Why was Moses buried in the desert? Why are the Chabad Rebbes buried in the diaspora? A fascinating kabbalistic discussion about the responsibilities of Jewish leaders and how they continue to tend to their communities—even after their passing.
Moses Remained Behind with His People
The resting places of the Chabad Rebbes are not in the Land of Israel; they were purposely interred in various locations in the diaspora. This is also true of the first leader of the Jewish people, Moses: Instead of leading the people into the Land of Israel, he remains in the desert until this very day, three-thousand years later.
Midrash Tanchuma explains that G-d told him that he could come into the land if he so desires, but what would be with the “desert” generation? Moses would be asked: You personally entered the Land of Israel, but what did you with the six hundred thousand members of your nation that remained in the desert?
For this reason, Moses remains in the desert!
Therefore, the Torah says of him that “he carried out G-d’s righteousness and His judgments in Israel”: He remained with his flock in the forsaken desert so that he would be able to ultimately take them along when he entered the Land of Israel for the future redemption.
Jewish Leaders of All Generations Remain with Their Flock
The same is true of every Jewish leader in his generation:
A Jewish leader disregards his own spiritual desires for the sake of his people. When his people remain in exile, he remains in exile with them, to continue being a source of blessing and connection through which his flock could connect with G-d.
For this reason, the Chabad Rebbes were laid to rest in the diaspora: They wanted to remain with their flock, to be a source of assistance to them. They possess ‘general souls’ which are the source of all the ‘individual souls’ of their generation, so they have the power to help individuals (being that every person is a ‘part’ of them) far more than ordinary people.
Praying at a Tzaddik’s Grave is Like Praying in the Land of Israel
Another point regarding a righteous person’s dedication to his people: by being laid to rest in the diaspora, near his flock, he connects them to the Land of Israel.
When we pray and ask G-d to provide us with our needs, our prayer is supposed to be connected to the place of which G-d says, “My eyes and heart will always be there.” Therefore, Jewish law states that “Diaspora Jews should face Israel during prayers, as the verse states, ‘They shall pray to You in the direction of their land,’ and we also face Jerusalem, the Temple, and the Holy of Holies.”
The reason is as follows: G-d’s energy is channeled to the diaspora through “seventy ministers.” However, his energy to the Land of Israel is channeled directly from Him, as the verse states, “the land which G-d’s eyes are upon from the beginning of the year until the end.” Therefore, we seek to connect our prayer specifically to the Land of Israel.
And this unique advantage of the Land of Israel exists in the diaspora (in addition to merely facing the Land of Israel) at the resting place of the tzaddik of the generation.
The Ohel is Compared to the Land of Israel
In the end of Tractate Ketubot, the Talmud says that the resurrection of the dead will take place both in the Land of Israel and the diaspora. Then, the Talmud asks, “According to Rabbi Elazar who says that the dead of the diaspora will not be resurrected, does he mean that the righteous among them will not be resurrected either?” The Talmud answers: “Tunnels will be created for them underground” (in which the righteous will go through until they reach the Land of Israel and emerge). The grave of a righteous person, even in the diaspora and even overseas, will have tunnels through which they will make their way to the Land of Israel and then emerge from the tunnel’s entrance.
Since the tunnel’s entrance is in the Land of Israel, the tunnels themselves also have the status of the Land of Israel…
This teaches us that the graves of the righteous in the diaspora—which are connected to tunnels which lead to the Land of Israel—have the spiritual status of the Land of Israel as well.
Therefore, praying in the diaspora at the resting place of a righteous person and leader of the Jewish people has the same advantage as prayer in the Land of Israel.
Connecting with the Highest Levels
This is the power and advantage of praying at the resting place of a righteous person:
In our day, with the spiritual degeneration of the Land of Israel since the destruction of the Temple, if a Jew desires to pray to G-d in a manner equivalent to the prayer in the Land of Israel during the Temple era (in a place where the “seventy ministers” wield no power), connecting his soul with G-d, “closeting” himself with G-d, so to speak—where can that be accomplished? At the gravesite of a righteous person, a leader of the generation. That is a place which has the status of the Land of Israel just as it was during the Temple Era.
Obviously, prayer in such a location has an additional advantage: the requests made in prayer will be fulfilled,
Including that the spirit of G-d envelope you in your daily life, in your thought, speech and action, helping you fulfill your life-mission as it was entrusted to you by the Rebbe himself,
And this is all given to you without concealment, granting you great success in all your physical and spiritual endeavors.
Yud Shevat 1954
(Toras Menachem 5714 vol. 2 pg. 27)