Question & Answer With A Shliach Of The Rebbe - Shlichus & Territorialism
A Simple Jew asks:
Many people who have visited Chabad houses perceive that there is a territorialism between Chabad houses located in close geographical proximity since they rarely encourage people to go to events or classes held at another Chabad house. If one of the missions of Chabad is to help unaffiliated Jews return to their heritage, why is there not more collaboration at least between shluchim assigned to the same general locality?
A Shliach of the Rebbe responds:
To begin with, we must acknowledge the practical considerations of Shluchim who operate in close proximity to one another. In order to avoid conflict, certain boundaries must be respected. Ideally, collaboration is the goal and, when feasible, is preferred. However, there is much to be said for autonomy as well. As such, the system which governs how Shluchim are to interact with one another does not require that Shluchim extend open borders to one another. Rather, the system protects each one’s boundaries and places collaboration with other Shluchim at the discretion of the Shliach. This arrangement – while perhaps being only “the lesser of two evils” – is meant to preemptively avoid conflict, rather than merely react to it after it has already occurred.
What are the concerns that make it important that collaboration between Shluchim in nearby areas remain purely voluntary? First, when a Shliach works with a person, he uses his own approach. Each Shliach has his own style and his own way of relating to his people. Often, when a person gets direction from too many sides, he becomes confused and loses focus and momentum in his development. Thus, it can be damaging for the person getting close to Yiddishkeit to be overly "eclectic." It is all too common that "too many chefs spoil the broth" and a person can end up overwhelmed when receiving direction from more than one spiritual mentor. Additionally, it cannot be denied that there is a material benefit to the Shliach to be the sole steward to his constituents. As you may or may not already know, all Chabad institutions are essentially self-supporting. Since it is the case that im ein kemach, ein Torah, thus, if one Shliach is operating at a deficit because a nearby Shliach who also serves his people happens to be a better fundraiser, then the former will be limited in his ability to continue reaching more Jews.
Now, both of these concerns can be addressed with a little dedication and sensitivity on the part of the Shluchim themselves. But, again, you must remember, no Shliach is compelled to coordinate with others. It has to be his choice. As more and more Shluchim go out, territorialism is actually becoming obsolete and we see more and more specialization amongst Shluchim. For instance, a Chabad shul and a campus Shliach in one city; a Shliach who runs a school alongside a Shliach who runs a Chabad House; a Shliach who does adult education in the same area as a Shliach who does community programming. Of course, all of this must be coordinated. But it's becoming more and more common for many Shluchim to operate in one geographical area. Heck, the Federation has hundreds of employees in some cities. There is certainly room for hundreds of Shluchim in one place if they all abide by the system and answer to the letter and the spirit of acknowledging a single authority which in this case is Merkos L'Inyonei Chinuch, the organization that oversees placement of Shluchim.
A Simple Jew replies:
Many people have the mistaken notion that there is a large efficient corporation-like machine called Lubavitch that had layers of management and huge vaults if funding. Instead it's a loosely united network of "franchises" and mom & pop-type operations. Seemingly, this system might result in certain pitfalls that would undermine the stated goals since each shliach needs to protect his revenue sources, mikurovim, and resources in order to continue. Unfortunately, the shliach may even end up almost forced to make sure that others are not as successful.
Every shliach is his more-or-less own boss, and his very survival is at stake. In many cases it may take real self-sacrifice for him to work with anyone else and it's probably unfair to expect that. Like any mom & pop shop, it may also set him up to get stuck in territorial disputes and nepotism.
Of course, I understand that by giving each shilach a tangible personal stake he will be more motivated to succeed, but this seems to come at a price of having a more unified effort with shared resources and a sense of esprit de corps. Are there systems in place to promote unity and be sure that the true goals aren't obfuscated by the business or "kemach" side of the equation? Does Merkos L'Inyonei Chinuch have the authority and power to step in and make sure that the network of shluchim is functioning as best as it can?
A Shliach of the Rebbe responds:
Merkos L'Inyonei Chinuch is the Rebbe's system. Anyone who calls himself by the title of “Shliach” is explicitly invoking the authority of the Rebbe in doing so. Thus, you can't have your cake and eat it too. If you want to be the Rebbe's representative, then you have to follow the Rebbe's system.
Of course, this requires that everyone abide by the system and respect its rules. Most Shluchim understand that it is in everyone's interest to sometimes put personal concerns aside in order to make way for the common good. The problem comes about when people decide that they want to be a "Shliach," but that they don't want anything limiting them. They hang up a shingle and call themselves a Shliach without being part of the system. Now, everyone has a right to open a shul or to do outreach. But don't move in on top of another guy who is abiding by the system and then start unfairly competing with him. It's not hard to understand that if you have one guy who is playing by the rules and another guy who is not, that it's the rule-breaker who is at the advantage.
If you ever want to know who is part of the system and who is not, just check the Chabad centers listings on chabad.org.
Ultimately, it must be stated that the Rebbe devised a system that – when dealing with such a massive operation and such a radical goal – would allow for the best of all practical outcomes. Human nature can rear its head even amongst rabbis. It is thus remarkable to observe how effectively Shluchim actually do work along side one another toward a common goal. One only needs to observe the scene at the yearly Kinus HaShluchim to be reminded of this fact.