The Secret of Chabad

Spoiler alert: there is no secret to Chabad.  [As Published in the Queens Jewish Link here]

The recent explosion of Jewish pride, engagement, excitement and passion at the CTeen Havdallah
ceremony in Times Square, brought the age-old question, what it the secret of Chabad? to the front of
people’s minds.

They don’t shave their beards, the women don’t leave the house without a wig, they only consume
Cholov Yisroel and Pas Yisroel…They seem so “right wing”….

How do these old-world Chassidim relate to a bunch of non-traditional Jews…. What could they possibly
have in common? How in the world did they schlep 1000’s to Brooklyn for the first Shabbos of their
lives and then to Times square for the Jewish teen event of the century?

I can only answer this question for myself, I cannot speak on behalf of the entire Chabad Lubavitch and
friends which includes hundreds of thousands of Jews.

For me, it starts with the approach of Chassidus. Rabbi Yisroel Baal Shem Tov began publicly teaching
how to really love a fellow Jew. The Lubavitcher Rebbe did not approve of using the term chiloni
(usually translated as secular) to refer to any Jew; chiloni comes from the word chol, which means
mundane. The Rebbe could not call any Jew mundane. Every single Jew comes from Avraham, Yitzchak,
Yaakov, Sara, Rivka, Rochel and Leah – every single Jew has a golden lineage.

My boys in yeshiva have a light schedule on Fridays. The morning begins with tefillah and a few hours of
gemora. Later in the afternoon, the yeshiva makes time for the boys go on “routes” and meet with
fellow Jews, offering them the opportunity to do a mitzvah. It’s not just a few motivated bochurim (girls
do this as well!) – it’s actually part of the system of growing up Chabad.

They ask a person to do a mitzvah, simply because this is the best thing that other person could possibly
do for him or herself. The chossid (in training) knows that the mitzvah is an act between the Jew on the
street and the One Above – it’s not about the messenger who happened to be in the right place at the
right time with a pair of tefillin or Shabbat candles.

When a Jew (no matter how they are dressed, or what schools they went to) does a Mitzvah they are
connecting to the King of kings. In that moment, it’s the Jew on the street and the Knower of all
Knowing having a personal meeting. In Chassidic terms, it’s Atzmus [Essential Oneness].

Every single Jew wants to be totally connected to Hashem at all times – in Essence. Sometimes we all
get a bit distracted by our stomach, our day dreams or maybe our smart phones…

Kabbalah teaches that each one of us is comprised of two souls. The animal soul seeks drive reduction.
It wants to sleep when it’s tired, eat when it’s hungry etc. He’s not a bad guy – just wants to make sure
his needs are met. The G-dly soul is happy to skip meals, and has no need for entertainment. The G-dly
soul just wants to bask in the rays of Hashem, singing praises for the Almighty.

It’s a war, says the Tanya – the foremost text of Chassidic thought. Every Jew — from Main Street to
Mongolia — is struggling with a similar battle. My body wants that seven-layer cake; and my soul wants
to get out of this shallow materialistic place and soar to the Heavens to sing praises to the Maker of all
makers above.

When I first began learning Chassidus in college, I felt like it was a reality check. As a psychology major,
my classes seemed to be all about the animal soul. The Tanya was teaching me about the G-dly soul.
The struggle to ‘do the right thing’ was actually part of the process and not a sign of weakness. The
inner conflict is not only real, it’s what makes you human. Perhaps this is exactly what you were created

On one hand, it seemed like Chassidus allowed me to drop all the pretense and be real with who I am.
Walk into the tension instead of avoiding the conflict. On the other hand, the Chassidic way demands
the highest level of adherence to Torah and Mitzvos.

Practical example: it’s hard for a young woman in college to stop in the middle of the day and daven
mincha. The struggle is valid and the pull to ‘just be normal’ and skip it, is real. Nonetheless, she still
has to daven mincha… Chassidus helped me understand that the struggle is actually part of the
accomplishment of the mitzvah.

But back to Times Square and bearded Rabbis. From the humble corner of Eastern Parkway and
Kingston Avenue in Brooklyn, the Lubavitcher Rebbe inspired generations to drop the pretense. He
recognized the commonalities we share with every Jew and pushed the chassidim to just go out there.
The Chabadnik doesn’t need to worry about how to address the “other” [a person with a different
background] because no Jew can ever be the “other.” We all struggle, this is simply the dynamic of
creation. The rest is commentary.