Growing up, there was a widely accepted consensus amongst us – family members, friends, and neighbors – about many things, based on the premise that we are different. We have different dress, mode of speech, approach to education, customs, habits, social norms, and opinion, all based on a single premise, namely, that we are different in some hugely impactful way.
How are we different? Why are we different? Why and how does THAT Difference manifest itself in all these unique and irregular behavioral styles and attitudes? This can take a lifetime to learn, and one which many dedicated a teacher would spend hours explaining, teaching, lecturing, instilling, and conveying. More important, however, was an innate feeling, through to our bones and as true as Moses stood at the burning bush, that it was so. We just knew it. And we were content, happy, and proud. This was who we wanted to be. Any additional appreciation and awareness for how different we were was merely a means of teaching us how to accomplish, implement, and bring to fruition this special Difference of which we were endowed.
I now look with envy on those years. On that simplicity. Today, looking around, I observe that everything is being questioned. Everything must be explained. Everything must not only have a source, but, equally and perhaps more important, also a reasoned, enlightened psychology to back it up. We point to all sorts of problems that cause the new Movements and debates raging within our community. Some opine on our confusion and misdirection, while others remind of our own neglect of core educational milestones and benchmarks. Some, more pessimist yet, view this phenomenon as a natural effect of the all-consuming nature that is the exposure to the outside world, not least much as through the Internet.
These may be valid originators of some of our misfortune, but not the source of our dereliction. But at the core of the calls for Progress, Reform, and Change, is a void where there was once zeal for a mission. Today, that zeal seems more elusive than ever.
We are Lubavitchers, and we are different. Why are we different? Until and unless we understand and accept that, there is no stop to the sliding into the fades and crazes of the zeitgeist, be they of Jewish or non-Jewish invention. And if there’s one argument that I don’t hear lately, it is any attempt at explaining why we are different, or, in today’s soundbite culture, a simpler THAT we are Different. When we lose that recognition – our raison dệtre, then though we may win some battles, we no doubt will have lost the war.
We are different. We have a different outlook on life, a different perspective on the world; a different definition of G-d, a different purpose for existing; a different attitude towards fellow Jews, a different approach towards non-Jews; but most important, and as a result of it all, a different mission for ourselves.
Because of this mission, our thoughts, actions, modes of dress, allotment of time and energy resources, educational system, and practice of Judaism, are different.
Not because we despise any other group, not because we disprove of others’ perhaps more enlightened approaches towards those things, but merely because we have a different end-product in mind. And because our mission is so different, it follows that everything we do to effectuate that end will, in turn, be different. We do not endeavor to achieve the result that your average Jewish, Orthodox schools strive for, or supermarket experiences’ intend to foster, or Shabbos Shul Minyans’ endeavors to function. It only makes sense that with a different goal in mind, our approach will be, congruently, Different.
A successful manufacturing business can serve to illustrate: the manager, employee, CEO and shipping processor each have their unique respective duties. Should the CEO handle the shipping logistics while the employee sits down with shareholders at an executive meeting, the disaster would be swift and unmitigated. Each must perform their respective roles to ensure the operational success of the business. Similarly, there are many sects within the Jewish Community, each having their purpose of being, and what they, and only they, can contribute to the wider Jewish Community.
Some are renowned for their great feats of Chessed, while others are vehement in the fight for Torah-true ideals and practices. Others yet, have robust operations in the fields of Kashrus and political string pulling. Many worthy and urgent causes demand our attention, and while no one group can approach filling the diverse range of necessities singlehandedly, we hope that, collectively, all will be accomplished.
What role do we fill? Where do we stand? Which crucial ability and clarity do we have, that no other group possesses? It is far beyond the scope of this article to define and articulate those timely and weighty questions. However, a preliminary and foundational, yet simple and easily agreed upon, recognition is sufficient to stem the tide of – and there’s no other name for this – Orthodox Assimilation.
I remember when the Friendship Circle began. Like a Chalah-Bake or Shabbos Retreat, it was just another means by which to bring some yet “unaffiliated” Neshomos closer to Yiddishkait. Understandably, the PR couldn’t hurt, too, and soon, Friendship Circle became a Trademarked, Incorporated, full-fledged bi-national conglomerate overtaking such giants as Friday Night @Chabad and The Menorah Parade.
Is that our mission?
It’s time we regained our pride, and refocused.