Wednesday, February 07, 2007

If you know Aleph

I remember telling my non-Chabad friends of my upcoming plans to go on Shlichus.

They were wide eyed as they listened to my descriptions of joining a Chabad house in a Jewish suburb, teaching Hebrew school, and doing everything in my might to assist in inspiring and guiding a growing Jewish community.

My description was met by shock. Suddenly, I was a rarity in their eyes

"Wow," was the collective response, "You really feel that you can handle that?"

"Don't you have to be married to teach people?"

"So, you're really just gonna go out there and do all that?"

Their reactions and questions were full of surprise and confusion.

I looked back at these girls, and smiled in wonderment over their foreign reaction. They were in their second year of seminary, learning and learning non- stop. They have amassed in their minds hours and hours of Jewish law and philosophy. And yet, even with all their precious learning, they have been dissuaded from believing in a young girls ability to teach? In all their exposure to the greatest and inspiring educators, why has no one tempted them to give their learning to others? Who made them wary of this idea?

I was baffled by their self-estrangement from "my" cause. How is it that the announcement of my future plans leads to the dropped mouths of second-year seminary girls?

My disappointment was very real, and I wanted to react, but their lives were already exploding with the mussar which I felt compelled to give. I was left with only the excitement in my voice to incite their interest in this lifestyle.

In efforts to respond coolly, I said, "Yea, that's what it's about, right?"

But my internal rhythms were adapting to a new sort of culture-shock.

Their seminaries espouse the virtues of the Gedolim, the Torah giants they are meant to look to for inspiration. They recognize and talk about the assimilated, the unexposed, and the seemingly disconnected Jews of our world. And yet, when they hear that a nineteen year old girl decided to devote her year to teaching and helping a community, they are but newborns.

I was so confused, and my outrage was of an almost moral bent.

No one told them that they too have something to offer?

Why hasn't anyone told them that if they know Aleph, they should teach Aleph?

Why hasn't anyone told them that one of the reasons you have a leader, is to arouse within the potential and intrinsic soul capability to guide and affect your surroundings?

I felt myself wishing I could introduce them to the giants I know in Chabad. You know, the just Bar-Mitzvahed boy that hits the streets to teach his nation about Tefillin, or the thousands of children of emissaries who, every week, are explaining the ins-and-outs of Shabbos to their many guests. If only these girls knew there were hundreds of girls my age who just signed themselves to a similar position.

I couldn't help but be a little disappointed that, while a six year old Chabad child is attuned to their expectations and destiny to teach, my non-Chabad friends were astonished by their friend's ambitions.

I left my evening with them pondering this interaction.

Why is there is a world of Judaism out there that is denying my sisters access to a life that is rightfully theirs?


In Chabad, our emphasis on a Rebbe begs us to ask ourselves, "So, who do we teach?" For many people, teaching means a degree. It's something you become. But, for Chabad, while one may never lead an actual classroom, giving over what we know is a natural and living responsibility.

A Chabadnik knows from an early age that teaching is the very blood riding past your bones.

The good news is that the world is catching on. No one was ever truly outside the Rebbe's vision. But, while this idea of reaching out has integrated heavily into most Jewish communities, this world is ransacked with "outreach seminars" and "kiruv step-by-step guides" that push people farther from the main point - that this lifestyle is in their bloodstream. That, at a Jew's most pristine innards, there is a natural outpouring of the desire - no, need - to teach what you know in a real and alive way.

The teacher that bursts forth from within, the capability that can't be ignored, is what happens when you have a Rebbe who tells you that you are the leader - at whatever age, from whatever background. It's what happens when you have a leader who expresses the urgency in guiding our Jewish brothers and sisters. It's what happens when your leader won't let you be comfortable just taking in, but emphasizes the importance of sharing the wealth.


Tonight, I sat in a Chassidus shiur with a group of girls in my age group. At one point, our teacher sought to bring to life a Chassidic concept. He wanted to make it personal, relatable.

He addresses the room of twenty young ladies, and asked, "Are any of you teachers?"

The fact that this was a fair question is symbolic of a world where responsibility towards our nation is a real expectation. His inquiry was not greeted by gasps, discomfort, or eyes staring at a foreign concept. The teacher's assumption had been close to home for many - the inquiry was more than reasonable.

I thought of my friends. I want so badly for them to know that this exists.

Meanwhile, though often I may fail, I can only hope that my small efforts will expand, and run into the larger bloodstream of my people.

As Chof Beis Shvat approaches and masses of women both young and old make their way into Crown Heights alert for inspiration, I hope to embolden my responsibility to teach, inspire, and learn from my fellow Jews.

For, as I once said to my wide eyed friends, "That's what it's about, right?"


Anonymous said...

Please sign the petition to bring gonzo back!!!

chang said...

Some of us are privelaged to catch a glimpse into other classrooms.
Different perspectives...
And then they come back home to share with us.
To let us know it's not like this everywhere.
And remind us not to take anything for granted.

Thank you Mini.