My grandfather, Dr Yitzchak Block A"h, receiving 'Lekach,' (honey cake) from the Lubavitcher Rebbe right before Yom Kippur.
My grandfather, Dr Yitzchak Block A"h, receiving 'Lekach,' (honey cake) from the Lubavitcher Rebbe right before Yom Kippur. (courtesy)

Today is Yud Aleph Nissan (The Lubavitcher Rebbe’s birthday). A few days ago, I wrote up a blog post that is quite apropos. There are lots of thoughts and feelings, yet this is MY opinion (not fact).

A few weeks ago, when my friends and I were chatting, one of my friends casually mentioned (in front of my none Chabad friends) that I wasn’t really Chabad. Though she didn’t mean it seriously, I was dumbfounded and even felt a little defensive. How can someone tell me I’m not Chabad when (get ready, the list is coming); my great-grandfather studied in Lubavitch and was a staunch Chassid of the Previous Rebbe. My father grew up on Shlichus. Both sides of my grandparents were assigned to do numerous missions for the Rebbe (going to Russia etc). Most of my extended family are on Shlichus, to the point that I only live in Australia because the Rebbe chose my father to be a Shliach in the Chabad Yeshiva in Melbourne. In fact, my whole life has been dictated by Chabad, and yet ‘I’m not so Chabad’ WHATTTT?!

These thoughts came rushing to my head, and though I wanted to blurt them all out, all I said was, ‘How do you know what I do behind closed doors? How can you judge my connection to the Rebbe and Hashem?’ Just because I am flawed, in many ways religiously, how can you judge me like that?

Yet, this conversation did get me thinking – of course, my family plays a huge role in who I am, and I am so proud of my background, but of course, that all means nothing. In reality, it needs to come from YOU. So, can I call myself Chabad? What does Chabad stand for? Does my life 100% align with Chabad’s ethos? These thoughts swirled around in my mind and brought up many ideas.

However, before I attempt to answer these questions (though there is definitely not just one answer), the point is twofold. Before we even get into Chabad, let’s just discuss being observant (‘frum,’ as it’s called).

Many people (religious and not religious alike) look at frum people and think they have to be these perfect beings, who uphold certain standards, whether it be modesty, hair covering, praying or learning. Especially within the ‘Charedi world,’ where everyone is sub-divided and divided even more. Chassidic, Non-Chassidic, Gerrer, Belz, Bobev, Chabad, Litivishe, Heiymish, Ashkenazi, Sephardi (the list is never-ending), the expectation is that since you are representing your sect, you should behave accordingly. (Indeed, it is true that religious observance is not always going to be a feeling, it also requires action).

For us ‘frumies,’ we can tell the nuanced differences between us, but others most definitely cant. I have noticed that many people who are becoming observant idealise religious people and think they upkeep everything. Then, one day they see them at the cinema *gasp*, and they are in such shock and horror that they can even start questioning their identity. This is a huge phenomenon and is quite common (also amongst observant people, with religious leaders). Therefore, the first thing I tell my friends when they are becoming observant is that during the process, they need to remain grounded and ‘normal.’ What I mean by normal, is that they need to realise that religious people are HUMANS first and foremost. This means that they have struggles just like everyone else, where their good and evil inclination is constantly battling it out (whether it is obvious or not).

What many of us need to understand is that we, observant people, are born into a certain lifestyle, and that there comes a time where WE need to choose it for ourselves and own it. Some of us have this stage during teenagehood, and many have it later in life, and that is OKAY. This is especially applicable when it comes to the different sects. It’s true that other sects (compared to Chabad) are seemingly “all doing the right thing,” and are more uniform, since they remain insular and segregated from the rest of the wider society (though it doesn’t mean they are immune), and that Chabad is different. The reason being is that Chabad believes that there is a purpose in mixing with society, in order to connect with other Jews and bring them closer to their Judaism. One can never underestimate the power of a Mitzvah.
The beauty of Chabad is that our whole philosophy is to spread goodness and kindness, making this world ready for Moshiach; judgement doesn’t come into the picture.

When I was in seminary, I had this existential crisis, how can I call myself Chabad if I can’t upkeep the high standards that the Alter Rebbe lays out in the Tanya (boy, is it extreme). But then I realised life is not black and white, and even though I may not now be able to uphold such high standards, as long as I aim to, that’s what counts.

A Chassid is a Mehelach, one who is always moving forward.

Then, where do we draw the line?
Can you be a Chassid and not be fully Tznius?
Can you be a Chassid and not daven with a Minyan three times a day?

But guess what; though these questions are more than valid, WE are not the ones who need to answer these questions.
We need to be the judge for ourselves
Yes, we need motivation and to surround ourselves with people who want to grow (we are all a product of our environment), but it’s not our job to box people.

I know many people who wear the Levush (the religious garb – much easier for men), who barely keep Shabbas, and people who may dress ‘immodestly’ yet daven every day and with so much Kavanah.

I know many people who are Chabad because it’s comfortable to be Chabad, simply because they were born and raised that way. (Sure, it’s not ideal, but meanwhile, they are just trying to find themselves and trying to live). Though we cannot blame G-d for something humans do, many observant people have had traumatic experiences from frum, G-d fearing Jews that they have looked up to. Many, have felt betrayed, angry and hurt by these people we put on pedestals.

Who are we to judge others?
Who are we to define who is considered Chabad and not Chabad?
Who are we to decide who is considered observant and not observant?

I think people need to realise the struggle is real for all of us.

Life is a struggle, and it’s not a straight linear line.

So, going back to that question, am I Chabad? Well, yes, I am.
Do I do everything up to Chabad’s standards? No, I don’t; I am human.
Am I trying to live up to Chabad’s standards? Yes.
Well, for me, that answers the question.

About the Author
Born and raised in the heart of Melbourne's Jewish Community, Chavi now resides in Sydney (Bondi) with her husband Ezry and works as a Jewish Studies Educator at Moriah College. Chavi has completed her Masters in Secondary teaching with an undergraduate degree, majoring in History and Philosophy. Chavi is passionate about the Chassidic masters and the mystical teachings of the Torah.
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