What was the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s agenda?
What do Shluchim really think about their Chabad House Jews? Is there a tacit understanding that they need to improve and take on more mitzvoth? Is there an agenda? Or when a Lubavitch yeshiva student stops a Jew and says, “Would you like to put on teffilin”?
Is it really about the teffilin, or about making him frum, or about the Jew himself? Is this supposed to lead somewhere or is there value and an end goal in this act and interaction alone?
The astonishing truth is – there is no agenda (or shouldn’t be). Which is why Chabad is so successful because people feel accepted and therefore safe, which allows vulnerability, which allows growth. Of course everyone knows the Shliach would be overjoyed if they kept more and more Torah but there is no demand or even expectation. If people only felt accepted on condition that they keep improving, well, that’s a recipe for resentment and conditional relationships. This is also why attempts to copy Chabad’s outreach approach are doomed to failure. Because you need to have the methodology and understandings that underlie those approaches.
We might say, the Rebbe wasn’t interested in Torah when he sent Shluchim out – he was interested in Jews! He wanted every Jew to feel loved and accepted and HOLY and PRECIOUS simply because they are a child of Abraham. Because they have a core being of Godness inside them – a soul.
There is an incredible story, which illustrates this powerfully. Reb Mendel Futerfas, a famous Chabad chossid who was in Siberia for 8 years, was once on a train in Israel asking soldiers to put on teffilin on a busy Friday. There was also another man who had recently come to Lubavitch who was also asking soldiers to put on teffilin. The man went over to a soldier who was covered in tattoos and piercings and asked him to put on teffilin. The soldier sent the man flying. A couple minutes later, Reb Mendel came over to the same soldier and asked him to put on teffilin. Whereupon the soldier jumped up with a smile and enthusiastically wrapped himself in the straps.
Later, the perplexed man came over to the soldier and said, “I just asked you and you said no! Why did you say yes to someone else?”
“You don’t get it”, replied the soldier, “you asked me to put on teffilin because you think teffilin is important. I disagree so I said no. That man asked me to put on teffilin because he thinks A JEW IS IMPORTANT. That I agree with – so I acquiesced.”
But why indeed is it that Chabad doesn’t say to people, “Here, do a mitzvah, connect to your Jewishness but don’t stop there. You must keep going”. Would that be so bad?
The radical truth is that Chabad Chassidus, makes the claim that a Jew’s essence, his soul, is already as connected to God, as it will ever be. In fact, it is defined as being a piece of God. Which means that Torah doesn’t serve as the bridge that connects a Jew to God. A Jew is already connected absolutely and in a way that defines him or her and thus is never able to be broken!
Instead, Torah is a way for me to express in a conscious fashion, the relationship that is already there between God and me. Much like a husband and wife are married and even defined by the other half of their soul. They are really one complete entity, which became fragmented. They aren’t two trying become one. They are one that needs to realize how incredibly one they are.
This may sound simple but it’s hard to take this to the bank emotionally. I was speaking to two Shluchim at the convention about this and they said something that I’ve seen a lot. They have the attitude we just described (of non-conditional acceptance based on the core identity of a Jew which transcends even Torah) towards people in their Chabad House but when they try to apply it to themselves they’re stuck. If they don’t put on teffilin in the morning – they feel like they’re less Jewish, less chassidish, less of a good person and less of a godly being. They hold judgment on themselves for any failures in their observance and feel like their preciousness is contingent on their toeing the halachic line.
And I’ve seen this all over the frum community, especially in the yeshivot. It’s especially ironic on Fridays when Lubavitch yeshiva students go out and tell Jews that they have non-conditional relationships with God but then feel like a bad person if they fail in their own observance.
Perhaps it’s time to apply the same standards we profess to others, as being valid and true even for ourselves.