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Rabbis' Blog

How Does Chabad Do It?

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Chabad’s success worldwide is a phenomenon that intrigues scholars, journalists, outreach activists and curious Jews alike. Brandeis University’s Dr. Mark Rosen, an expert on Jewish institutions, who recently completed a study on Chabad on Campus concluded the following: “It defies logic. So there must be some deeper truth that’s escaping our understanding and that our social science skills don’t quite encompass.”

While I certainly believe we are regular people doing extraordinary things, Dr. Rosen might be on to something by saying that his rational mind is not capable of explaining it.

The men and women of Chabad are called Shluchim - emissaries. Our day to day functions can  categorize us as Rabbis, Rebbetzins, fundraisers, activists and social workers, but the title we identify most deeply with is “emissaries” - bearers of a message from the Lubavitcher Rebbe. It is the Rebbe and his message that places the work of Chabad on an entirely different social scale.

In honor of the Shabbat of the 10th of Shevat 1950, the Previous Rebbe published a Chassidic discourse titled “Basi Legani”. The Previous Rebbe passed away that Shabbat morning and the Rebbe, his son-in-law and successor, emphasized that this discourse contains the marching orders for the new generation of Chabad.

Exactly one year later, the Rebbe ceremoniously assumed the mantle of Chabad Lubavitch leadership by reciting an original Chassidic discourse on the same theme as the “Basi Legani” discourse his father-in-law had published a year earlier and continued to do so each year. While the specific topics of the “Basi Legani” discourses changed every year, the opening lesson and its monumental message became the running theme of the Rebbe’s leadership and perhaps the secret of the unprecedented renaissance he unleashed.

The discourse opens with a quote from King Solomon’s Song of Songs (5:1): “I have come to my garden, my sister my bride.” Our sages explain, when the Israelites built the tabernacle in the Sinai Desert and divinity became permanently manifest and revealed in the physical edifice, G-d clarified that this was not a new phenomenon. It was a homecoming. G-d’s presence had been manifest in this physical universe before Adam committed the first sin.

Think about that for a moment. Social science perceives the world as chaotic, corrupt and devoid of divine purpose. A veritable jungle where the weak fail and the mighty prevail. An entity becoming increasingly broken and in need of fixing.

“Basi Legani” proclaims that the original pristine state of our universe is a divine paradise and remains so. All the chaos and corruption, while very real and tragic, are man-made distractions caused by humanity’s obsession with self and survival. While ego and evil are real problems that need to be dealt with, they are not inherent in G-d’s creation. The world and its inhabitants are not faulty. Rather, our perception of it is tainted. And as long as we remain cognizant of this truth, every obstacle can be transformed into a stepping stone to greater heights and every competition can be harnessed to generate more good.

Everyone can be Chabad. I am not referring to the dress code and the like. The Rebbe’s mandate to view the world for what it truly is and to share this idea with others is a gift for anyone willing to embrace it. I encourage you to learn more of the Rebbe’s teachings and to join the team joyfully preparing our world for the imminent era of Moshiach, when peace and prosperity will abound for all.

Click here to learn more about “Basi Legani” 

Freedom Dress Code

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Seder night is a big deal and many dress their finest for the occasion. However, Jewish law is not particular about the Seder dress code. So long as you participate, eat the right amount of Matzah and Marror, drink four cups of wine and retell the story of Exodus – you’re a Passover pro.

The first Seder in history was different. On the eve of the redemption from Egypt the Israelites were commanded to slaughter a lamb, place it blood on the lintel and doorposts of their homes and to eat a roasted piece of the meat together with Matzah and bitter herbs. Additionally, G-d specified how they should dress at this meal: “And this is how you shall eat it: with your waist belted, your shoes on your feet, your staff in your hand, and you shall eat it in haste…”

On the surface, this instruction is simply a practical way of ensuring that they be ready to leave at a moment’s notice. But this is a description of the creation of our nation, recorded in the Torah which serves as a guidebook for eternity. Every detail contains layers of meaning that inform us today how to live a wholesome Jewish life.

A belt is used to organize our clothing - wrapped around the waist which supports the entire body. The first priority is to be organized in your own Judaism. Ensure that you are confident and informed on how a Jew should live and observe Judaism. Balance and cohesion are central to healthy Jewish living.

Shoes allow us to interact with our immediate surroundings without injuring ourselves from the assorted hazards that abound on the ground. Judaism should not be reserved to the privacy of our homes or the religious comfort of the synagogue. Torah lessons and prayer inspiration must be the filter through which we interact with society.

Although the secular world seems hostile to Jewish ideals, by influencing friends, coworkers and neighbors to live a more ethical and moral life inspired by Torah lessons we are less susceptible to being distracted from our own religious commitment. We become an inspiration to others and garner genuine respect and acceptance.

Finally, on a long journey over treacherous terrain, a walking stick becomes essential and enables us to reach places we cannot on our own. Our Jewish imprint must be global, inspiring people we may never meet in a lifetime. Every individual is capable of this and modern technology makes this task more achievable than ever.

Use your social media presence to broadcast Jewish messages. You never know who is reading your post about the latest Torah lesson you learned or viewing the photo of you doing a mitzvah – and its effect can be greater than your wildest imaginations.

These are the components of Jewish freedom: Strengthen your personal observance, inspire your immediate surroundings and take your message to the world.

Suit up quickly because redemption is at hand.

 

Passion is the Key to Redemption

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This week, I offered a Jew the opportunity to do the mitzvah of Tefillin. “Rabbi, I have not worn Tefillin since my Bar Mitzvah,” he responded. “I don’t think it would be proper for me to do so now. I would feel like a hypocrite.”

Our conversation continued on to his past involvements in Judaism and at one point he said, “I’ll see you tomorrow morning with my Tefillin.” The next morning, he wore Tefillin for the first time in seventy years!

Egypt, the ancient superpower that enslaved the Jewish nation and sadistically pursued a program to annihilate them, is called “Mitzrayim” in Hebrew. Understanding the meaning of the name “Mitzrayim” enables us to apply the lessons of the long-ago redemption to our modern 21st century lives.

Following the revelation at the burning bush, Moshe delivered a divine message for the downtrodden Hebrews and the evil Pharaoh that so viciously persecuted them: The time had come to leave Egypt and serve G-d.

After initially dismissing Moshe’s demands as the whinings of lazy laborers, Egypt started experiencing the terrifying plagues that gradually caused a societal breakdown and led to its eventual destruction. At one point Pharaoh proposed a compromise: The slaves will have three days off from work to offer sacrifices to G-d in Egypt. No need to pack up and leave. Be as religious as you’d like right here.

This compromise was unacceptable. The geographical location within the borders of the nation called “Mitzrayim” was not conducive to divine service. The word “Mitzrayim” is etymologically linked to the word “Meitzarim” which means borders and limitations.

Pharaoh represented a world-view professing that life is calculated and defined; What you see is what you get. The Nile River irrigated the entire land on a seasonal schedule and the Egyptian economy ebbed and flowed with the tide. The cycle of nature is unchanging and once we master the nuances of nature we can control our destiny.

So long as the Jews remained Pharaoh’s subjects, it would be impossible to live a life focused on revealing the inherent divinity within all of reality. Pharaoh’s closed-minded and primitive perspective needed to be utterly rejected.

To achieve redemption, Pharaoh was afflicted with the Ten Plagues, starting with all the water being transformed into blood for seven days. This miraculous malady provides us with an eternal lesson in overcoming our daily challenges today.

Water is cold and blood represents life which is associated with warmth. The first step in being part of G-d’s team is to get rid of spiritual apathy and indifference. True goodness can be revealed and perpetuated only when it is pursued with passion and excitement.

Earlier this week, my friend felt trapped in a life devoid of Tefillin and was not able to break the habit. After tapping into the inherent warmth of his soul, he had the courage to do a mitzvah - regardless of what happened for over seventy years.

Good Thoughts Make Good Things Happen

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The doctor’s prognosis for his son’s recovery was grim, so the Chossid traveled to the Rebbe in the town of Lubavitch to request a blessing. As the Rebbe read his petition, the Chossid cried bitterly realizing that it might be too late. “When I left home several days ago, the doctors were hopeless,” he thought sorrowfully. “Perhaps the worst occured in my absence...”

The Rebbe fixed him with a piercing glance and said soothingly; “Don’t cry. Think good and it will be good. You will celebrate the Bar Mitzvahs of his children.”

This was an instruction, not only a blessing. Channelling his thoughts in a positive direction would affect a complete recovery for the young child.

Parshat Shemot is primarily focused on the story of Moshe. Throughout his adolescence he was the sheltered adopted son of Batya, the Egyptain princess. On his first visit to the construction sites, he was shocked to see a taskmaster brutally beating a Hebrew slave. After ensuring that no one was watching, Moshe killed the sadistic Egyptian, thus saving his fellow Hebrew from a gruesome death.

The next day, he observed two Jews quarreling with each other to the point that one was ready to strike the other. “Why are you going to hit your fellow?” Moshe intervened. The would-be assailant did not appreciate his meddling and retorted, “Who appointed you as a leader and judge over us? Do you intend to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?”

The Torah records that Moshe became frightened and worried that Pharaoh would hear about the incident and order his execution. The two quarellers indeed reported on the young Moshe and he was forced to flee for his life, only to return over fifty years later as the savior of the Jewish people.

Every detail recorded in Torah is precise and necessary to understanding the narrative. Why is it important to know that Moshe was frightened when he discovered his secret was out?

Had his Bitachon - trust in G-d - been strong enough to remain calm and confident that no harm would result from his noble actions, the story would have never reached Pharaoh. Moshe failed to harness the power of positive thought to affect positive change.

To be sure, this level of trust is very high and can be difficult to master, but it is within reach.

On a practical note, observing mitzvot in a secular environment can be challenging and it is natural to assume the worst will happen as a result of sticking to religious principles; Loss of employment, friends and social status. Torah empowers us to be confident and assume the best, thereby causing that, as long as we do our part, our observance of G-d’s mitzvot will elicit respect from our peers, acceptance in society and only blessings, success and happiness for ourselves and our families.

 

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