Leading a High Holiday service in New York City is one of the highlights of my year. Being able to pray with, inspire and be inspired, along with three hundred of my fellow Jews is something I look forward to the whole year. It also entails a lot of work. Right after Passover I start thinking of ideas for speeches, inspiring stories, and ideas worth sharing. I am not the only one working. Leading with me is my dear friend, Cantor Laivi, a Lubavitcher who does a magnificent job leading the service with his powerful and beautiful voice. It is when working with him that I realized: Chabad put us all to shame.
We both give the service our fullest, both work hard, and both put our heart and soul into what we are doing. The difference? Cantor Laivi wakes up long before the service. At 7 AM he can already be seen walking the streets of Manhattan speaking to Jews who will not be attending any service on Rosh Hashanah asking them if they want to hear the Shofar on their way to work. He blows the Shofar at the bus stops, street corners, shops, or anywhere else. Once he has done that he comes fully energized to lead the service with me.
But the difference does not end there. Once we have given it our all, I go to eat the Rosh Hashanah meal and get some rest after an exhausting few hours. The Cantor? You can find him on the hospital floors at Memorial Sloan Kettering, Cornell, Lenox Hill, and other New York Hospitals. Blowing the Shofar, giving a taste of a Rosh Hashana medley, or just being kind to a person that needs a visit now more than ever.
Yom Kippur is not much different. At night after Kol Nidreh, early in the morning, or during the break he is busy doing Mitzvahs. While my friend is a remarkable human being, anyone familiar with the work of Chabad around the globe knows this is not an anomaly. When my wife was doing a medical rotation, focusing on international health, in Nepal, you can be sure that she found warm and extensive Shabbat meals at Chabad of Katmandu.
People who work for no material reward, day and night, often for people who will never see them again and who will not necessarily return a favor in any way. They do it because it is a Mitzvah.
This got me thinking.
Was there anything I learned in my education that was different that what my friends at Chabad have learned? Is there anything that any reform, conservative, orthodox, or ultra-orthodox rabbi has learned in their own education that precludes the kind of dedication we see coming from those educated in Chabad schools? Clearly not.
We have all learned about the concept of Arevut— that Kol Yisrael Arevim Zeh Lazeh—means that all Jews are responsible for one another. Many Israeli Yeshivot teach their students it is a religious obligation to advocate for the secession of public transportation in Tel Aviv even when that transportation does not go through any religious areas because of the concept of Arevut—we are all responsible for each other—and therefore it is my business to make sure that another Jews does not travel on Shabbat.
Where are all the followers of that doctrine on Rosh Hashana morning when they have the opportunity to help their fellow Jews fulfill the mitzvah of Shofar? Who is sitting at their table on Friday night when the time comes for Kiddush? Do Jews from all walks of life feel welcome at their Shabbat dinners?
We all learned about the incredible value of Ahavat Yisrael—the love we are to have to all our fellow Jews—and how that must follow with caring for the physical and spiritual wellbeing of our fellow Jews. Are we all standing on the paths of college campuses making sure Jewish students know they have a place at our dinner table and that we are there for them?
And yet, for some reason, it is a resounding yes for Chabadniks around the world. Whether it is professional shluchim like Rabbi Chezki and Chana Lifshitz, Chabad’s Shluchim to Kathmandu, Nepal who host thousands of Jews, my wife included, so graciously, or people like my friend Cantor Laivi who is a businessman busy supporting his family. They all find time for Am Yisrael. On college campuses, in small towns, big cities, airports, hospitals, military bases—you name it, Chabad are there.
Why is it that whenever we cannot find a meal for someone who needs to be hosted last minute we say: “if they don’t find anything they can go to Chabad”? why is it more of a responsibility of Chabad than for any other Jew?
Over the past decade or two Chabad has become an integral part of structured Jewish life around the world, recognized by every denomination for reliability, sincerity, kindness, and dedication. Clergy from Hebrew Union College to graduates of Lithuanian Yeshivot like myself all recognize this role. When the Israeli foreign ministry went on strike in 2013 and was not able to offer any support to Israelis abroad, Israel’s FM put out an official notice telling Israelis they can turn to the local Chabad.
Although not a Chabad follower myself, I and millions of other Jews look to Chabad with admiration mixed with envy. If just we can all have that same dedication and sincerity, kindness and hospitality…Yes, hopefully one day we will also make sure every Jew feels welcome at our Shabbat table, knows we have their back, and can turn to us in their time of need. Until then, Chabad puts us all to shame.