The Pale: A Geologist Speculates On The Significance Of The
Cornerstone Of 770
By Moshe Jaron
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
may seem strange, but rocks interest me. I’ve done work related
to geology on and off now for at least 35 years.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
much for the generic diabase. What about this particular stone,
the cornerstone of 770? What can we say about 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 –
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.
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.
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
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.