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Monthly Archives

June 2014

What is Chabad’s Secret?

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People all over the world are marveling, “How can Chabad continue to grow after 20 years – or even after one year – without the Rebbe!?” All the experts predicted that without the Rebbe, Chabad would decline. “Give it a few years and they’ll disappear.” Now they’re wondering, “What is the secret?” The prevailing conventional wisdom is that Chabad is so successful because they are so accepting and inclusive. But think about that: are we are more tolerant than Reform? If anyone is tolerant and accepting and almost completely indiscriminate, it’s the Reform! So it’s not that we are indiscriminate; it’s not that Chabad is non-judgmental. In fact, we are very judgmental. Every move you make, there’s a judgment! “That’s not Shabbos’dik, that’s not Kosher, that’s Milchig, that’s Fleishig.” You can’t breathe without making a judgment. We are very judgmental. And in our best judgment, we find every Jew to be absolutely Divine. It’s a judgment, but it’s a good judgment. We are not simply open and accepting. Anyone can do that, by simply lowering their values. No, we are not simply open and accepting. Chabad feels absolutely obligated and responsible to be of service to every Jew whether they’re in the mood or not! It’s quite different. Here is the real question.  These are ordinary people – Yeshiva boys, Yeshiva girls – without any special training, without any special selection of the finest, the brightest, the cutest, the funniest. Every student who volunteers to represent the Rebbe, represent Judaism and represent Chabad is given a position. From where do such ordinary people get such extraordinary commitment? From where do they get such extraordinary conviction? Dennis Prager says that wherever he goes he sees Chabad, and they’re all happy! It makes him suspicious: how could they all be happy? He jokes, “I’m starting to suspect that they kill off the depressed ones. They thin the herd; only the happy survive.” But seriously, where is this enthusiasm coming from? The answer is simply that the Rebbe located the truth, and wouldn’t budge. In every area, in every subject and in every community, the Rebbe looked for the kernel of truth and then would not budge on it. The success of the Rebbe’s project, of the Rebbe’s world-altering philosophy, can be summed up with these words: If it’s true, it will work. It can’t not work; it’s true. So here are some simple truths that the Rebbe championed. The Rebbe believed in the truth of the fact that every Jew without exception is trying to be a good Jew. Help him! Help her! Now, if this isn’t true, if this simply was not the fact, then Chabad is finished. Because if you base your life, your philosophy, and your program on a falsehood – how long can it really last? So that’s the first truth: every Jew – every Jew – wants to be a better Jew. You may have heard this story. A rabbi in Israel invited a professor to come to his Talmud class, and the professor said, “I don’t belong at a Talmud class.” The rabbi asked, “Why not?” And the professor replied, “Because you and I have nothing in common.” The rabbi responded, “How can you say such a thing?” The professor replied, “Oh, you don’t know me. I eat pork on Shabbos!” The rabbi asked, “Only on Shabbos?” The professor: “Specifically on Shabbos. Ever since I came to Israel, out of spite I eat pork every Shabbos.” The rabbi said, “Aha, you see! We do have something in common! We both observe Shabbos.” The professor started coming to the class. But he explained to his colleagues that it wasn’t just the joke that got him to come, it was the powerful truth behind those words. “You’re keeping Shabbos by eating pork on Shabbos.” Deep down inside he was angry at G-d over the Holocaust and he decided that he is going to rebel. What can you do that is the most unJewish thing in the world? Eat pork. So he was eating pork, but it didn’t feel satisfying, it didn’t feel rebellious enough. So he figured instead of eating pork on Tuesday or Wednesday, he was going to eat it on Shabbos. That’s like adding insult to injury. That felt good. So the rabbi said to him, “You’re keeping Shabbos! If you think about it, you believe in G-d, otherwise who are you angry at? You believe that He runs the world and that’s why it’s His responsibility. You believe in the Torah, otherwise how do you know that pork isn’t Kosher? And you believe that Shabbos is special, otherwise why does it feel better to eat pork on Shabbos? So you believe in G-d, you believe He runs the world, that the Torah is true, that pork is really not Kosher and that Shabbos is really holy – you’re practically orthodox! Borderline fanatic! And you claim we have nothing in common?” This is the Rebbe’s innovation. This Jew who was eating pork specifically on Shabbos was trying to be a better Jew. It’s complex, but its true! He was objecting to Jewish suffering, what’s more Jewish than that?? The second truth is that the Rebbe believed that the world is ready to be good. He really believed it. And so he encouraged Chassidim to take responsibility for the morality of non-Jews, to teach the world the seven Noahide Laws and to see to it the world live by these laws, the laws that the Torah gave to all of humanity. How do we possibly do this? On what grounds do we undertake such a responsibility? Because the world is ready to be good. But there’s confusion: what is good? How do you know? What are the details? The Rebbe saw the world was ready to be good. So the Rebbe believed that every Jew wants to be a better Jew, and that every human being wants to be a good human being. If it’s not true, Chabad would have failed. If it’s true, well then, it’s true.  

On Happiness

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Here’s a thought that came up in a conversation one night after our broadcast Bais Chana class: The simple truths in life are what brings happiness. This means focusing on simple realities: life is good, being a Jew is good, having my family is good, etc. This enables you to be happy. However we need to distinguish happiness from contentment. To be content is different from being happy in the following ways. Contentment must be earned – happiness is free. Happiness is related to gratitude – contentment is related to satisfaction. Happiness is the absence of doubt – contentment is the successful resolution of doubts. Therefore, simple truths will produce happiness, but only achievement will bring contentment. So I am happy to be what I am, to be included in G-d’s vast eternal plan. A part of the chosen people, able to serve Him at any time. But if I don’t actually serve Him and accomplish some good in my life I will not be content. Contentment is measured by effort. The harder I try the more content I will be. What do you think?

Toxic Thought

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“Have you ever stopped to think – and forgot to start again?” Have you ever had someone ask you a question and you try to answer but they don’t seem to be available to your response? Sometimes, people ask philosophical questions but before you can give the answer you first have to help them think. They were not brought up to think; they were never taught to think. A healthy mind can consider any subject objectively, unless one has been bribed. Then, those who can see clearly become blind and the righteousbecome twisted. Tanya says, “The mind governs the heart by nature.” The mind can disagree with its own heart and rule against the heart’s desire. The mind can disagree with its heart! That’s a good description of a healthy person. But a toxic person has toxic thinking as the addicted person has addictive thinking. In toxic thinking, though, the mind can be defied in a number of ways. Let’s use this scenario: A woman is told, “The man is old enough to be your father. He has been married four times. He abuses women. He has no job and will take all your money!”   Toxin A – Will vs. thought: “I don’t care. I want to marry him!” In this instance the mind is silenced by the will. A willful person is governed by his will, and “nothing can stand in the way of will.” Our will is a dictator, a bulldozer. It does not tolerate interference, not even the interference of thoughtful logic.   Toxin B – Opinion vs. thought:“The man is old enough to be your father, he’s been married four times etc.” “You don’t know him. I know him. His previous wives didn’t understand him. I do. I know what I am doing!” The mind is fixed on an idea and can’t think further.   Toxin C – Love vs. thought:“The man is old enough to be your father, etc.” “But I love him. I can’t live without him! My heart will break if I can’t marry him!” And tears flow copiously. Emotion overwhelms the mind.   Toxin D – Compassion vs. thought:“The man is old, etc.” “I know, but he is so lonely. He has no one. Everyone judges him and rejects him. I’m the only one who can help him!” Here pity cancels logic.   In each case, when challenged, the response will be moral indignation: “Are you telling me I can’t have what I want?!” “Are you calling me stupid? Don’t you think I know that?!” “How can you ignore my love? How can you be so insensitive?!” “You don’t care about people like I do. You are too judgmental.”   And in each case the thinking has been shackled. The mind must agree with the demands of will and emotion or risk being dismissed altogether.   The mind can also be poisoned or drugged: “There is nothing wrong with an older man – everyone gets old anyway.” “He is not abusive – he hits women only when they deserve it.” “He never hit his third wife – she hit him first.” “He is not lazy. It’s just impossible to find a job under this corrupt government. We’re moving to Canada.”   Here the mind is not ignored: it is toxic. The mind is thrall to the bias of the heart, or addicted and inseparable from the feelings.   A healthy person should be able to think: My heart tells me one thing but my mind does not agree. I like this but should I do it? I think I should, what do you think? I want to go but maybe you don’t want to go.   This independence of mind from heart is what parents and teachers should be giving their children and students.   When a child says, “I don’t want to” and the mother says, “But you have to do what you have to do” she is helping the child free his mind from the immature emotions that govern a child’s behavior.   “You don’t feel like playing now but your friend is here and wants to play, so be nice.” The mother is showing the child that he can be bigger than his moods; that he can think beyond his impulse and actually consider another opinion, another’s option.   Without this training the child’s thinking will be addictive and toxic, and as an adult incapable of a relationship with a spouse. By the way, we are all guilty of some toxic thinking. It’s just a matter of finding it in ourselves and detoxing.