Op-Ed Response: Organic Chabad
A brother-in-law of mine residing in Crown Heights sent me an op-ed published on Crownheights.info entitled ‘Chabad Lite.’ In it, the author bemoans the spiraling state of altruistic Chassidic values which is widespread amongst many of today’s youth specifically in Lubavitch circles. It seems, in the words of the author, that people choose for one reason or another to identify with Lubavitch but are not prepared to hold themselves accountable and continuously refine their character and connection to the Rebbe’s ideals as old world Chassidim did.
This brings to mind a joke that Chassidim say about today’s gezhe: The joke goes. “Gezhe are like carrots, the best part is in the ground.” However, as funny a joke it is, it is just as much a call to reality for all of us who fall within that category. When I tell people that I carry the name and am the great grandson of the late Yochanan Gordon of Dokshitz and esteemed Gabbai of 770 Eastern Parkway and friend of the Friediker Rebbe and the Rebbe they almost always follow by saying, “are you aware of the shoes that you have to fill?” It is the question that is important at this point to dwell on.
Taking credit for family pedigree is in a sense stealing the crown off the king’s head. Being born a Jew, or to any prestigious family within Jewish life is more of a liability than it is a reason to pursue honor or respect. In fact, more times than not it is those people who fail to follow the call of their predecessors who are in search of their birthright. Those who realize the enormity of the challenge they have encountered by being born into a gezhe family have no time to worry about honor or respect for something they have not earned themselves.
The author chose to title his op-ed as Chabad Lite following the modern fad to indulge in specific culinary pleasures without accumulating the calorie intake that the real thing would result in. It’s a spinoff of the diet or low fat generation that has been a part of us for so long already. But I believe that the world has moved on since then. It seems from my point of view that sugar substitutes are no longer as convincing to the weight conscious as they once were. In fact, a recent study shows that sweet n low or other such sugar supplements prevent weight loss and contains the risk of other medical complications. So while psychologically it may seem like the right thing to do the truth is that it could take a long time but you will come to realize that it was not the quick fix that it was meant to be.
It is a perfect analogy. On a superficial level, while it would seem to an outside observer that someone walking with a beard, sirtuk, bent down hat and a gartel belongs to the Lubavitch affiliation, it may take some time but at the end the mask will be pulled off and the person’s true identity known to all. Growth as a Jew has to start from the inside and make its way out. If the foundation is not strong then the building built upon it is at serious risk of collapsing.
I believe it is this realization that introduced a new phenomenon in the food industry called organic. Today, a quick walk through your local supermarket will reveal a whole line of organic products from lolly pops to chickens. Even cleaners claim they have the ability to use untainted cleaning agents and charge the client more for doing so. In following with modern trends I think today’s Lubavitch community in particular and the Jewish community in general would do well to return to their natural state of being, free of the environmental hazards that continue to abound within our midst.
The benefit of an organic product and the factor which raises its value on the market is the watchfulness invested within it to ensure that it is free of any hazardous influences. The point is, although the two maybe indistinguishable to the naked eye the effects will be seen overtime. In fact, if there were no health benefits to going green then certainly in a faltering economy nobody would even think twice about it. However, despite the ever-present financial strain people are reaching deeper into their pockets to do all they can to ensure their health and the well being of those near and dear to them. It seems then that the organic way of life improves the overall quality of life.
The truth is that the Baal Shem Tov introduced the system of Chassidus to improve the overall quality of life. Someone who closely adheres to this system, not by convenience, rather on principle has improved his value as a person and will enjoy a much more meaningful existence. But just to go through the motions without the religious fervor is similar to a monkey who imitates everything they see. But, then again, from the perspective of the monkey, just imitating the motions of man will get scientists to debate the relationship between monkeys and men. Hopefully, we understand our heritage well enough, and respect the self sacrifice of our predecessors not to be content with ‘professors’ debating whether or not we are Chassidic or not.
A story to illustrate the seriousness that Chabad demands: Although the tradition today is for married Chabad men to wear a gartel during prayer, at one point it became customary for a boy who became Bar Mitzvah. During the Reign of the Rebbe Rashab some boys would cavalierly twirl twirl the gartel around their finger in a playful, lightheaded manner. In order to stop that prevailing trend, the Rebbe decreed that only married men should wear gartels during prayer.
Today, if the gartel was our problem we would be alright. Sadly, the malady has spread fast and furious plaguing some of the most prestigious families in Chabad and it’s all a result of outside influences that have crept into and has seriously deteriorated the Jewish pride and fortitude to stand firm amidst the prevailing trends of a demoralized society.
Until we realize the value of a Chassidic way of life and understand that no other system or path will offer us the benefits that a Chassidic approach achieves at the end of the road, sadly nothing will change. Because no one is prepared to invest time or exert effort into something that they could get without it. Once we realize that there is only one road that takes us there we will be prepared to do the work, despite the setbacks that we might encounter along the way, because ultimately we will get there b’derech aruchah uketzarah b’ezras Hashem….