Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Myth #2: Lubavitchers Change Peoples' Lives

"Excuse me, are you Jewish?" and two seconds later, a bearded man is
attempting to wrap leather strands around Mark's tattooed arm.

Mark's inner battle rages. He's being pulled in an unexplainable way,
yet the world has implanted wild questions and hesitations in his

He finds himself saying, "Wait a second...listen, man. Yea, I'm
Jewish....but, I'm really just a midtown punk. I never do anything
Jewish, let alone put on Tefillin. I'd feel like a hypocrite doing
this stuff...saying a blessing and all that. And besides, I'm not so
sure I want to change anyways..."

Flashback to a Sunday in Crown Heights.

A Shliach approaches the Rebbe.

"Rebbe" he says, "everyday, I stand outside the college asking Jewish
students to put on Tefillin. All too often, I get people who say they
don't want to be a hypocrite...that they never put on Tefillin, so
'who am I to stop and put it on today?'. How can I assure these young
men? How should I respond?"

In one passing yet packed 770 moment, the Rebbe defined the Jewish
soul with his enlightening response: "Tell these young men that today
is the day they start being true, and that all the OTHER days, the
days they DON'T put on Tefillin, THAT'S when they're being a

What the Rebbe was saying is that every Jew is meant to do Mitzvos.
And not just that, but that Mitzvos are actually imprinted on each
soul, and the soul senses deep hypocrisy when the person changes
things around.

Lubavitchers don't change peoples lives. LIFE changes peoples' lives.
And then a strange looking bearded man comes along and says, "Stop
trying to be something that you're not. Stop trying to change. Stop
twisting your soul and ignoring the way you really are deep down.
Here, put on Tefillin".

After Mark graduates college with a Jewish fiance and a growing beard,
he thanks his Rabbi for changing his life and his Rabbi responds "No,
Mark. I didn't change your life. In fact, I didn't do anything! You
did one Mitzva and life naturally started to un-change before your
eyes. Why? Because it was all inside of you, waiting to be revealed.
You stretched out your arm and your inner temple woke up."

A Lubavitcher doesn't have to open up a "outreach agency" to get
people to do more Mitzvos. He doesn't have to print brochures on 'why
it's good to do Mitzvos', nor create attractive banners to entice
people. He doesn't have to make the High Holiday services shorter to
make it easier for "the irreligious". A Lubavitcher doesn't dread
giving a class on mikvah or covering hair - she doesn't believe that a
Jewish soul can truly find any Mitzva ridiculous.

Simply put, a Lubavitcher doesn't have to invest any aggressive energy
into convincing people, into changing people.

Why? Because a Lubavitcher understands that it's in every Jewish nature
to do Mitzvos. There's no such thing as convincing or changing when it
comes to a soul. And that's the level a Lubavitcher lives on. A
Lubavitcher believes in the Jewish people, the Jewish soul. A
Lubavitcher understands that it's the world that often changes people,
and it's only a matter of small acts to reveal another's' essence, to
do some "un-changing".

When a Lubavitcher wraps Tefillin around the arm of a "midtown punk"
Jew, he is unwinding years of soul hypocrisy. He's not changing

Lubavitchers are the ultimate restorers. They dissect the world,
resurrect souls, and bring assimilation to it's knees.

And they do it all without changing a thing.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Myth #1: Lubavitchers wear black hats

I used to think that Lubavitchers wore black hats.

Being in Tzfas and witnessing one of the world's most lively and
cohesive bunch of Lubavitchers, I have changed my mind. It's become
pretty clear to me that Lubavitchers definitely DO NOT wear black

Because a Lubavitcher doesn't wear a black hat, he doesn't have to get
it cleaned by a professional. Nor does he have to always put it in a
special place when he comes home everyday. When a Lubavitcher travels,
he doesn't have to bring his hat box. For what hat?

Because a Lubavitcher doesn't wear a black hat, he doesn't have to buy
a hat cover for when it rains. You won't see a Lubavitcher with a
plastic bag over his hat. Why? Because he's not wearing one! Pouring
rain can't change that.

Because a Lubavitcher doesn't wear a black hat, he never asks "Oh, is
this going to be a hat function?".

Because a Lubavitcher doesn't wear a black hat, a Shadchan will rarely
be caught asking "Does he wear a black hat?" and if the Shadchan DOES
let it slip, she'll probably get a response like "What do you mean?".

Because a Lubavitcher doesn't wear a black hat, it's not on any dating
girls list of 'things to look for" in a guy.

Because a Lubavitcher doesn't wear a black hat, a teacher from the
Yeshiva will not see his student out of class and interrogate him as
to why he's not wearing one.

Because a Lubavitcher doesn't wear a black hat, he doesn't have to take it off if he is enjoying a
cigarette, hanging out with girls, or dancing to non-Jewish music. He doesn't have two personalities - the "hat me" and the "non-hat me".

I have noticed a few exceptions, some rare occasions when a
Lubavitcher actually DOES wear a black hat.

When a Lubavitcher finds himself davening Mincha with a diverse group
of people, he sees someone not wearing a head covering. All of a
sudden, he thinks "Hey, I'm wearing a hat!", takes it off, and places
it on his hatless fellow Jew.

A Lubavitcher also wears a black hat when he is taking pictures in the
President's Oval Office. The President will say something like "You
know, you can take your hat off" and the Lubavitcher will respond,
"What? My hat? Oh, that's okay. Thank you, Mr. President, but I think
I'll keep it on."

A Lubavitcher realizes he is wearing a hat when he is on the street
helping people put on Tefillin and someone asks him "Why do you Jews
always wear black hats? Do you all think you're Rabbis or something?"
The Lubavitcher touches his hat, goes "oh, this thing?" and explains
to his new friend that the hat has nothing to do with any sort of
religious level, and one should never make that mistake. He then
places the hat on the boy and helps him with the tefillin.

A Lubavitcher can refer to other people as "black hatters" without
confusing people. When the term "black hatter" is used, everyone knows
they're not talking about Lubavitchers.

Why? Because there are people who wear black hats and there are people
who wear black hats.

And Lubavitchers? Well, they just don't wear black hats.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Bring your faults along, my fellow Jew!*

To love your fellow Jew.

Why the struggle?

Simply, because we see the faults in other people.

Loving another Jew often seems beyond our means because it's hard to fully accept and love another when we so visibly see their faults. However, people who seem good in our eyes - well, they are easy to love. There's no challenge there.

So what do we do with the challenge of loving another Jew while seeing their faults? How can we rise above...?

There are different levels of approaching the faults in others as it relates to loving a fellow Jew.

The first, portrayed by Reb Zusha, is unnatainable by us.

Reb Zusha was aware of the hardship involved in loving other Jews. So what did he do? He begged G-d to take away his ability to see people's faults. He recognized percieving others' faults as a huge barrier, and he couldn't deal, couldn't tolerate it. So G-d fulfilled his request and he lived the remainder of his life totally blind to the faults of others. In a sense, everyone became perfect to him. And the love flowed.

Then there is the Berditchiver Rebbe.

The Berditchiver was able to reach a level where he witnessed faults in other people and turned them into actual virtues. For instance, the famous story where he saw a Jew smoking a ciggarette on Shabbos. The Berditchiver assumed that this man forgot it was Shabbos. When the man informed him that he in fact DID know it was Shabbos, the Berditchiver turned to G-d and said "See, G-d, how honest are your people!". When a 99 year-old women in his community decided, on her deathbed, to "convert" to Christianity he proclaimed "Look how she managed to hold off for so many years!" So the Berditchiver lived a life constantly choosing to turn others' faults into virtues.

And then along came the Baal Shem Tov.

The Baal Shem Tov didn't even try to remove himself from seeing other peoples' faults. In fact, he actually engaged them. He simply loved people IN SPITE of their downfalls - not because they didn't have them. His approach was "why do we have to turn everyone into a Tzaddik to love them?!". What kind of a joke is that? I can find love for you without blocking out your faults. So the Baal Shem Tov had no internal struggle, no fiery need to downplay or erase the wrong within his fellow Jew. And it wasn't his job anyway. Who am I to interfere? This is supposed to be a love without conditions - why bring your faults into this?


So, unlike Reb Zusha, we are not able to blind ourselves to the faults in others.

And yet, we are commanded to love each other.

The Baal Shem Tov insisted that one doesn't have to be in a cloud about another's faults to accept and love him.

When I imagine a world where every single person internalized this approach, a see light and power and sanctity and action and beauty and a strong and limitless forward motion.

And it all starts with you and me.

*[Rabbi Friedman's "Chassidic Insights" class this morning. We're discussing the Tzemach Tzedek's 'Derech Mitzvosecha'. To describe it as "enlightening" would be an insulting underestimation.]

Monday, January 16, 2006

Letter to a Brother: Right under your feet


It is only because I am too self-conscious in the Internet room that
I'm not spilling out tears listening to Matisyahu's "Wandering Through
This World".

"Many names for one G-d..."

"Singing to their Ta to rebuild the Temple...."

"Wandering through this world..."

"Break down this concealment..."

My breathing is hurried.

Major stuff is happening, my brother. The whole world is not only
OPEN, but actually preparing for a time when our own perception will
no longer limit us from understanding and receiving great amounts of
revelation. The world is beautifully exploding beneath our feet. We
just gottta tune in, gotta tune in...

I hope that wherever you are - physically and spiritually - that
you're able to feel and sense the light that's on it's way, rushing
past the mountains on high, totally ready to break the contraction and
reveal. `

It's booming, crashing, turning it all upside down and right side up...

...right under your feet.

You're strongly in my thoughts.

I can't wait to sing and dance when it all breaks loose.


Tuesday, January 10, 2006

A Calm Rush

November 29th 2005

I finally have my ticket. I am leaving in four days.
That's it - four days.

It's funny. After waiting and waiting around, so desperate to go, I actually have the date and...now I am wishing I had more time. It seems like I always either have too much time, or too little. But, I guess we all have these sort of love-hate relationships with the tick-tock in our lives, right?

When I called to tell my brother Saadya that I finally got my ticket to Israel, he told me that he sensed something new in my voice - a certain excitement. Meanwhile, I was hearing excitement in HIS voice, and the reality hit. I thought "Some one else is in on this with me, its real" - sort of like in the movies when the kid sees a ghost and has to call his friend over to make sure its real, that he's not just seeing things. Well, I guess that's what Saadya's excitement did for me. After talking to him, the first person I called to tell, everything felt calm. But I dunno, shouldn't I be going crazy? Stressed? Nervous? Rushing a little?

Afterall, I've got only four days.

But nope. I'm sitting here rambling away on the computer while an empty suitcase sits idly on my bed, waiting for me.


Which reminds me! I have an empty suitcase sitting idly on my bed waiting for me.

Gotta go start packing!

Mixed Feelings and Clarity

November 28th 2005

So I’m leaving for Israel soon.
How soon? Finally booking a ticket will tell, but it’s for sure within the next coupls of weeks, and I am so ready.

I am ready for cobblestone.
I am ready for tense deeply-felt politics.
I am ready for the Friday rush.
I am ready to be cheated of my money.
I am ready for the Chanukah buzz.
I am ready for no strangers.
I am ready for near misses in a taxi.
I am ready for peoples’ stories.
I am ready for water filters.
I am ready for true hospitality.
I am ready for the bus to come.
I am ready for my brothers and sisters.
I am ready to go home.
I am ready for Israel.

I thought this could all end here. I am ready. I am ready. I am ready. But, reading that over, I am realizing it all came out so strong and sure, when really I am harboring such nervous, edgy – even fearful - feelings. I’m thinking.

I am thinking about riding taxi’s alone.
I am thinking about making Shabbos plans.
I am thinking about money.
I am thinking about calling cards.
I am thinking about the highs and lows of inspiration.
I am thinking about a thin mattress.
I am thinking about getting sick.
I am thinking about expectations.
I am thinking about rules.
I am even thinking about laundry.

Why am I thinking of these petty things? This is ridiculous.
I know that I have no memories of being in Israel and being afraid.
I know that I have goals. Goals unlike any I’ve ever had, that I am thrilled and anxious to pursue. I know I love the streets, the mountains, and the people where I will live.
I don’t care about a thin mattress, and I for sure know how to take care of my laundry.

Why am I so scared? I mean, come on. I’ve done this Israel thing before!

Oh man, okay… that’s it right there. I know what’s scaring me.

I’ve done “this Israel thing” before, yes. But this time around, I don’t want it to be “this Israel thing”. I want it to be different. Much different.

And it’s all in my hands.

Right now, where I stand in life, I have one thing to chase. And you know what? I’m certain I can befriend those fears that will accompany me on the ride.

And that’s what I have to keep telling myself.

So, yes - I am ready.

Let’s get me out of here.

I want to go home.