I’m a black-hatter, one of those Chabadniks who would love you to put on Tefillin (it will just take a minute). You might avert your gaze and dart across the street when you see me coming. You certainly don’t want to be my seatmate on a flight (not because I’m chatty, but you probably don’t feel like rolling up your sleeve in front of the whole of Flight 260).
I have a friend who has a different approach; he does stealth Jewish outreach. You won’t see him coming until it’s too late. He has no black fedora- or kippah for that matter. You step into his office for a scheduled business meeting and he shocks you with his trademark, “We don’t start the meeting until you put on Tefillin.” You should see his grin when he describes stories of business associates who “didn’t see it coming”.
We often get the “You Chabadniks are amazing!”, especially from travelers who knew that they could catch fresh challah and homemade chicken soup at our Shabbos table on the way to safari. Of course, they also believe that we’re amazing for our undying dedication to every Jew, no matter who and no matter where. People think we’re amazing for caring, smiling, reaching out and for not judging.
Truth be told, we’re not so amazing. Well, not all of us, at least. Sure, some of my shluchim colleagues scattered across the globes are scholars of note, some are deeply spiritual and others could have floated a Fortune 500 company, had they not opted for Chabad of doesthisplaceevenexist. But (and I hope the others don’t shoot me for this), many of us are really ordinary. Driven and focused, yes, but with average abilities. I was in yeshivah with some famous Chabad emissaries who, back in the day, were voted “least likely to enter the Rabbinate”.
Now, before you get all defensive about your favorite rabbi or rebbetzin’s credentials, this “ordinariness” is actually the secret of Chabad’s global success. Chabad’s greatest achievement is that you don’t have to be Judaism’s finest to make an impact- on a colleague, your wider circle or even the world.
Seventy years ago (this Shabbos is the anniversary), the Rebbe formally took the reins of Chabad. His leadership would prove to be radical and would irrevocably change the Jewish landscape. He did it all without a skyscraper head-office, central funding platform or formal training/selection processes for his representatives. Instead, the Rebbe imbued his Chassidim with a simple three-pronged principle: Love G-d, love Judaism, love Jews. Every Jew, he would say, is G-d’s soldier. Our mission is to ignite the spark in the next Jew and bring awareness of G-d everywhere. G-d, the Rebbe taught, has invested infinite resources within each of his soldiers, so that each of us is empowered to win His war to make the world beautiful.
In other words, G-d has invested everything in you. Not you, the “rabbi” or you, “the Chabadnik”, but you.
You carry infinite Divine resources; you need only activate them.
The Rebbe’s reach extended beyond his circle of followers. He touched politicians, pulpit rabbis, journalists, businessmen, moms, agnostics and rebellious teens. Each who interacted with the Rebbe noted that they left his presence empowered with an acute sense that they could make miracles.
Greatness is not achieved by placing great people in great positions. Greatness is when you shine a light on the innate brilliance that every person carries within. This is what the Rebbe achieved. Chabad’s success is less about the shliach who finds a disaffected Jew in a remote hinterland and more about the not-so-observant Jew who (even if only once-off) becomes an ambassador for Judaism.
Judaism’s end-goal has always been to bring Moshiach. Prophets, Talmudic sages and mystics had hoped, but failed to make Moshiach a reality. Seventy years ago, in his inaugural address, the Rebbe made the radical statement that you and I would achieve what Moses and Isaiah could not. We would bring Moshiach. For real.
If that sounds far-fetched, so did the idea of reviving Judaism post-Holocaust. So did the prospect that ordinary Jews could be frontline Jewish outreach proponents.
My friend with the Tefillin at his office is but one example of thousands of Jews who, even as they only inch forward in their personal spiritual journey, realize that they can inspire others. When you share the ABCs of Judaism with someone who knows nothing; when you encourage a friend to perform a single mitzvah, you unveil the light of both your soul and theirs. This is a glimpse of the Moshiach reality, when every soul’s potential will radiate at full power.
This Shabbos, we commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Rebbe’s leadership. It is an appropriate time to pause to appreciate the perspective of ourselves that he taught us. It is an appropriate time also to pray for the Rebbe’s most fervent wish to come to fruition, for us to bring Moshiach now.