Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Now you're gonna get it!

The last several days have seen some exciting action here on TRS. Here's a quick recap: It all started with a blogger who challenged me to a debate regarding my views on Israel. This was great, and I managed a stream-of-consciousness post that partially explained what I believe. So far so good. The comments that followed the post were at first serious, but soon became farcical and fun. For a while comments raged back and forth, with three or four people having a good time, insulting each other and the world in general. A couple people were insulted. They took offense at some of the comments. This was duly apologized for by the people who made those comments. Were these apologies necessary? Probably not, but under the circumstances I think everybody figured that it would be best to simply make a clean sweep of everything.
The next post, of course, was again inundated with comments. No longer was this merely an issue of some guys having a good time; now this involved Lubavitch itself! The Rebbe's honor itself was impugned! By the way, I don't write that last one lightly. I can already see the comments: TRS, you monster! You're making a joke with the Rebbe! You're making light of his honor! You should be hung twelve times over!
In case anyone's interested in what I have to say instead of just jumping to conclusions, then perhaps they should learn a little history about me. I remember fighting with kids in my local Torah U'Mesorah school because I was wearing a Yechi Yarmulkeh. They didn't know what Yechi was, and to tell you the truth, neither did I. Heck, in 1998, I turned in a report that cited "The Rebbe Shlita". My teacher wasn't too happy about this. Even then I didn't quite understand what I had done wrong. Look, you had the Alter Rebbe, Mitteler Rebbe... Friediker Rebbe, Rebbe Shlita. Wasn't that just his name?
Whenever I heard someone impugn the honor of the Rebbe or Lubavitch I always answered them back. One of the proudest days in my life was when I was first accepted by Merkos Shlichus, and became a Shliach of the Rebbe. I am a proud Lubavitcher.
Having said that, I'm also not a moron. I tell the joke, "How many Lubavitchers does it take to screw in a light bulb? None, it never went out!", not because I hate Lubavitch but because I love it so much. When discussing Lubavitch with outsiders, I readily admit that we have problems. I don't do this because I hate Lubavitch, but because I love it so much. I'm willing to do some things which Lubavitch is officially against, but not because I have no regard for Lubavitch. I do them because I have a huge amount of regard for Lubavitch.
So have I joined the official "I criticize Lubavitch because I love it" group? No. I don't gratuitously say bad things about Lubavitch. In fact, I rarely say bad things about Lubavitch. Sometimes though, I say what I think is the truth. Seems to me that the vast majority of Lubavitchers also say what they think is the truth. Would I ever criticize the Rebbe? No. Would I, as someone who claims to be a Shliach, ever criticize the Lubavitch that we have today? Of course. And I think that the vast majority of Shluchim would do so also. Any group which responds to criticism by ostracizing the person who made the comments is fundamentally flawed. The Lubavitch I grew up with didn't do so. The Lubavitch of today? I'm not so sure. We try to always put our best foot forward, to not launder our dirty linen in public, to always be on the right side of any issue. This is fine. Again, any group which wouldn't do this would also be fundamentally flawed.
The problem arises when Lubavitch is criticized. We have a tendency to retreat inwards, to try to sweep the issue under the carpet, and to ignore the problem, rather than respond to the accusation. If all else fails, we blame the "crazies" who are infecting the movement; not to worry, of course, they're dying out.
I think that this problem is one that is a result of a "group think" mentality. When you talk to most Shluchim, and most Lubavitchers, they'll readily admit that they have challenges. Some are even man enough to admit that they have problems. Some people say that Lubavitch itself has no problems; rather, it's the people who make it up who have the problems. These people don't seem to understand that a chain is only as strong as it's weakest link, and you can't just cut off weak links. The problem is not fixed by ignoring it, by saying that it's someone else's problem, or by claiming that it's not the real Lubavitch. For better or for worse, people associate Lubavitch with the people in the basement of 770. They may be a cancer, but they're our cancer. We have to deal with it, not ignore it.
The Lubavitch I know and love is one that is not afraid to talk, to laugh, to think. We're unique among Chassidic groups (don't argue on this one, because I may be wrong, but what of it?) in that we have two names: Lubavitch and Chabad. Lubavitch means, "City of love". Chabad is an acronym that stands for "Knowledge", "Wisdom", and "Understanding". We're all about love. We're all about intellect. If we don't know a fellow Jew, we still love him. In fact, as Rabbi Mendel Shapiro's favorite Niggun goes, "To love a fellow Jew, just the same as you, is the basis of our holy Torah. He may be close to me, even my chavrusa or roommate, still I always love him just the same." The biggest Mivtzoyim a Shliach can do is not Tefillin, Neshek, or Chinuch; it's Ahavas Yisrael, love of a fellow Jew.
We're also all about intellect. If something doesn't make sense, question. Still doesn't make sense? Question some more. Obviously, the questions themselves have to be asked with Seichel, with a little wisdom. It doesn't take any brains to simply say that something doesn't make sense. That's probably why people who shrug all answers off their shoulders by saying that they don't make sense are pretty brainless. Asking "Why?" before hearing the end of the answer is not a productive way to learn. Sometimes it takes a person a long time to have their question answered; perhaps the questioner lacks the maturity to understand, or maybe the person who's trying to answer is simply not capable of doing so.

We now come to my issue. Some people seem to think that a blog run by a Merkos-proclaimed Shliach should always toe the party line and never have a hint of scandal be attached to it. I could answer that I take my lead from the great Shluchim who I look up to and strive to be like. I won't name anyone in particular, kicking a popular Shliach out of his Shul because your son needs a place the right thing to do? How about killing a community because you're too prideful to admit that you're wrong? How about money-laundering? How about cheating on your taxes, or scamming the government of funds, or lying to the government about what you're doing? All of these and many more have been done by Shluchim, and head Shluchim at that. I could say that I was just following in their footsteps. I won't, however, because I don't need to. They may or may not have done something wrong. That's between them, their Rebbe, and their G-d.
Have I done anything wrong? Have I shamed Lubavitch forever by not censoring comments? Is the Rebbe embarrassed of me? The answers to that are no, no, and yes, but not for the reasons you think. Did I do anything wrong? Some guys were having a good time. Some people were offended. They apologized if they hurt anybody. Did anything wrong happen? It was pretty obvious that the debate which raged was a humorous one; anyone who bothered to take the time to read the whole thing would soon realize that the exaggerated opinions flying left and right were intended to be funny. So maybe they went overboard. Fine. But has Lubavitch been shamed forever? For everyone's information, I have trashed comments which were inappropriate. But I saw nothing inappropriate in what was going on that night. Some people think that having a good time is a sin. I feel bad for those people.
Lastly, is the Rebbe embarrassed of me? Of course. For this particular incident? I'm not so sure. Am I still entitled to call myself a Shliach? What kind of question is that? I'm not an angel; even if I did something really bad, I would still be a Shliach. Some recent readers of this blog may be under the impression that everything I write is, well, potentially bad. Maybe these recent readers should read the archives, and see what else I've blogged about. Does everything I've ever written reflect well on me or the movement I claim to represent? Not necessarily. Does this mean that I'm a mean ogre? I think not.

Meanwhile, if anyone is really dying to know what I did today on Merkos Shlichus, here's the Duch I sent in to Merkos:

Visited hospital in Sharon, talked to women from Queens there, she was grateful to us for coming, gave her some publications. Left publications for another woman who was sleeping. Did the same for a man in new Milford. Tried visiting family, but not home. Went to Waterbury hospital, saw Jewish patient, wished him well; he wasn't too interested in talking to us. Visited Bochur in school and went over Parsha plus Sichos with him, as well as the the story of the Churban in the light of Chassidus.

Happy everyone?


Anonymous said...

Not only should we end this discussion, we should end discussing how we've ended the discussion.

Just like a guy said...

Peh she hitar hu peh she assur?

Anonymous said...

The dead horse, whom i propose we stop beating, was alive until recently.

Just like a guy said...

excuses, excuses

e said...

Truth, truth.

Just like a guy said...

Yours or mine?

Nemo said...

"Not only should we end this discussion, we should end discussing how we've ended the discussion."

So basically you're suggesting that we continue brushing our dust under the rug? And not only to brush the specific problems under, but to make it like nothing happened to begin with?

Eliezer, you are the source of ALL of Lubavitch's problems!!

Just like a guy said...

Nemo, you've just made Eliezer's month!

Nemo said...

Good thing I caught him by the 31st.

You know, I didn't see any inappropriate comments trashed. What gives? Is it just my misunderstanding of the inappropriate definition? Maybe I was wrong about you all along and you are also the blight of Lubavitch!

Anonymous said...

you r totaly loosing it. let's end the israel/lubavitch debate now.

Just like a guy said...

Nemo: You didn't any trashed comments because when I do see something that's bad I strike it immediately from the record. Unless you're signed up to receive all comments, you'd never know they were there.
Having said that, the definition of inappropriate is of course flexible, much dependent on time and context.

Anonymous 6:51 AM: Ahh, the joys of random "Anon" comments. No one's arguing about Israel/Lubavitch. That was yesterday. Please try and comment on today's post. Much obliged.

Anonymous said...

TRS!!! giime a post that i can post and make you famous.

riches and glory await you...

your publisher.

it can be a musing one as opposed to a report,

love and respect,

the big bro of the anonymos guy who keeps on changing his name.

Leo de Toot said...

Dear Mr. R. Shliach:
I grew up during a period when it was very fashionable to criticize one's family and parents. It was considered very "existential" to comment on the things one's father said, the frivilous pursuits of one's mother, the fact that one's parents haven't read the great writings of the twentieth century (obscure, impossible to understand foreign stuff, short sentances, few verbs) etc. The interesting thing was that having heard all of this, when one actually met one's friends' parents they were actually really nice people, intelligent, funny, etc. In fact everyone else's parents seemed so much nicer than ones' own. The point is that those of you enmeshed in the inner workings of Chabad tend not to see what many outsiders see: an organization that has effectively reached out to so many who, through no fault of their own, have been separated from their roots yet maintain a strong hunger for a meaningful existence; a group of individuals who are prepared to hold out a hand to the cynics, the angry, the lost etc. and with patience and caring lead them back; an organization that offers logic to the scientist, emotion to those in pain, argument to the intellectual. While Chabad politics are always fascinating and a great source of amusement and head-shaking to outsiders, don't underestimate (or forget) the true value of the work you and your colleagues do.

Admiringly yours,


Anonymous said...

this is the first time that ive read your blog and i just want to make a statement:

if you where ever on the "right side" theres no going back, that goes for B"Ts and shluchim alike. you dont grow out of it, you just become ashamed and call others "cazy".

remember were not smarter then we were 5, 10, 14 1\2 years ago, were just the minority with small b*lls, to say what we really think.

i should know, ive got no real guts and small...

e said...


We *should* sweep this under the rug. People who comment anonymously are usually nuttier than they would like to be in real life. Our new anonymous commenter is a caricature of the extreme Lubavitcher fundamentalists, just like TRC was a caricature of chauvinists. You are doing the same thing Sabra did: getting all worked up because some anonymous nut is pushing your buttons.

This is *not* the end of the Lubavitch we all know and love.

Lubavitch has problems, and Passerby is not it.

Nemo said...

Maybe people's timidity in real life is only because suggesting what they truly believe would get them shunned? If the blog experiment has taught us anything over the past few years, it's the irony that one can truly act themselves when they're unidentifiable.

Cheerio said...

i'm happy - just to know there's someone out there who shares my perspective on lubavitch and its problems, and can express it so well.

nemo - i dont think that being unidentifiable means that anyone acts more truly "themselves". people are not elements, that can be completely isolated and viewed entirely on their own to determine what they are. we are interactive, inextricably entwined in a cycle of reaction and response to the world around us.
esp. over the internet, esp. in writing, many people are exaggerations of themselves, or are expressing exaggerations of their opinions.

e said...

I think that one reveals one's true self when one is accountable in the online world, but the online world cannot affect the real world. Thus, TRC was not the real me. Neither is the rabbi at the real me. The Eliezer you see on TRS comes closer to the real me than either of those projections of me. (Attention all shadchanim: No, the TRS Eliezer is STILL not really me.)

So, I bet that passerby and his various alter-egos are all laughing at us just like some other men laughed a poor woman a couple nights ago.

Nemo said...

Cheerio- I'm not talking about some visceral poetic/psychological expression of self here. I'm reacting to a commenter who acted in a way that may represent their beliefs (or prejudices) vis-a-vis how a Lubavitcher and self-identifying Shliach should act.

Eliezer- The fact that I comment so often is no indication of the subject's attachment and importance to me. I just have no life and spend too much time on the net.

But, matter of factly, I don't think Passerby's passively giving rise to the deeper issues being discussed is necessarily a bad thing. More than the Moshiach issue, or the Shlichus issue (although slightly less than the education issue), what we're discussing is ultimately very pertinent to Lubavitch. There are prevailing attitudes which have no basis in actual fundamentalism, i.e. Elokus and Hanachos Ha'olam, which are constantly being pushed in the name of Rebbe and Chassidishkeit. And it streams down into many of the other problems we face.

But whatever, maybe you're right about the online world's real-world otiosity. Although having an arena to form and express opinions is never a bad thing ...

YochananG Aust said...

Eliezer: you have no reason to be scared of the shadchanim they are there for the money

Nemo said...

Oh yeah, that's important issue #4 in Lubavitch.

Just like a guy said...

Why Nemo, you're looking? As for the Anon comment regarding the "right side" of Lubavitch, what exactly are you talking about? Are you understanding me to say that I'm some sort of footstepper? I'm not. I may be open-minded, and liberally inclined to boot, but I'm as frum a Lubavitcher as any other. In fact, if you ask anyone who knows me, I'm probably more frum.

Thanks everyone for commenting, I'm sorry I don't have the time to respond. Tonight should see the resumption of MS-related shtuff, much to Eliezer's joy, I'm sure.

Anonymous said...

"YochananG Aust"

yeh now that your engaged :)

nemo, cheerios and rice crispys is just as anonymous as anonymous itself.

ich halt by meins.