He was known as a Kabbalist. The Lubavitcher Rebbe once referred to him as a ”Mekubal’ (a person well versed in Kabbalah). And he was my teacher.
Rabbi Zev Greenglass was a ‘Mashpia’ — teacher of Chassidus, in the Lubavitcher Yeshiva in Montreal. Chassidus explains and illuminates all aspects of Torah, including Kabbalah.
I vividly remember Friday nights, as we Yeshiva students recited the prayers greeting the coming of Shabbat. ‘Reb Volf’ as he was known (‘Volf’ is Yiddish for ‘Zev,’ which means wolf) stood at the ‘bima’ (the large lectern on which the Torah is periodically read) in the middle of the room. I remember how his face shined, there was a glow that I don’t remember seeing on him during the week. It was quite a sight to behold; it seemed like he was a different person, elevated, as the sanctity of Shabbat entered and permeated him. It was very inspiring to see a holy person like that.
He often sat with us and ‘farbrenged’ (Chassidic get togethers). We sang, and we listened to his insights on Torah and how it related to our lives. He was gentle and pleasant, with a smile and a quick joke. And he encouraged each of us to be a ‘mentsch’ — a decent person.
Among my many memories of him and his teachings, is the following. Sometimes, he said, when you ask a Jew about his Jewishness, the answer you might receive is, “I have a Jewish heart; I’m Jewish in here” (as the person points to his heart).
Rabbi Greenglass explained to us the problem with that answer. Supposing someone got hit by a car G-d forbid, and you go over to see how he is. And suppose his heart is fine, but the rest of him isn’t functioning. He can’t walk, can’t talk, can’t move his arms or legs or head. But his heart is fine. Is that a good situation? A person needs to be healthy with his entire being, not just the heart. Similarly if someone’s heart feels Jewish, but he doesn’t think, talk, walk, and act Jewishly, meaning he doesn’t study Torah and fulfill G-d’s commandments, then a Jewish heart alone is not sufficient.
I seem to recall that Rabbi Greenglass offered another parable. When a husband loves his wife, he doesn’t suffice with the feeling of love; he buys her gifts to express his love. Similarly when we love G-d, we don’t suffice with the feeling of love in our hearts, and we try to express our love by doing what He wants us to do.
There are 613 Mitzvot — commandments — in the Torah: 248 positive (what we should do) and 365 negative (what we should not do). Our sages tell us that a physical body is composed of 248 limbs and organs, and 365 nerves and sinews. So by following the instructions of the Torah, we bring spiritual vitality to our entire body, and we open channels to receive the Almighty’s blessings for sustenance and health, both physically and spiritually together. And by fulfilling G-d’s will, we reveal His presence in the entire world, so that all nations recognize G-d’s kingship and abide by the seven Noahide laws that G-d told Moses at Mount Sinai, thus creating a peaceful world.
I learned many things from Reb Volf. But I think the most important thing that I learned from him, is that Torah in all its parts, the revealed and also the mystical (like Kabbalah), especially as illuminated by Chassidus, is not meant to stay in a spiritual world; rather it is meant to influence us in all areas of life, and to energize and infuse our entire being to obey G-d’s commandments with enthusiasm, love, and joy. So that we hasten the day when G-d redeems us, and we all gather with Moshiach in Israel with the third and eternal Beis Hamikdosh — the Holy Temple, where the light of the menorah shines out, a light for all the nations, forever. May it happen now.