Guest Posting By Chabakuk Elisha - Post Gimmel Tammuz Hiskashrus
Someone once told me: "You know, you're a Lubavitcher the way a Conservative Jew is religious." He meant this as a compliment, but it got me thinking – what does that mean? Is it bad or good? And is it true? Of course, this begs a number of definitions: What is Lubavitch? What is a Lubavitcher? And, where do I fit in?
To me (and to pretty-much anyone else as well) there is a fantasy "Lubavitch" that we create in our minds eye. Most of the time, that "Lubavitch" is no more than one person's perception, and its relationship to reality is entirely subjective. No doubt there are elements of truth – sometimes more, sometimes less – but it's far more complex than one individual's description, because it is so many things: It's a culture, it's a philosophy, it's a movement, it's a path of avodas Hashem, it's a community, and it may very well be more things that I haven't listed. Each individual decides which elements are more significant and important, and which are less so – myself included. But to all people, Lubavitch is represented by the Rebbes of Lubavitch, and most recently by the last Rebbe – and, again, everyone thinks of the Rebbe using their own ideas and definitions and creates a Rebbe in whatever image they fantasize, just as they do with the definition of Lubavitch in general. Sadly, it becomes almost inevitable that the Rebbe is turned into a two-dimensional caricature – and we often see that the Rebbe has been turned into not much more than a superhero, the kind we might find in Marvel Comics named "Moshiach–Man" or something like that, all that's missing is the cape.
It's a bummer – it's tragic really. The extent of the "caricature-ization" of the Rebbe and Lubavitch in general, by Lubavitchers, saddens me constantly. To quote R' Manis Friedman, "Zei hobben genumen a groiseh Rebbe, un fun em gemacht a kleiner Moshiach - They took a great Rebbe and turned him into an insignificant Moshiach" – a the Moshiach campaign quickly turned into shallow, silly, ridiculous and warped ideas – and to add insult to injury, this comes complete with slogans, key chains, trading cards, engravings, posters, clocks, bumper stickers, watches, cell phone pouches, to who knows what else. I think that the word Moshiach is so loaded, and so full of mystery and people's dreams, that as soon as the label got thrown around by the masses, we were doomed to a cartoon Rebbe almost immediately. Honestly, I will never understand the Moshiach craze. Honestly, I don't see why I should care who Moshiach is and what he looks like – he is who he is. What's wrong with the word Rebbe that anyone saw the need to add the title Moshiach and thus add confusion and mayhem – was anything lacking in the title "Rebbe" that this was necessary? I have attempted to discuss this with people, including "Meshicistin" that I've met or know, but I am still no closer today to understanding the Yechi Yarmulka or the Yechi mantra than I ever was. In the process though, rather than building the Rebbe up, I think they have defaced the Rebbe and Lubavitch in such a way that had it been from an outside force it would be tantamount to an act of war.
But I'm not a "movement" person, so who am I to speak about this. Indeed, the Rebbe was aware and promoted much of what led to this. Indeed, I am a worthless Joe that should be ashamed of my lack of Torah & Mitzvos. Indeed, who am I to look askance at anyone who probably is doing far more than me to spread Yiddishkeit and be oveid Hashem? I shouldn't, but it still pains me. It pains me, because I love the Rebbe, and I love the Lubavitch that I believe in. I wish it was all a dream, and a serious Lubavitch, a refined and spiritual Lubavitch, a completive and pure Lubavitch would suddenly appear. What can I say, is it wrong to wish for that? Maybe it is…
I don't like "group think," and what can I say… I like nuance. Why must we define the Rebbe or Lubavitch with simplistic and flat definitions? Why does a shliach or mashpia need to state simple definitions as emphatic truth without qualifications? Why do people demand that others project certain one dimensional definitions on everything? I guess that's what movements do, and I guess there's merit to it – just look at its success – but I don't think it works long term. I don't think the younger generations buy it. I haven't done a survey or a study of this, but I don't think it has lasting power with this generation growing up that never saw the Rebbe. Instead, I think it erodes respect – as the gabbai in my shul once said, "How do they expect our children to respect the Rebbe when they have turned him into Mickey Mouse?"
Lubavitch will survive. The bookcase of seforim will see to that. The underlying messages and the lives of the Rabbeim have compelling and powerful truths that will endure – this is assured. But the movement? I don't know where it will lead. Today, Lubavitch is a small klal Yisroel; there are people – that call themselves Lubavitchers – that cross the spectrum, from truly refined Chassidim, ovdei Hashem, to people that aren't religious… and everything in between. There is no standard, no single type, no shared element across the board other than perhaps a picture of the Rebbe a visit to the Ohel, or "770," or a Likkutei Sichos. There are Chassidim with long beards and once white shirts that spend their days discussing maamroim, there are clean shaven folks with colorful shirts and jeans talking (hopefully) about sports, there are people putting on events, there are people – Lubavitchers – doing any-and-everything imaginable.
As for me, I guess I also fit in there somewhere… also doing my own thing…