Peretz Chein

Chabad is not a humanitarian organization

It's the joint efforts towards natural disaster relief that expose the Divine in everyone

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Meet Richie Malone, his wife Misty, and his two boys, Brady and Liam. I met Richie outside his home in Houston, while he was removing debris from his now stripped bare first floor. All the homes on his block were deserted, the street silent, with piles of torn out sheet-rock, deformed furniture, and boxes of memories lining the sidewalks. I was going house to house, inviting residents to a Red Cross Disaster Relief Truck delivering free hot meals and cold drinks.

Earlier that day, together with four other rabbis, I was helping a woman whose home was devastated clear her garage and move furniture. At the same time other rabbis from across the US and Canada were helping homeowners clear the ruins from their homes, distribute food and clothing at a distribution center, and hand out gift cards to random individuals.

Every one of these rabbis left their families and communities in the midst of preparing for the busiest season of their year, the High Holidays. Even more extraordinary is that this visit was completely organic, with no central organization arranging it. Instead, one rabbi from Boston, who founded an initiative called One Mitzvah, put out a call to his rabbi friends to join him on this trip, who then passed the call onto their friends, and within three days, 50 Chabad rabbis were en route to Houston.

Let’s be clear, Chabad is not a humanitarian organization. But neither is it an outreach organization, an educational organization, or an organization that provides hospitality. Instead, it’s an organization whose goal is to expose the Divine in all. It’s to help make all people aware of the Divinity within themselves, as well as in everyone and everything around them. In some places, it’s done through outreach, in others through education or hospitality, and when tragedy strikes, through humanitarian work.

In fact, the Jewish charge to do tikkun olam is mistakenly translated to fix a broken world, because the word “tikkun” in modern Hebrew means to repair. This charge, however, was written in ancient Hebrew, and it actually means to beautify. All the world needs is to be beautified by exposing the Divine, the soul, within all its inhabitants.

Our charge as Jews is not to perpetuate ourselves by ensuring our continuity through outreach, education, and hospitality. Rather, our mission is to bring light to everyone and everywhere, by shining the warmth and radiance of the Divine image present in all mankind. Included in that mission is our adherence to the distinctiveness that Judaism incorporates into our lives as Jews.

Natural disasters have a way of bringing out the beauty in everyone. Barriers of wealth, race, color, and simple indifference disappear, exposing them for the fraud they are. In its place, bridges of embrace, care, and love spring up.

Richie’s house was destroyed by Hurricane Harvey, but his home became stronger. Everything he lost was just stuff, as he repeatedly told me. In its place, the blessings that the Creator bestowed him with — his wife, children and family — became more apparent than ever.

That a random rabbi from Boston traveled to Houston and walked into his home and embraced him, exposing to both of us the Divine that exists everywhere. This is Judaism’s mission and this is Chabad’s mission.

About the Author
HaShliach Rabbi Peretz Chein is co-director of the Chabad House at Brandeis University, which he co-founded with his wife Chanie in 2001. In 2021 they co-founded M54, an educational startup that shifts the learning content from text to participants' life experiences, allowing them to discover new language and voice from which increased vibrancy emerges.
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