B"H. Beis Moshiach Magazine is powered by:




Beyond The Pale: A Geologist Speculates On The Significance Of The Cornerstone Of 770
By Moshe Jaron

I had an opportunity to daven at 770 some time ago – what a good experience. It had been quite a while since I had last been there, at least 14 years ago, when Rabbi Goldstein, the shliach from Ann Arbor, brought a half dozen of us to Crown Heights. I had forgotten just how much kedusha the entire structure radiates. It was overpowering then, and today it has not changed. When I was leaving the building, I took a good look at the cornerstone. It was set in place by the Rebbe in 1988. What caught my eye was the stone itself, a sub-rounded, rust-stained, greenish-black rock somewhere between the size of a pineapple and a football.

It may seem strange, but rocks interest me. I’ve done work related to geology on and off now for at least 35 years.

By hashgacha pratis, my curiosity was definitely aroused. This could not be an ordinary cornerstone. An ordinary cornerstone might only be a structural element of a building, but this cornerstone has to have a particular significance. It is not unusual for a cornerstone to contain a message of historical importance. But for the Rebbe to have chosen this stone, it has to represent something indispensable and fundamental to Yiddishkeit.

What did the Rebbe have in mind when he picked this rock to be 770’s cornerstone? What is being communicated here; what does the rock stand for? By Divine providence, what kind of rock was chosen through the Rebbe to be the cornerstone for 770 Eastern Parkway?

There is a maxim in geology that all one has to do in solving a geologic problem is to ask the right questions of the rock outcrop. If you ask the right questions, you’ll surely get the answer.

To find the answer to the question of what message the rock conveys, I started with what I was most familiar. I knew something about the physical aspects of the rock. Once you know that, you can extrapolate beyond it and reflect on the spiritual, the ruchniyus.

There are three fundamental categories of rocks: sedimentary, igneous, and metamorphic.  By and large, sedimentary rocks are the product of weathering and erosion, such as limestone, sandstone, and shale. For instance, if you take a sandy beach, bury it and cement the grains of sand together, you end up with a sandstone. Igneous rocks have a more deep-seated origin. Igneous rocks form from molten material that either cools and crystallizes somewhere in the crust of the earth as igneous intrusive rocks, or pour out onto the earth’s surface as igneous extrusive rocks, such as lava from volcanoes. Metamorphic rocks form from either sedimentary or igneous rocks that have been subjected to heat and pressure so that their minerals are re-crystallized. A good example of a metamorphic rock is marble, which is limestone that has been heated, squeezed, and re-crystallized.

The cornerstone of 770 is a fine-grained intrusive, igneous rock called diabase. How do I know that it is a diabase? Well, short of an examination with a polarizing microscope, which really isn’t practical, I’m relying on my experience of having worked with diabase time and again. Diabase has a deep-seated origin, forming from molten material called magma that has intruded into the overlying country rock. As the magma cools, it crystallizes and, in this case, is transformed into a fine-grained, olive-colored rock, which we call diabase.

I can tell you from past personal encounters of having beaten on it with a rock hammer that diabase is tough. Because it bears up well, diabase is used to build roads. Because it will take a polish, diabase is used as a decorative stone. Sometimes diabase is commercially called black granite, although it is mineralogically or chemically dissimilar to actual granite. You’ve probably seen some countertops that are fabricated from diabase. Oh yes, one other thing: besides having the attribute of being tough and the potential for beauty, diabase, being an intrusive igneous rock, sometimes helps to build mountains.

From this physical description, you could draw inferences that associate diabase with our people, with Torah Judaism, with Chassidim in general or Lubavitch in particular. But there is another connection, a linguistic kesher, if you will. “Diabase” comes from the Greek and means “a crossing over.” The expression used to describe our people is “the Hebrews,” which comes from the word “Ivri.  We are the Ivri, which means the people that crossed over the river. If you are traveling south from Haran into the land of K’naan, as Avrohom Avinu did, you are going to cross over the Euphrates or one of its tributaries.

One also finds some Chassidus within the linguistic meaning. Besides meaning “a crossing over,” the term “diabase” also stands for “a transition.” When a geologist classifies an igneous rock in terms of its chemistry, he describes the rock as being either acidic or basic. Diabase, however, is transitional. It is an intermediate form; one might say the beinoni of igneous rocks.

So much for the generic diabase. What about this particular stone, the cornerstone of 770? What can we say about it?

It shows some rounding and iron-staining. Geologically, that means wear and tear, weathering and erosion. This cornerstone has traveled from the place of its origin, not by camel, but most likely by glacial ice and by moving water. We have here an entity composed of and shaped by the four primal elements. It is a rock that has been formed from fire and shaped by air and water – interesting. 

Where is the place of its origin? If a person had to guess, you would have to pick New Jersey. Although the Garden State is not exactly Gan Eden, New Jersey is the closest location to 770 where diabase is found. The Palisades along the western bank of the Hudson River is primarily made up of diabase. When diabase cools, it forms vertical fractures that give the appearance of the kind of fortification we call a palisade. To be enclosed by the pales or pickets which make up a palisade is to be protected.

Although it’s only conjecture, the cornerstone of 770 may very well be the shluchim and their families who have traveled far from the comfort of their protective enclosure.

The shliach’s work is not easy. Doing kiruv, elevating the goyim — if it is not mamash demanding, certainly it is not normative. They are taking upon themselves the structural load of bringing about the world’s redemption. One can say that the shliach’s responsibilities have taken him “beyond the pale.” This is so in terms of geography, because he has left his comfortable setting, and also in terms of action, because of the difficult work that he is called upon to do.

When you think about the Rebbe’s determination as to who will do best in a particular setting, it is not unlike King Solomon determining from the channels of the world’s foundation stone which plantings will prosper in a particular setting (Koheles Rabba 2:7). When you give it some thought, it’s not a stretch to see why the Rebbe chose this rock, the shluchim, to be the cornerstone of 770.


The Rebbe MH"M lifting the cornerstone.

The cornerstone set in its place.


It is not unusual for a cornerstone to contain a message of historical importance. But for the Rebbe to have chosen this stone, it has to represent something indispensable and fundamental to Yiddishkeit.


Home | Contents | Archives | Contact Us | Subscriptions | Submissions | Interactive | Chat | Advertise

©Copyright. No content may be reprinted without permission.