he wrote that he had no time for it. The Rebbe said, “Go to sleep earlier, get up earlier, and you will have fifteen minutes.”

    In the next yechidus, the Rebbe spoke again about fifteen minutes of Chassidus before davening and clarified: This does not mean to look at your watch, because the main thing is for it to affect the feelings of the heart, but generally speaking, there should be fifteen minutes of Chassidus before davening. The Rebbe also said  that if I could add some more minutes without disturbing the sidrei ha’yeshiva, why not? The Rebbe added that during davening, I should think about the topic that I learned in Chassidus before davening and the claim that the study of Chassidus does not remain after davening is incorrect because it is something that certainly has an effect.

    While he was still in France, in 5712, he wrote a letter to the Rebbe and in response, the Rebbe referred him to a letter that he sent to the talmidei ha’yeshivos. In that letter, the Rebbe learns several lessons from the fact that in the Haggada shel Pesach, the wise son is placed next to the wicked son, the point being that the wise son must influence the wicked son while being careful not to get ensnared himself.

    R’ Pinye, in his humility, thought that the Rebbe was hinting in a sensitive way that he was on the level of the wicked son and he needed to do teshuva. However, when he spoke about this with R’ Nissan, R’ Nissan firmly negated this and said it was just the opposite; the Rebbe meant to say that R’ Pinye was a wise  person and he needed to influence others.

    Despite his bittul towards R’ Nissan, R’ Pinye found this difficult to accept and in his first yechidus he asked the Rebbe and the Rebbe told him that R’ Nissan was right.

    One year, when he had yechidus on his birthday he went in late at night, after having fasted many hours (as there is the custom of fasting on the day of yechidus). The Rebbe said: Pinye, are you conducting fasts? From this, R’ Pinye understood that the Rebbe was not pleased that he fasted for so long.

    In a yechidus, he told the Rebbe that when he was a boy in Russia he was sick and had to be hospitalized and this was over Pesach. He was worried lest, during the hospitalization he had been fed food that was not kosher for Pesach. The Rebbe told him that since Pesach is about faith, in order to rectify this concern, during the Pesach season he needed to study Ner Mitzva v’Torah Ohr – Shaar HaEmuna and Shaar HaYichud of the Mittler Rebbe.

    After that, for over sixty years, R’ Pinye studied this sefer on Pesach. Starting from two months before Pesach until Shavuos he learned this sefer at every free moment.

    In a yechidus, after writing to the Rebbe that he practiced iskafia (imposed self-denial), the Rebbe told him that nowadays we do not practice iskafia in the same way that they did in earlier generations. After that yechidus, R’ Pinye discontinued his former practice. On the other hand, the Rebbe told R’ Pinye not to put salt in his food during meals except for one food. R’ Pinye observed this all his life and his wife cooked all his food without salt except for one thing.

    ‘ONLY CHILD IN YESHIVA’

    To R’ Pinye, observing the scheduled learning times was an ironclad principle in his life thanks to the chinuch pnimi of kabbolas ol that he got from R’ Nissan. Even if he farbrenged all night and went to sleep late, he never considered forgoing Chassidus in the morning. He went, as always, to the small zal, and sat and learned Chassidus.

    During the Chassidus seder on Friday, 18 Elul 5714, when the Rebbe entered 770 in the morning and glanced at the small zal, as he sometimes did, he saw the young Pinye Korf sitting alone in the empty zal.

    R’ Pinye said:

    “I was sitting in the zal and suddenly saw the Rebbe looking at me. The Rebbe smiled and said: What’s this, are you a ben yachid (only child) in yeshiva?”

    R’ Pinye explained the unique situation. To the best of his memory, that Thursday night there was the wedding of one of the top bachurim and bachurim farbrenged all night and that is why they did not wake up on time.

    THE ONE THING THEY DON’T KNOW

    R’ Pinye married Chaya Golda Hamm in Elul 5720. She descends from the Maharshal and a family of Dzikov Chassidim. Mrs. Korf worked for Rabbi Uriel Zimmer in translating his pamphlets and he drew her to Chabad. She was a talented girl with a broad knowledge in numerous areas in Torah and later became one of the leading teachers and mashpios in Crown Heights.

    While engaged, R’ Pinye had yechidus regarding his desire to go on shlichus. The Rebbe that since there weren’t any practical suggestions, when there would be suggestions he should present them and he shouldn’t wait. In this yechidus, the Rebbe told him to look into teaching or to learn in yeshiva and when R’ Pinye asked whether this was for after he married the Rebbe said: Now, every single day has its work that needs to be done and this is no contradiction to shlichus.

    In the winter of 5722, before his wedding, he had yechidus again and asked for guidance before the wedding. The Rebbe told him to ask the elder tmimim who learned in Lubavitch and knew what was done in Lubavitch. Then the Rebbe said: One of things they don’t know is that you should learn the last three chapters of the Shaar HeKedusha in Reishis Chochma (which has seventeen chapters). They are long chapters. Finish them by the day of the wedding, one day earlier.

    At the end of the yechidus, the Rebbe blessed him that his heart’s requests should be filled for good in all the topics that he wrote about, that it should be as he wrote and even more.

    By then, the Rebbe had stopped officiating at weddings and yet, R’ Korf asked the Rebbe to officiate at his wedding. The Rebbe did not accede and said: You know I don’t go … And he blessed him: A Jewish home, a Chassidishe home, illuminate your surroundings and may Hashem shine within you with joy and mazal, materially and spiritually.

    R’ Uriel Zimmer also tried to ask the Rebbe to officiate at the couple’s wedding. The Rebbe did not accede and in that yechidus the Rebbe sadly said that rather than waste money on a wedding photographer, the money could be used to maintain Talmud Torah schools in Morocco.

    When R’ Korf heard this, he took it seriously and after finding out how much a wedding photographer costs, he told the Rebbe that at his wedding there would not be a photographer and he was giving the money to the Rebbe for Chabad mosdos in Morocco.

    Indeed, there was no photographer at the Korf wedding on 6 Shevat 5721 and no wedding album. The only pictures they have were taken by a bachur who came with a camera and snapped a few shots.

    WORKING IN YESHIVA CAN ALSO BE A SHLICHUS

    After he married, R’ Pinye taught in Newark, New Jersey and then moved to Montreal where he became mashgiach in the yeshiva.

    One year, in yechidus, the Rebbe referred to his work with bachurim in yeshiva and said: Regarding the bachurim, in general, not all bachurim are equal and not all mashgichim are equal, but in general, the left [hand] repels and the right [hand] draws near; the right is the main thing. Especially nowadays when they [the bachurim] got used to an approach of give-and-take and you cannot compel them as in the past. And especially when they know how it is in other yeshivos, where they are allowed to do whatever they want. However, when one goes about dealing with them in all matters in ways of pleasantness and there is something essential, [then] you need to be forceful.

    While he taught in yeshiva, R’ Pinye wrote to the Rebbe that he wanted to go on shlichus. The Rebbe responded: Even in your current matters – this is a shlichus, if they will be with devotion and commitment etc. and with joy etc. – as per the will of the meshalei’ach.

    Regarding what he wrote about how to conduct himself, the Rebbe wrote: Check with mashpiim and ziknei Anash who know the customs from the past in Russia and Poland, etc.

    One year, he asked the Rebbe whether he could learn to drive and was answered: We don’t see that mashpiim drive.

    In 5731, when he named his daughter Nechama Dina [the wife of Rabbi Shmuel Abba Nemirovsky of Crown Heights] during shacharis on Shabbos in the Rebbe’s minyan in 770, the gabbai announced, “Nechama Dina bas Reb Pinchas” and the Rebbe turned around and told the gabbai to say, “HaRav Pinchas.”

    PARSHAS PINCHAS

    In Sivan 5743, during a clandestine Tanya shiur that R’ Pinye gave in Williamsburg, some Satmar Chassidim burst in to the office where the shiur was given, beat him and cut his beard. One of those present later said that when these hooligans took out a scissors and R’ Pinye realized what they intended to do, he tried to protect his beard and cried, “Cut my fingers but don’t, G-d forbid, touch the beard!”

    The Rebbe called upon Satmar rabbanim to express their disapproval and when they refused, the Badatz of Crown Heights, led by Rabbi Zalman Shimon Dworkin, placed a cherem (excommunication) on products with a hechsher from Satmar.

    The Jewish world was shocked by what Satmar did and were even more stunned two weeks later when Rabbi Mendel Wechter was attacked by hooligans in Williamsburg.

    On 13 Tammuz the Rebbe delivered a sicha in which he referred sharply to the incident and connected it with the name of R’ Korf, “Pinchas,” and with the fact that the name of one of the perpetrators was “Shimon.” This was not mentioned in the written record of the sicha and the Rebbe wrote to the redactors, “It is missing the hint to the parsha – that it took place during [the week of Parshas] Pinchas (and his opponent – from the tribe of Shimon!).”

    When Satmar rabbanim did not deal with the assailants, a formal complaint was lodged with the police and the story of the day was brought to court but the lawyers for the prosecution did not take R’ Pinye’s middas Chassidus into account … A key element of the legal case was the fact that, to Chabad Chassidim, the beard is not merely a style choice but rather a matter of deep psychological attachment and attacking it is more serious than any other physical blow. In light of that claim, the judge asked R’ Pinye, “Are you a Chassid?” R’ Pinye, knowing the essence of what a Chassid is, thought he had a long way to go before he attained the true level of a Chassid and he began to falter in his response until he finally said, “I try to be a Chassid.”

    Another anecdote from the court case which showed the extent of the Chassidic character of R’ Pinye, was when they had one of those who cut his beard stand before him and they asked him whether he identified him. R’ Pinye was careful with his words to the nth degree and he said something like this: I saw him holding the scissors and approaching me…

    In order to be declared guilty in court, there was a need for an unequivocal identification so the judge asked him: Did you see him cut your beard?

    R’ Pinye innocently said: The moment he began cutting the beard I couldn’t look and I closed my eyes so that I can’t actually say that I saw him cut my beard.

    WITH TALMIDIM IN YESHIVA

    For fifty years, starting in 5730, when he moved back to Crown Heights, R’ Pinye was the mashpia in Oholei Torah. In his later years, he was able to have a unique perspective on the tmimim of our day. On the one hand, he served as mashpia in American yeshivos for over fifty years. On the other hand, he was a remnant of the previous generation who learned in Tomchei Tmimim in Samarkand and was the founding generation of the yeshiva in Brunoy under R’ Nissan.

    Although everyone called R’ Pinye a “kabbolas ol’nik” (one who serves Hashem with absolute “acceptance of the yoke”) which he really was, when he saw bachurim who were too involved in kabbolas ol, he would emphasize the need for simcha and chayus. One of his talmidim shared reminiscences from a farbrengen in which R’ Pinye spoke at length about it being impossible to succeed just with kabbolas ol. He said, “You can’t drag sacks all your life. You must have a chayus.”

    On that occasion, he spoke about two Chassidim, one who was happy and one who was always preoccupied. The happy one asked the preoccupied fellow, “Why are you so preoccupied?” He answered that it would soon be Succos and he had to make sure that the succa and lulav would be kosher l’mehadrin with all the details. “And why are you happy?”

    The happy Chassid said, soon it will be Succos and, boruch Hashem, we have a lulav and esrog – there’s what to be happy about!

    The happy Chassid then let his friend have it, “What do you want? You have a succa, you have a lulav! Do you want to enter Gan Eden alive?!”

    R’ Pinye concluded by saying that the happy one was right and the way of Chassidus is to be happy with Torah and mitzvos and not to be embittered because of them. ■

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  • Tuesday, Oct 27th, Wedding – Shlome Wolvovsky – CH & Rochel Leah Matusof – Madison, WI @ Oholei Torah
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  • Sunday, Oct 25th, Sholli Miller – Chicago, IL & Batya Korf – Miami Beach, FL @ Bais Rivka 310 Crown Street
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