By Rabbi Mendy Kaminker
The title of the article I saw online was “Chabad puts us all to shame”, and I knew I am going to read it. We put “you all” to shame? What did we do wrong?
Inside I found how the author – Rabbi Elchanan Poupko of New York City – heaping praises on Chabad. He was complimenting Chabad for always having their doors open to every single Jew; For spending the holidays going to visit hospitals and helping Jewish patients; And he was lamenting why others are not doing the same.
“Hopefully one day we can all have the same dedication and sincerity,” he writes. “Until then, Chabad puts us all to shame”.
I was supposed to feel good after reading the article, correct? So why something felt a bit… funny? Something just bothered me when I read the article and I was trying to figure out what it was.
Then I did.
Two things bothered me about this article, written by this well-meaning, sincere and warm Rabbi: the history, and the present.
First, the history.
This idea of reaching out to help every single Jew is by no way an invention of Chabad.
The Rebbe would often remind us about the Sanhedrin, the high court during temple times, who would travel from town to town to teach and inspire their brothers and sisters. Their journeys were so long and grueling that instead of leather belts they needed metal-chain belts. All so they can reach to those Jews who don’t come to them; Teach the ones who might never seek wisdom.
But why do we stop only at temple times? How about the first Jewish couple, Avraham and Sarah? They built a tent in the desert and opened it to all. I bet that anyone who asked around (that was the way they Googled back then) “where can I find Kosher food nearby” was quickly directed to their tent. They used their tent to teach and inspire passersby. Sounds like a Chabad house to me!
True, the Rebbe took all of this to a whole new level. He taught his Chassidim that they can be fully dedicated, often moving to far-flung corners of the earth to do this holy work, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. He took these lofty concepts of Ahavat Yisrael and care for every single Jew and made them accessible to all in an unprecedented way. But still, this is not a Chabad-only, copyrighted idea.
Second, the present.
Thank G-d, my wife Shterna, our children and I have the great privilege of serving as the Rebbe’s Shluchim in Hackensack. But to say that Chabad of Hackensack is only our story is nothing further than the truth.
Should I tell you about the second day of Rosh Hashanah, when we needed help with someone to go to the hospital and blow Shofar to the patients, and one of the congregants (not a Chabadnik!) jumped for joy for the opportunity to do this Mitzvah?
Should I tell you about my visit to a local business in Hackensack, when both partners – again, never went to any Chabad educational system and don’t view themselves as Chabad – just kept on saying “we want to help you in any way we can, we want Chabad to succeed”, and only because of them we had a big, beautiful brand-new Sukkah serving hundreds of people?
Should I tell you about the visitor from Monroe, a Satmar Chassid, who went out of his way to try to help our Shabbat Minyan?
Or about the Jew who never had a Bar Mitzvah in his life before meeting us, yet whenever I need help he says only 2 words (“yes Rabbi”!)?
Chabad of Hackensack is truly a story of many individuals, from all backgrounds, united by sharing the Rebbe’s vision of caring for each and every Jew. They care, and they put their money/energy/time where their mouth is.
Now take this, and multiply it by the thousands of the Chabad Houses around the world. You get the picture: hundreds of thousands of dedicated Jews who are part of this holy work.
So Rabbi Poupko, thank you for your kind article. But instead of saying “Chabad is putting us all to shame”, I would’ve preferred if you used “Chabad is inspiring us”.
Actually, better yet: just ask more people to get involved.
Because if each one of us is a candle that can bring light, if we all shine together we can truly, finally, brighten up the entire world.
Rabbi Mendy Kaminker