The Power of Chabad

I have a son approaching Bar Mitzvah age, which means he will be needing Tefillin shortly. My mother mentioned that her grandfather’s old Tefillin were in a package in a basement. I had never known of them before, but as you can imagine was excited to learn that they existed. Well… when I opened the bag my wife and I were dismayed. The batim, the boxes, were green. Mold green. We thought that after years in a wet basement, all was lost.

When I opened them, however, I got a surprise in the opposite direction. Not only were the parshiyos (the written parchments) in decent condition, but the writing was truly beautiful. I showed them to an expert sofer, who restored them. They are perhaps 150 years old, and the writing, he said, was only used by a pretty elite group. The batim were constructed from multiple pieces of leather, which we wouldn’t use today with such fine parchments. But what we found inside them were hidden gems. “He spent his money on the writing,” said the sofer. And who knows… what spiritual impact might have been felt from that level of sacrifice for the sake of a Mitzvah, four generations later?

The parshiyos are written in the Ksav, the font, attributed to the Alter Rebbe of Lubavitch.

When I read the responses to my earlier post, “A Hopeful Sign for Chabad?“, I was extremely pleased to see the fiery denunciation of the ‘Meshichist’ wing from commenters who identify with Lubavitch. I think a tad more forbearance is appropriate towards those other commenters who previously encountered opinions similar to Eli Soble’s from far more prominent figures within the movement. The fact that the JPost found no one better known than Soble to voice this tripe is a hopeful sign, but we cannot pretend that it has always been so.

The marginalization of the Meshichist viewpoint must be repeated until it is no longer espoused not merely in public, not merely in private conversation, but in the hearts of all ma’aminim, those faithful to Torah. Because, at the same time, Lubavitch has a long and distinguished Chassidic line, and thousands upon thousands of people willing to be moser nefesh, to give up their very lives, on behalf of all Jews and, indeed, all humanity.

Two newspaper articles, both published today, are good examples, and Rabbi Adlerstein deserves the credit for pointing them out. One is in the New York Times, the other the Concord Monitor, and both represent a Kiddush HaShem. Both of the gentlemen featured are Ba’alei Teshuva who found their way home via Lubavitch. Both have careers in the secular community. Both are unafraid to be who they are, beards, black hats, and all, in very foreign environments. And both have bridged the divide with great success.

Chabad shluchim are creating these types of success stories every day. There’s much to learn from them, and much that could be accomplished with more unity.

Frankly, there’s a divide to be bridged within the Orthodox world. Yes, the Yechi-niks are far too numerous, and far too visible. Yes, in Lubavitch there is a school of thought that other frum Jews have to be brought into Chabad. There are those who give their time, energy and money only to Lubavitch, who quote only Lubavitcher Rebbes, etc., etc., etc. The relationship has been rocky, and to a large extent that must be attributed to Lubavitchers rather than those who have criticized them. There is far too much of this to be dismissed as “the enmity of centuries of Misnahgdim.” There are serious issues here, and you certainly don’t see this sort of criticism leveled against Bobov, Stolin, Satmar, Ger, or any other Chassidic group. My aforementioned son is named after my wife’s grandfather, who was a Belzer Chossid, descended from the Noam Elimelech via the Dinover Rebbe. We all have our own parochial hang-ups, but you don’t find any similar level of friction between Belzers and Litvaks.

I would put it this way: there is mold on the outside. The public displays of the Meshichistin and these other issues stain the image of Lubavitch. The gems are less visible, less obvious, hidden inside. Having heard only positive things about Rabbis such as Dovid Eliezrie (and those positive things, quite frequently) one can only say keyn yirbu — may Rabbis such as he increase both in number and in influence.

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57 Responses

  1. bag says:

    “1) Yes the Shulchan Oruch HaRav is a major acharon, but he’s not the only one and the halachah is sometimes not like he says. Is Chabad prepared to acknowledge that?”

    I am not Chabad. Nonetheless, I don’t know what you are talking about. All Poland followed SAHarav! The litvishe followed the Chayei Adam, and subsequently the Aruch hashulchan and Mishna Brura. The talmidim of the SAHarav (lubavitchers) and others who have always followed SAHarav (various Polish chassidim) can continue to follow him! Different communities will follow somewhat different poskim and this is how it always was, and how it should be.

    “Perhaps I wasn’t clear but I do feel my comments are entirely fair. For a Lubavitcher, if the Shulchan Aruch says “A” and another source says “B”, then the halachah is “A” for everyone, even non-Lubavitchers.”

    This has nothing to do with Lubavitch. For example, I was once in the sukkah in an apartment building and a chassidishe guy came over to an Oberlander and said “who eats in the sukkah shmini atzeres? Not heimishe yidden!” The Oberlander said, the gemara says to eat shmini atzeres! The chassidische guy was stunned to learn that it’s the minhag not to eat that requires justification, if any minhag does. He had no idea. I have encountered the concept that it’s not “heimish” to eat in the sukkah on SA from others too.
    I guarantee that there are litvishe who think that “the halacha” is what the MB says and will tells others, who may be following the Aruch Hashulchan or the SAHarav what they’ve learned in MB. This is parochialism, nothing else.
    Not everyone is going to be expert in all halacha seforim – halvei everyone who follows SAHarav knew all SAHarav, those who follow MB were experts in MB, etc

  2. Asher Heber says:

    “PLEASE, correct me if I am wrong and I apologize up front if there are actually large numbers of Menachem Mendels of which I am not aware”.
    Comment by Michoel

    Oich mer an avlah! Have we reached the point where we can’t find a worse complaint about Chabad?
    If you walk into any Lubavitcher Chinuch Mosad and call out the name “MENACHEM MENDELLLLl….” you will have hundreds of children responding to your call.I have three grandchildren with that name which can be a quite a cause of confusion when the whole family gets together on rare occasions.I say rare because all my children are shluchim.Some in the farthest reaches of the world. So yes I am correcting you. Apology accepted.

  3. Peleg Strauss says:

    In my experience, I have also bumped into people who bash Chabad.

    First, just to clarify things, I am not Lubavitch, but I daven in a Chabad shule and I have hung around with them, off and on, for decades.

    Now, I listen to their anti- rantings, and then I ask, what is their personal experience with Lubavitchers? Do they know any very well? Often the answer is, “No”. I then point out the weakness of their position because they are only recounting lashon hara. It usually doesn’t matter and I just stop responding and listen, as I don’t think I’m going to accomplish anything positive by argueing.

    Sure, Lubavitchers ain’t perfect. They certainly are big fans of their mesora, and their rebbe, maybe too much. But I like to look at the good side of person. We all have our flaws. If we were only judged by our flaws, we could all be deemed rashoim. When I was looking to get married, when I was asked what I was looking for in a wife, about the only requirement I had was that I was looking for someone who could love me in spite of my flaws.

    I love Chabad in spite of their flaws. I love the YU folks in spite of their flaws. We are all Klal Yisroel, and we owe each other no less. And part of that love is respect, and civil discourse and disagreement.

    One unique strength of Chabad that I rarely if ever hear mentioned is their Ahavas Yisroel. They are about as good as it gets in this regard. I think Moishe himself would find them admirable in this regard. Think of it. Who goes voluntarily to the most inhospitable places in the world just to take care of other Jews? And it’s not a hobby, like it is for so many of us, but a life dedicated to such persuits. Sure, there are others who do it. They set up shop in such terrible places as Brooklyn, Baltimore, Cleveland, LA. You don’t find Aish branches in places like small-town campuses. Not that I fault Aish, they do valuable work, it’s just that there is meserash nefesh, and then there is meserash nefesh.

    I also get really upset when I see these Rebbe-Moshiah banners and signs all over the place. It’s not that I really care what a guy’s personal religious beliefs are. That is a matter between him and Hashem, and it’s none of my business. However, the Rebbe dedicated a major part of his life to building a movement with one purpose – to bring Jews back. In my eyes, that is enough reason to hold him in the highest esteem. If you want to throw in his learning and other wonderful character traits, it only adds to the honor that he deserves. And until his death, I don’t think I recall any serious objections to the Rebbe. But now, these M’s, perhaps with the best intentions, but misguided nevertheless, are, by their actions, causing this great man to be subjected to insults and dishonor, and I can’t forgive them for that — and I’m not even a Lubavitcher!!!

    One reason I hang out so much with with Chabad is, even if you want to say that they are stuck with their own siddur and Shulchan Aruch and customs, is that I have never known a place where someone with a different derech can feel as welcome and accepted. Ever notice how a Chabad shule tends to attact a rather motely crowd of social misfits and weird-o’s? It drives a lot of people away from such minyans. But that’s a big mistake. Think about why such lost souls find a place among Chabad. It seems to me that Chabad will accept, even love them, and take care of them, when others won’t. What does that say about their inner essence? Isn’t that how we are supposed to treat other Jews? How come only Chabad is famous for it? Shouldn’t all shules aspire to be a haven for the outcasts and rejects?

    And in some ways, it depends on how you look at these outcasts and social rejects. I’ve noticed that they are often some of the finest people around. Sure, they don’t have much fashion-sense. They don’t seem to care about such nonsense. They are not objectionable if you only realize that they are not concerned about the externialities and facade that so many of us erect around ourselves. They are often kind, sensitive, caring individuals. Rough diamonds, perhaps. Often full of midos that we can aspire to. But because they don’t dress nice, a lot of people are afraid to get close to them. Pity.

    In the end, I choose to surround myself with people of uncommon character. I look around my shule, at the Lubavitchers and the hangers-on, and I am happy and satisfied. I’ve found a place where some of the finest Erlich Yidden congregate and I want to be among the finest.

    (click) Rant Off

  4. Michoel says:

    I think someone mentioned on the previous Chabad thread that seeing the values conveyed to the children is a good way to know where the heart of a society is. I had a related thought, also connected to the subject of distinct customs.

    Lubavitchers share with Klal Yisrael the custom of naming children after their manhigim and tzadikim. Witness, the many Shneur Zalmans and Dov Bers in Chabad communities. I would like to know how many Menachem Mendels there are amongst the non-meshichist Lubavitchers. In Satmar, a very large percentage of men in the 26-27 age group are named Yoel, as nearly every family that had a boy soon after the Rebbe’s perira chose that name, unless they had an actual chiyuv. We would expect to find the same in Chabad. Please correct me if I am wrong, but there are actually very few Menachem Mendels. If so, we could take this a strong indication of a lack of sincerity amongst the so called non-meshichists.

    PLEASE, correct me if I am wrong and I apologize up front if there are actually large numbers of Menachem Mendels of which I am not aware.

  5. Ori says:

    May I add a thought here?

    One of the common complaints against Chabad here is that they change the Mesorah, the traditions of the Jewish people. Never having received most of the Mesorah myself I am not competent to have an opinion on that.

    What I do know, however, is that different environments require different customs. Take for example candle lighting at an Orthodox family. The father just got back from synagogue. The mother worked hard all day to prepare for Shabbat. The table is set, and soon the mother will light the candles, the father will do Kiddush, and then the family will all eat together. Shabbat is and have always been a meaningful part of their lives. There is no reason for the six years old daughter to light her own candles.

    Take the same situation at an assimilated family. The father is sitting in front of the computer or the TV. The mother is microwaving some TV dinners for the kids. The parents know that this is Shabbat, but it doesn’t mean much for them.

    In this environment, it is very useful to have the six year old daughter remember how much she enjoys lighting candles and ask her parents to let her do that. This is the environment where Chabad is trying to inject Judaism, and therefore it makes sense for Chabad to say it’s good for six year old girls to light candles. I wonder how many Chabad customs are different for that reason.

    Shabbat Shalom / Shavua Tov, depending on when you read this.

  6. Yaakov says:

    Unfortunately I am not surprised by the virulent “chabad-bashers” that keep rearing their heads whenever the terms “Chabad” or “Lubavitch” appear on the screen. There is an old saying that for the believer there are no questions and for the skeptic there are no answers. No point arguing with them, for nothing (regardless how well reasoned or documented) will divert them from their blind bias. What is upsetting, however, is the crude ignorance and falsehoods in their posts.
    Take post 20: “I challenge anybody to go to any Chabad shul and find any Siddur besides an Ari siddur. Every other shul in the world has every nusach etc. even if they daven a different one.” This is a blatant (two-fold) lie as is easily verifiable by facts. At least 75% of Chabad Shuhls have a variety of sidurim with different nuscho’os, even though the official nusach is Arizal and therefore the majority of sidurim reflct this. On the other hand, in 75% of “every other shul” you will not find sidurim differing from their nusach (unless someone fro a differing nusach davening there leaves his sidur there for convenience).
    He continues: “Every person in the world would use something other poskim said was ok even if those poskim were from a different community if the necessity was great, example a Mikva. Why will Chabad only use Bor Al Gabei Bor and if they come into a town immediately change the Mikvah?”
    Again a lie. Lots of Chabadniks will and do use a mikveh that is not bor al gabei bor if there is no alternative. When they build a mikveh, they would build bor al gabei bor because that is the most ideal form of mikveh not only according to Chabad but also according to numerous non-Chabad poskim. In fact, very often Chabad builds mikvaot that have bor al gabei bor and simultaneously an additional bor adjacent to mikveh to accommodate all views.

    Post 45 writes: “the tzitzis are different , need a gartel around tzitzis, seder habrochos, nusach hatefilah, atifas hatalis, tallis itself, hanochas hatifilen, the ksav (w/is kineged the psak of the Admor hazokein -as mentioned in igros moshe) , kesher batim, seder kadeshim,hagboh, wearing of gartel only for married… amiras tehillim for elul -a kabolo claimed in name of BESH”T , that no other chasidim have, silichos are different.
    sukah -not sleeping in it” et cetera ad nauseam.

    I challenge benshaul to find a single one of these “minhagim” that are not either me’ikkar halachah or well-founded in halachah, or at least in hidur mitzvah! Moreover, I challenge him to find a single one of these that is not practiced by some others as well for these very reasons.
    By the same token, I challenge him to find a single “other” group that does not have its own customs and practices. And this applies not only to differing Chassidic groups ( just look at the plethora of published anthologies of unique minhagim in differing dynasties – Tzans, Rizhin, Koidenov, Spinka, Karlin, Munkatch, Zyditchov etc. etc.). The only difference may be that in the other groups these are followed by “beis horav” and those close to them – even as it used to be in Chabad before these minhogim were published and discussed by their Rabeyim.

    For that matter, different Sefardic communities have altogether differing customs. Likewise with non-Chassidic Ashkenazim. The minhagei Hagro differed radically from the norm and were/are followed only by the “perushim”, the close circle of the Gra’s disciples and their descendants. Nowadays you also have the published practices and customs followed by the disciples of the Chazon Ish and the Steipler. The Chazon Ish’s she’urim etc. are a revolutionary change from universal norms. And then, of course, you have the unique practices of Brisk, and the list goes on and on.
    In the eyes of these critics/skeptics, however, “only” Chabad his diverged from “klal Yisroel” with its minhagim, and therefore must be condemned! The facts speak for themselves, so go and open your eyes for a change.

  7. concerned Yid says:

    These post may not have settled the question of who is or isnt Moshiach but they have sadly, demonstrated very clearly why he is NOT here