Rabbi Daniel Green, Beis Moshiach
The past few decades, the observant Jewish community has become accustomed to classify its members colloquially and acrostically – is someone a “b.t.” (baal teshuva) or “f.f.b.” (frum from birth)? If for no other reason but expedience, these acronyms are commonly used, by no means to bifurcate the united family of Chabad Chassidim, chas v’shalom, but rather, to identify one’s background and life experience, and often to indicate a social association or stereotypical preference.
In recent times, however, these terms have fallen short in inclusively representing all members of our rather eclectic, wide-ranging community. Today, some of our loved-ones and neighbors fit into neither of the above categories, due to alternative, not-overly-frum — to say the least — lifestyles. Enter the “o.t.d.”
Before the innovation of this catchy nomenclature, which tragically stands for “off the derech,” those who subscribe to this new grouping of our community members were often referred to as “modern,” or perhaps more aptly, “rebellious teens” (when the said condition surfaces at that stage of the young person’s life, which it often does).
In any case, the phenomenon has sadly become one that can no longer be ignored, affecting both b.t. and f.f.b. families alike. Many an expert has suggested a cause or cure to the sorrowful emergence. But before discussing cause or cure, I’d like to suggest an alternative to the recently introduced initialism, which still fails, I believe, to accurately describe all of this new grouping’s constituents. “Off the derech” implies a complete dissociation with or detachment from “the derech,” but not every o.t.d. is entirely “off” yet, ch”v. Often, the young person is at a crossroads and, sadly, headed in the general “off” direction, but might still be subscribing to an association with the frum world due to social pressures, living in a frum community, or learning in a frum institution, etc.
I, therefore, propose a new acronym: “Gee Oh Dee.” Going off derech.
Indeed, the “gee oh dee” may be going off the trodden path, but still struggling to stay on. Whereas, “A Jew cannot and neither does he want to be completely removed from G-dliness” and the path of his or her ancestors. And “lo yidach mimenu nidach” — a Jew, no matter how far away, can always reconnect with his or her Source in one single moment of Teshuvah. It’s only a question of direction. Notwithstanding his or her going off track, he or she can be turned around. In the blink of an eye.
How dare you bring the Alm-ghty into this?
At this point, a reader might contend, the suggested appellation is rather presumptuous and even a little scary — like, how dare we bring the Alm-ghty into this?! To ascribe the calamitous condition of a lost soul, tragically drifting away from Torah and mitzvos, with initials that resonate with G-dly undertones, to say the least, would seem to be a blatant act of disrespect to the faith of the faithful, to the observance of the observant! Is there no other abbreviation for this hapless and unsavory condition? Why use an acronym that subtly invokes the Divine, when referring to such tragedy, for both the “gee oh dee” as well as family members?
The truth be told – the Alm-ighty Himself set a precedent for such intimation. Take Megillas Esther for example – the only book in the entire Tanach wherein Hashem’s name goes unmentioned. Indeed, neither He nor any of His exalted names are pronounced in this scroll, strangely, except for one telling acrostic.
Yes! In the darkest of moments in the intriguing tale and sacred text, when no hope is in sight. A comprehensive decree for the annihilation of the Jewish People has been sealed, and Queen Esther, clandestinely Jewish, throws a party?! And with whom? – יבא המלך והמן היום! “Let the king and Haman come today,” to a private and exclusive feast with the queen. To collaborate with the villainous and quintessential antisemite, of all people, while all Jews bemoan a menacing holocaust that awaits them, G-d Forbid?! Surely this has to be the most anticlimactic of moments in the otherwise exhilarating chain of events that led to the miracle of Purim!
And it was precisely in this dismal phrase the Megillah chose to hint to the Ineffable Name of the Alm-ighty! The first letters of these four words spell the Tetragrammaton – Yud Key Vov Key! How ironic! How odd! Of all places – it is here that G-d chose to identify His eminence and presence?!
But alas, the message is clear. At the darkest of times, at the most heartbreaking and wretched moments of golus Shechina imahem, G-d is with you!
So if you have a “Going Off Derech” in your life, a loved one who seems to be choosing to abandon your beliefs and adherences, know that you’re not alone. “Imo Anochi B’tzarah”— Hashem is with you as well as with your loved one. Moreover, if you carefully meditate into the situation, you will realize that He is manifest more than ever before! (To be explained later in this article).
Will Getting a “G.E.D.” Help the “G.O.D”?
Taking this a step further:
The real issue is not what to call it, but rather, to figure out what can be done to curb the catastrophic emergence of the “Going Off Derech” syndrome? And what will help keep the drifting soul in the fold? Will getting a “g.e.d.” help the “gee oh dee”? Not likely, for the core issue is a spiritual one, not necessarily scholastic or economic, contrary to popular misconception.
There is actually only one solution for the Going Off Derech disorder.
What might that be, you ponder?
But of course – G-d! The One and Only.
Through Divine intervention, we all will find our way back, and the “gee oh dee” is no different. The quintessential Divine spark latent in the soul of every Jew will surely shine forth, and every Jew will ultimately return to Hashem.
And this too is intimated in the Megillah’s signing Hashem’s name into Esther’s wine party. The event was, in fact, the beginning of the heroine’s strategic attempt at reversing Haman’s reprehensible decree, as the intriguing tale plays itself out. But alas, not her efficacy and savvy, nor those of any mortal for that matter, would turn the tide in this awesome and miraculous unraveling of events – but rather, Hashem alone. Indeed, the Divine initials in the posuk serve as a powerful reminder of Who exactly was in the process of saving His people.
And just as He saved the Jewish People back then, He will save each and every Jew today — one by one.
So if you are dealing with a loved one who seems to fall into the Going Off Derech category, realize just Whom you might need to summon, and upon Whose intervention you need to rely, in bringing the “gee oh dee” back into, or perhaps more accurately, keeping him or her in the fold.
Of course, I didn’t mean to stand by idly and rely solely on Heavenly intervention. In his famous letter, “Kiyum Nefesh Miyisroel,” (his Igros Kodesh Vol. 4 p. 377) the Frierdiker Rebbe describes what it takes to rescue or preserve a Jewish soul. True, the rescuer kindles an inner strength and inspiration in initiating, but ultimately, it is a G-dly power, as it were, that is manifest in every Jewish man and woman, that brings to fruition, and exponentially so, an entirely unexpected awakening and vivification on behalf of the rescuee. So it is Hashem who makes this happen. Big time.
Yes, the rescuer has to try to do his part. But first and foremost, before anything else, it is crucial that the one seeking to arouse a fellow Jew to Judaism, foster an unconditional love for his fellow, totally independent of the latter’s observance, knowledge, or attitude towards religion. And as the Frierdiker Rebbe states elsewhere (Klalei HaChinuch VehaHdrachah, ch. 14), the mechanech must love the mechunach. And without this, there can be no chinuch.
Love, Love & Another Love
Yes, it starts with love. In the very first official farbrengen of the Rebbe’s nesius, on Yud Shevat, 5710, the Rebbe delineated a mission statement. “The three loves (also commonly associated with the name “Lubavitch,” connoting “love”), Ahavas Hashem, Ahavas Hatorah, and Ahavas Yisroel, are all one thing.” The love for one’s fellow Jew is the catalyst to the other two loves, and it is particularly this third Ahava, the Rebbe said, that will trigger the up-and-coming Geula.
Intriguingly, at the most recent Shabbos gathering, the last time we merited to a public address (just two days before Chof Zayin Adar, in 5752), the Rebbe reiterated this theme, dedicating the entire farbrengen to the concepts of love and unity between Jews. He emphasized that love for a fellow Jew, as one loves oneself, kamocha, literally, needs to be constant, for one’s fellow is a “A part of Hashem above, literally”. This essential bond, as two parts of a whole, transcends all differences and defies all correctional or supercilious attitudes. Even the disciplinarian role of father toward son, the Rebbe categorized, applies only when such an orientation is necessary and applicable. All other times, however, the father loves his son as an equal, as “a part of G-d from on high literally”!
So it all started with love and finishes with love. It is crucial that every parent and educator effectuate this three love quotient: to love Hashem, the Torah, and your fellow Jew. Love is contagious. When you love your child unconditionally, your child will love you too. As such, the love for Hashem and Torah in your heart transfers naturally to the child’s heart. And it’s not just your child, but any Jew for that matter. If you love someone unconditionally, the love will be reflected in the beloved’s heart, and so will the lover’s love for Yiddishkeit.
“I’m An Awesome Jewish Kid!”
This past winter, I was sitting in 770 minding my own business when I couldn’t help but paying attention to an awe-inspiring scene. A group of public school children, led by Released Time counselors, basically took over the front of the main sanctuary for a makeshift and unofficial rally. After finishing the customary p’sukim, the head counselor, a twenty-year-old 770 bochur, began a cheer — “I’m an awesome Jewish kid!” he called out exuberantly, and the elementary-aged children repeated these words with glee and thunderous inspiration. After the cheer was repeated several times, the head counselor told the children how the Rebbe loves each of them, and the children and counselors broke out in song.
As the head counselor spoke, and as the counselors and children sang, I felt their profound love for the Rebbe. I must say that I was rather floored. Neither the head nor his fellow counselors were old enough to have ever seen the Rebbe! Yet their love was so sincere. The children felt this love, and sang with extraordinary enthusiasm.
Marveling at the sight, it reminded me about the original Released Time “head counselor.” Rabbi Yankel Hecht, of blessed memory, the man who directed this program for decades, for those who knew him or ever saw him in action, loved the Rebbe immensely. He loved Judaism immensely.
And those loves were transferred to the people with whom he was involved, because… Rabbi Hecht loved people!
Here I was, almost two decades after Reb Yankel’s untimely passing (on the 15th of Av, 5750), watching these young men selflessly performing their shlichus with unwavering love for their fellow Jew, for Jewish public school children from completely secular backgrounds, and the bochurim’s love for the Rebbe had reached the hearts of these children. How? Because they loved the children! Each child, “an awesome Jewish kid,” was special, so special, and amazingly empowered with unconditional love. As the child screamed about being an awesome Jewish kid, his young heart was ablaze with an eternal Jewish pride that I have never seen before.
This is the Rebbe’s mandate. It begins with love. And if you can love the public school child unconditionally, then you surely can love your own child unconditionally.
And the age of the child, of course, is immaterial.
“Whom do Your Parents Love More?”
Several years ago, I was teaching Chasidus to high school girls in Crown Heights, some of them, in fact, showing mild signs of “going off derech.” The students had a lot of questions about Yiddishkeit, and did not hesitate to ask them. (Actually, it was at these classes I first thought about the above-mentioned “going of derech” acrostic. Strangely, these girls, all of them coming from Chassidic and often Yiddish-speaking families, seemed to love the word, “G-d,” always insisting on referring to Him as such, Englishly).
At one point, I decided to change the topic, and ask them a question. “Whom do your parents love more,” I asked; “you or your little sister?” The answer was unanimous. Each of the twenty-five or so young women, all of them around sixteen or seventeen years of age, responded — the little sister.
How sad, I thought. Was there possibly a deficit in the parents’ communicating love to their teenagers? Sure, it’s easy to love a young child – it’s when they’re moody and rebellious adolescents that love becomes challenging. But precisely now, when the child’s scholastic accomplishment, temperament, gratitude, or obedience are not conducive to evoking her parents’ love – one justification for parental love can emerge that transcends all others. You can love your daughter unconditionally, as a Chelek Eloka Mima’al Mamash!
Perhaps having a daughter like this is the parents’ opportunity to work on revealing this essential love! When no other love-inspiring factors seem to be apparent, only the pure essence of her Jewish soul!
The truth is that every child, and every Jew for that matter, needs to be loved this way. As it says in Hayom Yom, loving your fellow Jew, is an explanation and commentary on loving Hashem. And when you love the Jew, and primarily, the essence of the Jew – you are essentially loving G-d!
But in the case of a child “going off derech,” this love is more pronounced and manifest, as explained. And this, then, is the most important step in attempting to prevent or even remedy such a situation: “Love thy G.O.D. with all thy heart…”
Why Do They Ask Provocative Questions?
Not only does the “gee oh dee” help her loved ones come to recognize the essence of her Jewish soul, which is one with Hashem, as it were, but she herself surely believes in Him, intensely. This would explain my above-mentioned students’ infatuation with incessantly asking questions about His modus operandi and existence.
In the above-referenced, latest farbrengen, the Rebbe shared a most awesome insight into this innate recognition of every Jew, even when not entirely “on the derech”:
“Immediately upon waking up in the morning, a Jew recites Modeh Ani…”, completely surrendering (modeh) himself (ani) to Hashem (l’fonecha). It would seem, however, that the word “l’fonecha” ought to be prefaced in the sentence; after all, it is the recognition of G-d’s presence that has hereby been introduced upon the Jew’s waking and becoming conscious, and should, therefore, come before all else.
Furthermore, why is this verbal admission to be made “immediately upon waking”? Doesn’t the person, just now waking from slumber, need to give a little thought into Hashem’s omnipresence, before coming to the recognition that He is everywhere, in front of the Jew at all times, even here in the Jew’s bedroom (l’fonecha)? How can the Jew be “modeh” without a few moments of basic contemplation?
But alas, the Rebbe powerfully concludes, no meditation or thought is required, for the Jew recognizes G-d’s presence always – even while sleeping! What is introduced at the moment of waking is not Hashem’s existence, but that the person exists, that there is an ani altogether! (And on the contrary, while asleep, the Jew’s recognition of Hashem is even more pronounced than when awake! While awake, the person’s desires tend to obscure his true desire, that of the Alm-ghty, Who inherently shines in the very core of the Jew’s being). Upon rising, the Jew realizes that he exists, and is a meaningful entity as far as Torah is concerned)! As soon as the riser realizes this, he immediately takes his new-found ani, and surrenders it (modeh), to Hashem (l’fonecha), Who the former slumberer and recent riser innately knew was present all along!
This reality applies to waking up not only from physical sleep, but from spiritual sleep as well — those who slumber in “the vanities of the world.” Even this type of slumberer, a teen, for example, who might be sleeping her way off the derech, as it were, inherently recognizes Hashem, due to the very essence of her soul. Her “sleep,” then, characterizes the lack of appreciation for her own existence!
Of course the “gee oh dee” recognizes G-d’s existence. She fails to recognize that she exists! Her life has value! With all her trials and tribulations, she is the center of attention as far as Hashem is concerned, and her contribution to the fulfillment of His plan is invaluable. The moment she realizes this is when she wakes up. And at the very moment of this realization, “immediately,” she takes her newly-discovered “ani,” realizing that its true essence is one with the Alm-ghty, and surrenders her entire being to Him alone.
At this moment, the “going off derech” becomes a “going on derech,” and the essence of the Jewish soul, which is part and parcel of G-d’s Essence, is manifest.
In conclusion: love your kids so that they too are empowered to recognize, so to speak, their priceless value and importance, enabling them to rise to the occasion to be proud soldiers in the Rebbe’s army, “on the derech,” to Kabolas P’nei Moshiach Tzidkeinu, greeting Moshiach.And may we all wake up in the most immediate fashion, and rejoice in arriving at the long-awaited destination – the true and ultimate Geulah, Mamash now!
The magazine can be obtained in stores around Crown Heights. To purchase a subscription, please go to: bmoshiach.org