Thoughts on the challenges of being a chossid (or trying) in a modern world.
Fellow Lubs are most welcome to read and share and comment. Chabad-haters and agitators, please find another place to troll.

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Aspirational Chabadniks

I was once asked by a litvisher guy who was involved in outreach: "What is Chabad's secret sauce? What are the tactics that make Chabad so successful?" This question is coming from someone who is also in the outreach business, sees an outstanding example and aspires to be similarly successful.

In the global philanthropic community, similar questions are asked by those interested in finding ways to help young people engage with their Jewishness. This is something being addressed by some of the largest and most innovative foundations in the world, as they recognize that a generation and more have been lost to assimilation, and young people are interested in new ways to express their Jewishness - social justice and the environment are far "sexier" than putting on tefillin every day. Some of the analysis is quite insightful - see here and here - and yet still takes place through the lens of pluralism.

What many do understand (and what my litvish friend didn't) is that you can't just copy the tactics and expect a similar outcome. The "magic sauce" of Chabad is the Rebbe, and the top-down mission that pervades Chabad. That in turn flows down into a strategy, which drives the tactics on the ground.

Just like we say that davening is like a ladder whose steps must be climbed in order (and therefore we don't skip psukei d'zimra if coming late to shul) so too you can't jump in and emulate the tactics without them being underpinned by a consistent mission and strategy. The passion and dedication of shluchim to make a lifelong commitment is not driven by the desire for money, power or to climb a corporate ladder. While some aspects of the Chabad approach can be emulated, they will not have as strong an impact.

They say "you don't know what you've got until it's gone" (perhaps this reflects the maaleh of the baal teshuvah over the tzadik). However, seeing how other others outside Chabad look with envy at what we have serves to increase our sense of what we have. It is only by looking from an outside perspective that one can truly appreciate it.

While this is something of a self-congratulatory slap on the back, it is also cause for reflection. What do we cherish about being part of such a fantastic movement? Do we truly cherish it and appreciate it? And how does it affect our day-to-day lives to be a part of it? What do we do differently as a result?

These questions apply more to people who aren't in full-time shlichus roles. However, they do go to our identity as chassidim, and lead in nicely to the next article ...


  1. No secret sauce. On an individual level, there are many unsuccessful shluchim who, were they litvish, would no longer be in this line of work.

  2. Sholom
    I always understood that the fundemental difference between the chabad "shliach" and litvak "out reaching rabbi" is that the shliach's perception of the individuals he encounters are "neshomos which are thirsty for Torah and Mitzvos and especially chassidus" and that G-d created him so that he could go out and spread the well springs of chassidus. Moshiach's arrival is the reward. Connecting to the Rebbe is his motivation.
    The litvak perceives them as "Jews who are out of the system and are not up to par with what G-d demands of them" he thinks that it is his job to go and save these people from hell, and to share with them the enjoyment that he has in Judaism. His reward is pride, gratification and olam habba. (I have been reading some litvish news papers which discuss these concepts, and know several people that work in Aish)

    If it wasn't for what the rebbe gave us, we would do the exact same thing they are doing, so i think that what they do is wonderful - anyone dedicated to helping out other Jews, whether physically emotionally or spiritually (motivation irrelevant) goes down in my book as a top notch bloke.