"Moshiach is ready to come now-our part is to increase in acts of goodness and kindness" -The Rebbe

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Chassidus: Follow a derech taught by a Rebbe

Recently a certain trend has developed. Although many people have come to study Chassidus (and may they increase), some do so in a way that lacks a commitment to a particular derech (path in serving Hashem, pl. derachim), and a relationship with a particular Rebbe or dynasty of Rebbeim who teach that derech. Instead, these people take different practices from different derachim, according to whatever they feel, and they will connect to varying degrees with various Tzaddikim and Rebbeim, but will stop short from identifying themselves as the chossid of any one.

In effect, they (though fully well-meaning) create their own derech. I submit that the “derech” of choosing one’s own derech is faulty. Especially if one wishes to follow the path of Chassidus, one should know that at the core of Chassidus lie the relationship of Rebbe and chossid, and the concept that only a true Tzaddik and Rebbe can create a derech in avodas Hashem.

As explained here, the Rebbeim pave the way for us through their example (there it is said in the context of the Chabad Rebbeim, but I would think that it applies to the Rebbeim of other groups too; in any case, this post is not about the specific idea of a Chabad Rebbe). The reason that they do this and that we do not, is that they are pure and holy Tzaddikim who are vastly superior and in a different league from us.

However, when the person hasn’t submitted to any one derech, he must “pick and choose.” He doesn’t do everything, because that would be overwhelming and impossible. So he selects different practices and approaches from different sources. What he fails to grasp is that such spiritual things are not given for regular people to understand with direct knowledge and thus make their own assessments about. They are not worldly matters about which every Beryl and Shmeryl is equally entitled to an opinion, as they are, let’s say, when it comes to which political party to vote for.

As the Rebbe puts it (Igros Kodesh, Vol. 3, p. 412):

Why should we go around making our own calculations, and calculate ourselves what is better for us spiritually—what do we know about spirituality altogether? If only we would know its existence [“metzius”]; we certainly don’t know its essence [“mehus”]. [How can we make such calculations of our own, when] we have been issued a directive [on the matter] by the Nasi HaDor [Leader of the Generation]. The Nasi is the heart of the Jewish people, and the level of heart is higher than the level of mouth.

Moreover, as explained in Chassidus, the Nasi HaDor is the “intermediary who joins” [“memutza hamechabeir”—for further explanation, see here] us with the very Essence of the Infinite One, may He be blessed. So if he directed one to a place of spiritual livelihood, this is surely the best thing possible for the Neshama and for the health of the body. And the Neshama will be healthy when it is a vessel to carry out G–d’s will.
As far as the present discussion is concerned, we see from the above that someone who thinks that he can make assessments about spiritual matters on his own is foolish. What does he know about spiritual matters? Spiritual realities [“mehus”] are completely beyond his powers of perception. Even with regard to their external effects [“metzius”], he lacks understanding. Thus, the humble person will recognize that he should follow a Rebbe, who is a far superior kind of person (for more on the topic of Tzaddik and Rebbe in general, see here), and one who sees the reality of G–dliness (see here). From this incomparably superior vantage point, the Rebbe can truly guide the person to connect with Hashem.

Even someone who is without doubt significantly more inspired, intelligent, and spiritually sensitive than an average person is simply not qualified to formulate his own derech. He is not capable of taking into consideration all the sublime calculations that Tzaddikim and Rebbeim can through their superior perception and wisdom, and through their ruach hakodesh. A non-Rebbe will most likely err, whether on the side of being overly lenient, or being overly stringent. (This is all aside from the fact that every person has biases that cloud his judgement, which necessitates that heu consult with an objective outsider.)

Along these lines, the Talmud states (Eruvin 6b): “The halachah is like Beis Hillel. If one adopts the stringencies of both Beis Shammai and Beis Hillel, he is a fool who walks in darkness; if he adopts the leniencies of both, he is a rasha (wicked one).” I am not saying that someone who does not have a Rebbe and a specific derech is necessarily guilty of the above, but he is definitely more susceptible to doing so.

Moreover, what will the person do if he learns that there’s an inherent conflict between some of the elements within the two (or more) paths? Such a person will choose the one that makes more sense to him, and/or with which he feels more comfortable. But what if he doesn’t even notice that conflict? In addition to all that was said above about the fallacy of making such a mishmash, understand that some approaches and practices are just not meant to be combined, and when they are, the results are not favorable.

By way of analogy, a cook knows that certain foods taste well when mixed together in the correct proportion, but others clash and may even create a dish that is inedible, despite the tastiness of each individual ingredient. Another analogy, carrying on from the analogy of a path to a particular destination, is that if a person tries to travel down two different roads simultaneously, he will not reach his destination. Yet another analogy is from medicines. Chassidus is described (see this post) as the medicine for the exile. Perhaps it can be extrapolated from this that the derech that each Rebbe prescribes is akin to a specific prescription of medicine, and mixing medicines is not safe, as is obvious.

Moreover, the one who takes a little from here and a little from there, according to whatever he feels “turns him on” or makes sense to him, is not approaching Torah with bittul (humility) or with emunah (faith) in Tzaddikim. He should whole-heartedly accept and obey the word of Hashem through the sages and Tzaddikim whom He sent to teach us, and do so even when he doesn’t understand their words, and has great difficulty accepting them. Instead, such a person inflates himself to the position of arbiter over matters of the spiritual that are completely beyond him.

Finally, the Rebbe-chossid relationship, in which the chossid obeys the Rebbe as his master (“adoneinu”) even if he doesn’t understand, keeps the chossid in check. The Radziner Rebbe, Reb Gershon Chanoch Henech Leiner, OBM, once commented when he saw someone who declared himself a chossid without a Rebbe: “Git a kuk oif a hunt ohn a baal haboss!”—“Look at a dog without an owner!” (I heard this story in the name of Rabbi Groner of Melbourne, alav hasholom, related by his son-in-law.) Likewise, chassidim have an animal soul, which may even at times be akin to a dog. By following a Rebbe, the chossid keeps his animal soul in check and inculcates in himself a sense of subservience so that his animal soul is appropriately sublimated. But when the dog is his own master ...

In summary, a chossid should choose a specific Rebbe and derech in avodas Hashem because these are fundamental to the derech of Chassidus. One who fails to do so, and picks and chooses, in effect arrogates to himself authority to which he is not entitled, because only a Rebbe, by virtue of his lofty spiritual level, is capable of creating a true derech. The person may choose too many stringent or too many lenient ideas and practices, and different elements selected from various derachim may clash. However, when the chossid has the humility to follow a Rebbe and that Rebbe’s derech, doing so subdues the chossid’s animal soul and enables him to sublimate it.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Chassidus Chabad: Not Just for Intellectuals

Chassidus Chabad: Not Just for Intellectuals

Rabbi Y. Oliver

There is a widespread belief that although the path of Chabad is very holy and sublime, not everyone is cut out for it. Since it focuses on in-depth study, the argument goes, it is suitable only for those of a more intellectual bent. The more unsophisticated, however, are incapable of finding the guidance and inspiration they need by following this path.

The Previous Rebbe clearly rejects this notion:
Chassidim never made a point of seeking gifted people. In other words, good talents and a good head were never a precondition. The main thing was that one engage in avodah [toiling at self-refinement], each one according to his ability. This was the [Alter] Rebbe’s approach—to make people receptive regardless whether the person’s talents were exceptional, average, or mediocre. ... [The Alter Rebbe] created a broad path for the entire Jewish people [“klal Yisroel”], a path that is paved [see here], equally effective for the greatest scholar and intellectual, and for the most simple Jew [“dem gor, gor posheten Yidn”].

Sefer HaSichos 5691, pp. 172-173.
Elsewhere (Likkutei Dibburim, Vol. 2, p. 414), the Previous Rebbe explains further:
When the Alter Rebbe founded his well-known chadorim, and he hand-picked his students—great scholars, with true minds of genius, and wild talent—the regular and simple people who wanted to become chassidim became dejected, thinking that they were nothing. Yet soon they saw that they made a great mistake, and they were very happy that to see that the Alter Rebbe saw to it that they receive their spiritual sustenance just the same as the greatest of his students who were famous geniuses.

The Alter Rebbe, being extremely orderly, and having the greatest talent in organization, and being born to be Hashem’s anointed guide and leader, immediately established a certain structure for the study of the teachings of Chassidus in a manner that every kind of person, even the most simple Jew [“dem gor, gor posheten Yidn”] would have a place of his own.

The Alter Rebbe, whom Hashem elected as the Shepherd of Israel, gave him the unlimited divine powers and talents to be able to create such a masterpiece as the teachings of Chassidus Chabad. It is a chamber with room for all kinds of people, from the greatest geniuses and intellectuals in the most profound concepts of Chassidus, to the most simple laborer...
In Likkutei Sichos (Vol. 4, p. 1137) the Rebbe goes further and declares that the path of Chabad can even elevate the avodah of a simple Jew to a level higher than that to which Chassidus Chagas can bring him:
... Chassidus Chabad accomplished that even simple Jews, who are apparently unable to reach thorough comprehension [of Hashem’s greatness as explained in the teachings of Chassidus Chabad], can be elevated by Chassidus Chabad, and to a level even higher than is possible through the general teachings of Chassidus [“toras haChassidus haklolis”—i.e., a branch of Chassidus that is not according to the teachings of Chabad].

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Light Vs. Ego: Different Types of Existence

Light Vs. Ego:
Different Types of Existence

Rabbi Y. Oliver

Generally speaking, there are two fundamentally different types of beings: those that reflect Hashem’s existence, which are termed ohr, “light,” and those that feel and project themselves as independent from Hashem, which are termed yesh, “ego.”

This is relevant to the different levels of Seder Hishtalshelus, the system of four spiritual worlds—in descending order, Atzilus, Beriah, Yetzirah, and Asiyah (the latter three are commonly abbreviated as “b’ya”). These terms describe the vast distinction between the world of Atzilus and the worlds of b’ya. Atzilus is called ohr, while b’ya is called yesh.

The world of Atzilus and the Sefiros (“divine attributes”) in it are termed “gilui ha’he’elem”—literally, “the revelation of that which was hidden.” In Atzilus, the G–dliness that shone before the tzimtzum (lit., “contraction”—when G–d’s Infinite Light was totally hidden), becomes revealed.

This is also alluded to in the etymological meaning of the word Atzilus. Although Atzilus is usually translated as “emanation,” it is related to the word “ha’atzalah,” which means separation. We find this word used when Hashem declared that He would invest Moshe Rabeinu’s spirit in the seventy elders: “I [Hashem] will separate [ve’atzalti] from the spirit that is upon you, and I will put it upon them” [Bamidbar 11:17—cf. Torah Ohr, Vayera, 14a].

To explain this, Chassidus employs the analogy of light. The fundamental purpose of light is to reveal its source—the luminary from which the light emerges. Light has no purpose and function other than to declare the existence and nature of its origin.

Likewise, the entire purpose of the G–dliness in Atzilus is to reveal the sublime G–dliness of before the tzimtzum.

In contrast, b’ya is a yesh, a self-conscious entity, an entity that senses itself as separate and independent from Hashem. Although b’ya stems from Atzilus, it does not reveal Atzilus. The reason for this is that b’ya is created through a process of tzimtzum by which Hashem hides Himself from His creations to the extent that they are able to feel themselves as independent from their Creator.

It should be emphasized that this is the way that the creations in b’ya feel; however, this feeling is illusory, for in reality nothing exists or can exist separately from Hashem.

Now, it is true that when one examines the world, even our physical world, which is the lowest of all levels, one can and should come to the realization that a Creator exists. However, this awareness is a result of investing the mental effort necessary to reach this conclusion. After contemplation, one should realize logically that the universe, a limited being, cannot create itself; rather, it must be created by an unlimited Creator. Similarly, after studying various realms of science one will correctly conclude that the complexity in nature points to an all-powerful Designer.

Although these and other such arguments are valid and true, they are not automatic and instinctive. They involve a certain distance from the physical reality of the world before us. No matter how convinced a person may be of these proofs, he does not sense the reality of Hashem with the same immediate conviction as his sense of the table at which he sits.

Sefer HaMa’amarim 5713, misheteshka hachamah.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Where does our heart lie? I

The Talmud says[1] that the time for the Mitzvah of kindling the Chanukah lights is “from when the sun sets until passers-by cease from the marketplace.” The Talmud explains that this time extends “until the steps of the people of Tarmuda’i cease.” Rashi explains that the people of Tarmud, who would sell wood in the market-place, were always the last to leave. Every night they would wait until everyone else had gone home, in case they needed wood for their fires.

On a deeper level, the word Tarmudai is etymologically related to the word meridah, rebellion, and represents rebellion against Hashem (may He save us). This is analogous to the moredes, “insubordinate wife,” a woman who refuses to engage in marital relations. The husband-wife relationship is fundamentally one of giver and recipient; the husband is the giver, and the wife is the recipient or “vessel” for what the husband gives. In a proper marriage, through the first act of intimacy, the husband forges a deep emotional bond with his wife that makes the wife desire to act as a mekabel, a recipient from him. An insubordinate wife, however, does not desire to receive from her husband.

Likewise, the Jewish people are compared to Hashem’s wife (this is the basis of the entire book of Shir Hashirim). We are also referred to a vessel, as King David said, “I will lift a cup of salvation.”[2] The Jewish people are likened to a “cup” that receives Hashem’s blessings of salvation. This implies that they should yearn to receive from Hashem alone, from holiness, and that when they do, they are living as they ought to, as they were meant to.

This concept is not only true of the Jewish people as a collective; it also applies to each individual Jew. A Jew’s desire and yearning should be to receive only from Hashem. This means that the Jew’s bond with Hashem is not just about following the Shulchan Aruch, the Code of Jewish Law. It is about where his heart lies.

If a Jew fulfills the Shulchan Aruch meticulously, but sets his heart, dreams, and strivings elsewhere, his bond with Hashem is fundamentally lacking. Every desire that a Jew has for something independent of the framework of serving Hashem is a kind of inner rebellion against Hashem, a kind of subtle infidelity in this personal relationship with Hashem. Chanukah represents refining the inner self of the Jew to the point at which all his desires and yearnings are related to serving Hashem.
[1] Shabbos 21b.
[2] Tehillim 116:13.

Adapted from Sefer HaMa’amarim 5713, Misheteshka hachamah.
See also the follow-up post here.

Monday, December 13, 2010

"It depends on your feeling"

I often hear it asked, “Do we recite tachanun on Hei Teves?” The question is understandable, as one needs to know what to do in practice.

Reb Michoel Seligson related to me (also printed in Otzar Minhagei Chabad, Elul p. 23) that in 5749, he davvened as the chazan on Gimmel Tammuz, and did not recite tachanun. After several people protested, he wrote a letter to the Rebbe asking whether his conduct had been acceptable, and added that he wishes to know the same concerning whether to recitetachanun on Chai Elul. Next to the words “Gimmel Tammuz and Chai Elul,” the Rebbe wrote: “בענינים התלויים ברגש — אין לשאול כיון שזוהי הוכחה שאין רגש”—“In areas that are dependent upon feeling, one does not ask, because asking demonstrates that one does not have the feeling.”

This seems to mean: “True, the Rebbeim never declared it our official custom to recite tachanun on Chai Elul, nor have chassidim kept such a tradition. After all, Chai Elul was a day of celebration carefully hidden until the Previous Rebbe revealed it, and as much as he extolled it, the Previous Rebbe never instructed that one should abstain from reciting tachanun on this day. Likewise, Gimmel Tammuz, the day on which the Previous Rebbe was released from prison (but then exiled), was never formally declared a day of celebration on which chassidim collectively refrained from reciting tachanun.

“However, the halachic exemption from reciting tachanun depends upon your feeling. If you feel truly inspired about the day, and indeed feel it to be a tremendous day of simcha, then you won’t recite tachanun. But if you don’t feel this way, and if you are even unsure about whether you do, then you should recite tachanun as you do normally.”

Perhaps the same principle can also be applied to Hei Teves and other similar days. On the one hand, Hei Teves is a relatively new day on the chassidishe calendar, so there’s a certain resistance to creating “new customs.” After all, “anyone who deviates [from the established custom] has the lower hand” (Bava Metzia 76a). But its recentness is also its greatness. Hei Teves happened with our own Rebbe, the Rebbe of our generation, and this makes it special in a way not found by the Yomei Depagra (chassidishe days of celebration) associated with the earlier Rebbeim.

So, do we recite tachanun on Hei Teves? In this case, the custom is not prescribed. Don’t look inside a book to find the answer, as holy as the book may be—look inside your heart. If you don’t feel filled with joy and elation at his victory and the victory of the Chabad community, then you have no reason not to recite tachanun. (Even for the less emotive types, some simple ways of discerning whether they find the day profoundly meaningful is by seeing whether they enthusiastically fulfill the Rebbe’s directive to purchase seforim on this day, and whether they make a point of attending a farbrengen.) And while you’re reciting tachanun, along with your teshuvah for other things, add to the list the fact that you lack the feeling of joy that a chossid should feel in rejoicing in the Rebbe’s simcha. And hopefully by next year you’ll have grown enough in your avodah that you will indeed rejoice as a chossid should, with a tangible, deeply-felt joy, such that refraining from reciting tachanun will indeed be justified.

Some postscripts:

1. If you derive your joy on Hei Teves from the very opportunity not to recite tachanun, because you donoot find the avodah of teshuvah burdensome, or simply because you want to skip some of the prayers so you can leave shul sooner, may Hashem save us, then it would seem clear that on a day about which we have received no explicit instruction to recite tachanun, you should davka recite tachanun—for that very feeling.

2. Choosing to recite tachanun is not in itself a proof that one is truly joyful. As in all matters of avodah, one must be thoroughly honest with oneself. As the Mitteleh Rebbe so pointedly said, “If you fool yourself, what have you accomplished by fooling a fool?”

3. Obviously, on days like Yud-Tes Kislev in which the Rebbeim have explicitly declared that we do not recite tachanun, one who considers himself a chossid should not recite tachanun even if he knows that unfortunately he is lacking the proper feeling. (Of course, he should do everything possible to prepare for such days so that he will indeed experience the appropriate feeling when they arrive.)

4. I have heard some say that personal “hergeshim” (conduct based on strong feelings), are all very well, but they should be kept in private. I find it significant that the written response above was addressed to a chazan. When the chazan does not recite tachanun, then the minyan should go along, and the minyan in this case was clearly not necessarily feeling this way. Despite this, the Rebbe implies that if the chazan feels this way, it is legitimate not only for him to abstain from reciting tachanun, but also for the entire minyan to follow his lead. I am not drawing any practical conclusions from this, as that would be the province of a Rov moreh hora’ah, which I do not presume to be; I simply note it as significant.

5. This is just one example of the concept of “tolui behergesh,” but there are numerous other applications. One such instance can be found in connection with singing the Alter Rebbe’s niggun, which chassidim are careful only to sing at certain prescribed times. The Rebbe was asked (Igros Kodesh, Vol. 16, p. 222) whether one may sing this niggun on a certain day of rejoicing—the Rebbe does not specify which—that was not a day in which the niggun was traditionally sung. The Rebbe responded that if the questioner feels that for him, the day in question has the same significance as the days in which this niggun was permitted to be sung, then it would be appropriate for him to sing it. As a precedent for this, the Rebbe mentioned that some chassidim would sing the Alter Rebbe’s niggun on Yud-Beis Tammuz, the day in which they celebrated the release of the Previous Rebbe from exile, because they considered it an extension of the liberation of Yud-Tes Kislev.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Chassidus: The Antidote to Spiritual Near-Death

Chassidus: The Antidote
to Spiritual Near-Death

Rabbi Y. Oliver

A colleague of the Maggid of Mezeritch once noticed a manuscript of Chassidus lying in the dirt, and this upset him. He was upset that these sublime, infinitely priceless secrets had come to be treated so carelessly, and so he wished that they would remain hidden, as, in his estimation, the generation clearly did not deserve them. 

This episode in our world caused a similar action to be taken in the Heavenly Court: The prosecutor in the Heavenly Court came forward with the same argument against allowing the revelation of the teachings of Chassidus to continue.

The Alter Rebbe sensed this negative feeling and the danger it was causing on high, and responded to it by drawing an analogy to justify the revelation of these teachings. The Heavenly Court accepted this defense, and Chassidus continued to be taught. The analogy was as follows:

A prince once fell gravely ill. The doctors diagnosed that the prince’s sickness could only be cured by grinding down certain priceless jewels, mixing them with water, and administering this potion to him. However, these jewels were so rare that they could not even be found in the king’s treasury. The only such jewels available were embedded in the king’s very crown. In the meantime, the prince’s health deteriorated to the extent that  his lips became tightly shut together, bringing the doctors to doubt whether the prince would even be able to swallow the potion. The king then declared that nonetheless, it is worthwhile to grind down this jewel, the centerpiece of the king’s crown, on the slight chance that a drop might enter the prince’s mouth and heal him.

Likewise, the Alter Rebbe said, the Jewish people are compared to Hashem’s children. While in exile they are in a very low spiritual state, and are in danger of spiritual death. Our spiritual doctors, the great Tzaddikim, starting from the Baal Shem Tov, realized that the only cure for this malady is the most sublime, precious secrets of Torah, which had until then been completely hidden—the teachings of Chassidus. Even a minute amount of this life-giving potion is enough to illuminate the darkness of exile and enable the Jew to continue living as a Jew, strong in his faith and Mitzvah observance.

Now one may no longer stand on the side and declare that he chooses to follow the previous approach and not study, or not teach, Chassidus, because of his concern that such study may not be appropriate. Now that this prescription has been given, not only is it appropriate, but it is mandatory: everyone must follow it and share it with others.

This justification for revealing Chassidus was even true in the times of the Alter Rebbe, before the Enlightenment Movement, Reform, Zionism, and all the sundry isms that have decimated so many of our people, may Hashem save us. This is all the more relevant in modern times, when the majority of the Jewish people have assimilated, may Hashem save them, and even many who are still basically observant are lacking true faith and inspiration, their observance weak from the insidious influences of secular culture (see here).

Now, more than ever, Chassidus is the elixir of life for a Jew. It implants in his heart true love and fear of Hashem and devotion to Torah and Mitzvos. A Jew who takes the medicine of Chassidus is fortified against the tempting enticements of the secular world. He is G–d-fearing, proud and happy to be a Jew, and enthusiastic in his observance of Mitzvos, even to the point of being willing to undergo self-sacrifice. He is a healthy Jew.

Adapted from Likkutei Sichos, Vol. 4, pp. 1256, 1258.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Don't Distort the Message of Chanukah

Don't Distort the Message of Chanukah

Rabbi Yehoishophot Oliver

These gems of wisdom below (and others like it in many locations worldwide) ...

From "Governer Tweets From Lighting":

"The United States allows freedom of relgion and not freedom from religion. Chanukah delivers the message of religous freedom, where the few believers won over the many oppressors."
From "Arizona Gov. Shows Soft Side":

"The menorah serves as a symbol of Arizona's dedication to preserve and encourage the right and liberty of all its citizens to worship God freely."
... impel me to draw my readers' attention to these past posts: The true message of Chanuka and Chanukah: Absolute truth, not pluralism!

I applaud all those who did not succumb to the temptation to follow this trend, choosing instead to speak words of pure, uncompromised faith. 

Instead of twisting Chanukah into an American holiday celebrating the secular American values of pluralism and freedom of religion, the speakers at these events should have followed the Rebbe's directive to use this opportunity to promote awareness and observance of the Noahide laws out of a pure belief in the Torah:

There is another matter of primary importance in connection with the public Menorah lighting—influencing non-Jews. Lighting the Menorah “in the entrance of the home, on the outside”[1] affects all those on the outside, including non-Jews. ... Therefore the opportunity of the Menorah lighting, which should be held in the most public, central places, should be utilized in order to inspire non-Jews to observe the Noahide Code. It should be stressed that they should fulfill these laws “because G–d commanded them [these laws] in the Torah.”[2] This abolishes rebellion against G–d, which is the theme of the lights of Chanukah.

[1] Shabbos 21b. [2] Mishneh Torah, Laws of Kings, 8:11.

Hisva’aduyos 5747, Vol. 2, p. 133.
Note that the Rebbe says that the message of the lights of Chanukah is the abolition of rebellion against G–d. It is clear that other religions, which reject Torah in one way or another, constitute rebellion against G–d and His Word. Although it is likely counter-productive to attempt to abolish this rebellion through a "frontal attack" of outright condemnation, the desire to avoid doing so does not justify uttering a falsehood. Declaring that Chanukah itself represents some sort of endorsement of the legitimacy of other religions, or using any similar language, G-d forbid, is a hideous distortion of Chanukah into its diametric opposite.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Why Won't Chabad Support Some Worthy Causes?

The Rebbe writes:
Our Rebbeim, the Nesi’im [of Chabad] ordered that they [Chabad chassidim, in particular communal activists in Eretz Yisroel] distance themselves as much as possible from any form of support for a political party, regardless of which party, even the best one.

They also explained the reason behind this command in writing, and to a further degree orally: Our role is to be in the midst of the Jewish people in general in order to disseminate Jewish observance, and its inner dimension, to disseminate the teachings of Chassidus, in a way that one reaches even those who are still on the “outside.”

Thus, we are duty-bound to stay as far away as possible from anything that is liable to diminish the opportunity for this dissemination. This is so much so that if one harbors doubt, even a remote doubt [that one’s actions might detract from one’s ability to spread Chassidus], one should follow the strict path.

Igros Kodesh, Vol. 19, p. 251.
I often hear it said: “A Lubavitcher chossid should not act in such and such a way because it will cause a chillul Hashem, and this will make those who observe or hear about this conduct less inclined to learn about Torah and Mitzvos in general and Chassidus in particular from chassidim.”

However, the above letter takes this a step further. The Rebbe is not saying that the Chabad movement should not openly affiliate with a political party because politicians are notoriously untrustworthy, or because most parties put forth platforms that contain principles somehow not consistent with Torah, or the like. Even if every politician in the party were scrupulously honest, and every part of the platform would be consistent with Torah and even with the teachings of Chassidus (unlikely as this may be), it would still be unacceptable for the Chabad movement to use its influence to promote this party, to in anyway participate in promoting the party, or even to publically endorse the party.

The reason for this is that some people who strongly identify with another party will then choose not to want to have anything to do with the Chabad movement and its teachings, because their affiliation with their own political group makes them unwilling to associate with those who support a rival group.

However, by maintaining a distance from such an affiliation, Lubavitchers can rightly say: “We are not only here to serve those who affiliate with a certain party—we are here to serve every single Jew.”

If we should be so careful in our public conduct that sometimes, in the interest of pursuing the goal of our movement, we should refrain from supporting otherwise worthy causes, all the more so should we be ever vigilant not to behave in any way inappropriately.