Thursday, June 29, 2006

The Rebbe Unplugged

Click here to see my thoughts on Gimmel Tammuz -
the 12th anniversary of the Rebbe's passing.

[More soon ]

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Myth #4: Chabad is Orthodox

Unorthadoxy on Wheels

1. Orthodox
a. Adhering to what is commonly accepted, customary, or traditional.
b. Adhering to the accepted or traditional and established faith, especially in religion.


We all throw around labels so casually, rarely stopping to consider or examine the truth and depth of our language. Oftentimes, the words we pair together to form an idea are so far from being true, that they are almost a lie.

If you would pair together the words Chabad and Orthodox, you would get such a lie.
On the outside, Chabad wears the beard and garb of your ever so traditional Jewish neighbor. But if you take a closer look, you will see the truth. Chabad is about as unorthodox as Judaism gets.

Chabad’s roots are proof of an inherent unorthodox mindset. To fierce protests, the Chabad philosophy was born. The Alter Rebbe and the Previous Rebbe were both revolutionaries, ripping through the mainstream and traditional thought of their times. Up against all of so-called-normative-Judaism, they broke down the walls of the elite in Judaism, refused honor, insisted that Judaism be taught to all Jews, and were successful in bringing a shattered Judaism to its feet. They changed the future of Judaism through song and dance, teaching, publications, a lot of resilience, and, of course - some jail time.

One must stop to think, “It wasn’t so orthodox of them.”

But, that’s the thing. Chabad just isn’t orthodox. And it never has been.


The Rebbe spoke in front of thousands of people, and wasn’t afraid to be on the radio or television.

That isn’t so orthodox.

Young men in the streets, helping other Jewish men put on Tefillin.

That isn’t so orthodox.

Breaking through government laws to put up menorahs, construct mikvahs, and build Shuls.

That isn’t so orthodox.

Meeting with Presidents and Prime Ministers to change their views.

That isn’t so orthodox.

Living in the most remote places on earth, all for another Jew.

That isn’t so orthodox.

Running the world’s largest Jewish website, to 60,000 clicks a day.

That isn’t so orthodox.

Actively insisting that non-Jews, too, have a place and purpose.

That isn't so orthodox.

Matisyahu shouting "Moshiach now!" to a crowded club.

That isn’t so orthodox.

Consistently showing that, through Torah, one can “live with the times.”

That isn’t so orthodox.

The list can go on and on.

There just isn’t anything so orthodox about Chabad.


When analyzing the behavior of the Chabad populace, one begins to wonder exactly when they will start sporting spiked hair, and listening to punk music.

Look at any Chabad piece of literature, and you are looking at a representation of a change in a society, an uprising, a protest.

Without really trying, without raising a fist, all Chabad Rebbeim campaigned against mainstream Judaism.

They were protesters.

They were revolutionaries.

They were radicals.

A seemingly righteous title means nothing to a Chabadnik. They would be surprised and even insulted to be called orthodox, for the title only does a disservice to the truth of what Chabad means for the world.

Chabad has re-introduced many things into mainstream Judaism, like hanging up pictures of Tzaddikim and hitting the streets to help other Jews. But once these things become “normal” or “mainstream”, Chabad has something new with which to scare orthodoxy.

Thanks to Chabad, the rest of the world is starting to become a little less orthodox.

If anyone ever tells you that Chabad is going off the normative path of Judaism, there’s only one response.

Just smile.

Then nod.

Then say, “It was never on that path to begin with.”

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Chabad, the Rebbe, my Grandmother, and the False Exile.

Every week, my e-mail inbox is bombarded with Torah thoughts and Parsha lessons from every place, school, or philosophy I have ever been somewhat connected with. There's too many to read, and the fact that I don't relate to – or even know – the sender is not motivating. However, since I feel a sense of guilt in canceling subscriptions to Torah-inspired e-mails…I just delete most of them.

Usually, that is.

Three Torah portions ago was Parshas Nasso, one of the portions that falls out differently then it does in Israel. I happened to open up an e-mail from an old teacher and started to read. It only took two lines for something she said to make my insides jump.

It was what she wrote in passing, in one short sentence that went as follows:

"The Parsha this week (for those of us out in Galus) discusses two major topics…"

Oh, the parentheses. Always subtle, but so present - so thought out. Referring to her fellow Americans, she said, "for those of us out in Galus." Her skewed message was so confident and natural. It not only wore the signs of something that's never been argued before, but something which she has reason to assume will be agreed upon by her many e-mail recipients.

Her passing and almost joke-like (but totally unfunny) message was: People who live in Israel are released from the bounds of Galus, while America is in a state of Exile.

The attitude is not new to me. It's been expressed to my squirming intuition many times before. But here it was – in writing.

The attitude that America means Exile (and Israel means Moshiach) is destructive at best.

This attitude is why seminary girls come home and get depressed and hate their families and struggle and struggle with their "post-sem"Yiddishkeit; because some respectable teacher told them they were leaving Moshiach and going back to Galus. This attitude is why many Jewish Americans turn down the need for expansion and action; because some "kiruv organization", "gadol", or "religious Jew" told them that they, their efforts and deeds, are only useful, whole, and holy in Israel. This attitude is why some people are afraid or don't care to go to Israel; because they see people come back with a cynical, warped, and ugly eye towards the rest of G-d's world.


Although I can't say that my love for Israel is always outward or totally consistent, I most certainly try, and I definitely value the connection.

But, to me, the unholy and broken in Israel is a huge violation – it hits hard. The slightest betrayal and violation of her inherit sanctity is so poignant, so huge, so corrupt.

American is no competition, even if it seems to try. It's never going to, in its ideal, be as holy as Israel. So, we don't expect as much.

So where is the Exile bigger? Where is there more being buried, trapped and unexpressed?

I can tell you for sure. It's not America.

It's Israel that needs our tears, our firm fist. Not our comfort or our holy high seat.

People continue to insult Israel by insisting that she is at her prime. I spent two school years in Israel - living, learning, and loving every moment. To write any additional words on Israel's potential for holiness would be foolish. We all feel it when we're there. And yet, I really hope that the reality in Israel today is in no way a paradigm for Moshiach.

When contemplating on a time when true and full holiness is restored to our land, we shouldn't even be able to imagine. We should only be forced into action. We should not be fooled. We should not be blind.

Ironically, it's mostly the Lubavitchers – who are known to "obsess" over Moshiach - that I have seen working tirelessly in Israel to educate, connect, and fix a broken existence in Israel. They have not been disenchanted into believing they are enjoying the benefits of a redeemed Israel. For the most part, they don't live or stay in closed-in communities that allow for that.

Calling everywhere but Israel "out in Galus" does not make Israel less exiled. The holier than thou mindset is not doing anything to bring Moshiach.

It's exactly the opposite.

So, come on. Just stop it already.


When I first called my Grandmother upon returning to America, she proclaimed, "My Mimi! You're back in G-d's country!"

Just days after leaving Israel, her words hit me like a brick, and turned my insides to soft mush. "Mimi," she was telling me, "G-d is where you are."

Only Chabad, the Rebbe - and my Grandmother - are teaching a huge lesson that should never have become surprising or controversial.

G-d is where you find him

A connection is where you make it

Exile is where you feed it

Moshiach is where you bring it

Friday, June 16, 2006

The Mission Hotline. Please Hold.

G-d's waiting room

G-d, you'’re too patient.

Why can't it be now? How do you tolerate all this time? I dilly-daddle, and you'’re acting like it'’s all okay.

It'’s not okay.

I don'’t want to waste time anymore. Can you just get me there?

Get me there.
Get me there.
Get me there!

My biggest fear is missing this whole thing.

And I feel like you've put me on hold.

Tell me.

How do you want this to go down?

I only want to do it your way.

I'’ll change my nature, to do it your way.

Do it your way.
Do it your way.
Do it your way.

Answer me.

Do you want me to sit down, and talk quietly to the few?
Do you need me to be loud, and dance like they all do?
Am I missing my mission? Rushing to acheive it?
Should I run with this one? Or maybe, should I leave it?

Does this look good?
Am I doing it right?
How about now?

Where do I look?

Please, do your part.

You put me here.
You put me here.
You put me here.

I need you.

Please, be present.

Enough of these leisurly strolls.

I don't want to be patient anymore.

Let's do this.

Do you hear me?


They say you have a vision of the me that'’s really me.

I want so much to see it, to know how it'’s gonna be.

I'm trying to create it, trying to find my way.

Can you show me? Tell me what you have to say.

I will await your reply.

Please, be quick.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Conversation #2: "That's Good"

(Although the basic back and forth is the same, the following conversation is not verbatim.)

She was having a hard day. We were talking and sharing.

A religious person she knows has hurt her.

She says: You see, this is why I hate institutions. This is why I hate Judaim sometimes.

I hear in her tone that she is expecting me, the outspoken Chabadnik, to be defensive, hard and insensitive to her claim. She's expecting me to stick up for religious people around the world. She is expecting me to turn her feelings to unwarranted nonsense, and to be insulted.

Instead, I say: Me too.

She says: You too?

I say: Yes, I hate institutionalized religion, just like you.

Life has made her distrust such claims coming from identifiably "religious" Jews. So that's where I come in, to shatter a warped perception and show her that I too, "the Lubavitcher," see religious/institutionalized Judaism as the key ingredient to the disintegration of our people. The Judaism that looks like an institution is man-made. It is corrupt in it's refusal to see our nations unity - something we are nothing without.

I say: I strive every day to become less institutionalized.

She says: That's good.

And there ends Conversation #2, a conversation that will resurface and be the basis to a lot of new questions and discoveries.

She is forced to think, and is relieved. People have given her the false impression that being institutionalized is a must to be a good Jew. Her soft, searching, and intuitive soul is relieved to hear my words.

Just as I was, when someone finally told me the same thing.

Chabad has nothing to do with an institution. It forces me to make claims based on my people, my G-d - not based on a sect. I am Chabad, yea, sure, if we must. But the more I learn all this, the less of a robot I become.

The person I spoke to is upset about a Judaism that forgot about the clear focus that came and went for our people. It was a focus hand-fed to us, with clear instructions to get out of slave-mentality, seek truth and freedom, be one with our family, and always choose humility.

It's what happened at Mt. Sinai.

Anytime you get closer to a Jewish group and begin to feel tight, critical, and higher than everyone else - you are probably becoming institutionalized.

Run for your life.

You were not put here to be a robot.

Don't hurt people who don't wear your company's uniform.

G-d is not a corporation.


Look into it.

This has been Conversation #2.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Conversation #1: "Chabad is hard to copy"

(Picture approved by G-d)

(Visiting a non-Chabad seminary, I find myself in a class headed by a small, glasses-wearing, wide-eyed Rabbi. The following conversation is abbreviated, there being much more details, but everything mentioned here is true.)

He introduced the topic by saying, "I would like to discuss the advantages of the Chareidi community over the Modern Orthodox world."

I'm thinking, "Who sits and entertains such distinctions? Does anyone talk about Judaism anymore?"

But that wasn't part of the conversation. The conversation started when....

He said: In order for Chareidi communities to remain G-d fearing and Torah-focused, they must have a certain amount of intolerance to other Jews.

I say: But wait, Torah is one. Do you believe that?

He says: Yes, of course.

I say: G-d asks us to fear him and to learn Torah. He also asks us to love our fellow Jews. Who are you to deny the unity and symmetry - the interconnectedness and harmony - of G-d's commands? G-d asked both. Therefore, we are capable of both.

He says: Yes, but, um, yea, but, well, it seems to be that intolerance is a necessary evil in Torah-true communities.

I say: Necessary evil?

He says: Yea, meaning to say, that you need this intolerance to truly create a Torah community.

I say: But how can you actually have a Torah community with intolerance to other Jews?! Intolerance to other Jews isn't Torah at all!

He says: Well, it seems to be that only the Gedolim can really pull off this balance.

I'm thinking, "Well, all you're gedolim are sitting in secluded neighborhood - what kind of a harmony are they ever asked to strike? And was Torah only given to these so-called Gedolim? Were G-ds commands not meant for the nation? And beyond that, why put all the weight on the Gedolim? Have you tried? Aren't you meant to copy their ways?"

I'm thinking, "This is twisted", but I let him continue his talk to me and the other 5 girls I am only visiting.

When he is done, all the girls thank him and leave. Just like that.

I, the stranger, stay behind.

I say: I'm still confused. Are you saying that G-d's command to be G-d-fearing and Torah learning can't be fulfilled while following out the command to love every Jew?

He says: Um, well, yea - with exception of the Gedolim, yea, aha.

I am bursting. I just have to.

I say: So what do you think about Chabad?

He says: What do you mean?

I say: I mean how they are observant, G-d fearing, learned - all while maintaining a very natural and all-embracing attitude of openness towards all Jews. How do they pull it off?

He says: Well, uh, what you have with Chabad, is uh...something very hard to copy.

I say: But clearly if Chabad does it, it means it's possible. They didn't make it up, or copyright it. It's Torah.

He says: Well, yes, but, they have their losses too. I mean...we (non-Chabad/Litvish folks) definitely have more Talmidei Chachamim.

I suddenly realize I am dealing with an ego.

I say: Well, I guess not everyone in Chabad is struggling to become a Talmid Chacham.

He moves his head and rolls his eyes in an "Okay, fine" sort of way.

And then, there's not much more to say.

Conversation #1 ends here.

After parting ways, I'm left thinking, "Is Chabad the only thing out there that believes Torah is one and true?"


As the next Rabbi gets up to speak to the girls, I hear him begin his speech on the premise that, "Girls, we are all here to be Gedolim!"

And so I'm left there, sitting, marveling at the inconsistencies of a struggling and swaying philosophy that the student - robots dare not notice.


Make your own conclusions.

This has been Conversation #1.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Shavuos: Bringing it in

At the time of its giving, all the birds were silent, so still. Not a hint of interruption, nothing left unfilled. Just a hill, the people, and G-d's booming voice and will.

They say I was there, as a tiny lit up soul. I vowed not to depart, to make his will my whole. A burning cole was my being as I swayed there seeing, G-dliness revealed.

After persecution, a nation was now healed.

It's been a while since, and the gift has remained intact. But where is the burning? Where's is the pact I made? Do I live with this fact still packed into my brain? My heart begs to find.

I have to rewind.

I was there, where it began, and since - have the flames been fanned? Have I banned my flaming trance from the life I lead each day? Could it really go away?

How do I find this ray?

My soul is buried in Torah's hidden side. Only if I reveal it, can we be unified. The fire has not died, it's cry is heard so loud. The Rebbe said, "Expose it, and just don't see the cloud."

It's time to re-commit, and experience the splendor. To become a vehicle, for my mighty heavenly sender. Let the light come inside, let it reside for a while. And then let it explode, put an end to this exile.

Wishing everyone a Kabalas HaTorah BeSimcha UbiPnimius.

- Mimi from the hilltop