Book Review: ‘Chabad’s Secret’

Book Review: ‘Chabad’s Secret’

 

Fred Reiss, Ed.DBy Fred Reiss, Ed.D.

WINCHESTER, California — Rabbi Israel ben Eliezer, universally known as the Baal Shem Tov, is considered the founder of Chassidism, when in 1734, in the city of Mezibush, Ukraine, he began preaching its overarching message: the Torah belongs to all Jews, not just to scholars, and a true love for the community of Israel is demonstrated by a willingness to subordinate oneself for the good of another Jew. Sincere worship, d’vekut, he lectured, is the path to God and the earnestness of prayer must be so strong that one’s soul is able to rise up and join with the divine. Whenever this state is achieved, the soul is happy and there is love for fulfilling the mitzvot and expressing care for one’s neighbor.

 

Many Torah scholars flocked to Mezibush, including Rabbi Dov Ber of Meseritch, the Baal Shem Tov’s successor and teacher of Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Ladi. These and other trained rabbis spread out across Poland and surrounding territories carrying the wisdom of Chassidism. However, its message met with strong resistance among a number of important rabbis who felt that Chassidism represented an offshoot of the failed and devastating messianic movement of Shabbatai Tzvi, which had essentially played out between 1648 and 1666, and the Frankists, whose members accepted the messianic claims of Jacob Frank, in eighteenth century Poland, that he was the reincarnation of Shabbatai Tzvi.WINCHESTER, California — Rabbi Israel ben Eliezer, universally known as the Baal Shem Tov, is considered the founder of Chassidism, when in 1734, in the city of Mezibush, Ukraine, he began preaching its overarching message: the Torah belongs to all Jews, not just to scholars, and a true love for the community of Israel is demonstrated by a willingness to subordinate oneself for the good of another Jew. Sincere worship, d’vekut, he lectured, is the path to God and the earnestness of prayer must be so strong that one’s soul is able to rise up and join with the divine. Whenever this state is achieved, the soul is happy and there is love for fulfilling the mitzvot and expressing care for one’s neighbor.

Chabad Chassidism (also known as Chabad-Lubavitch), a large Orthodox Jewish, dynastic-leadership movement, embodies the teachings of the Baal Shem Tov as interpreted by the writings of Rabbi Shneur Zalman, the most important of which is his 1796 opus, Tanya.

Chaim Dalfin, a rabbinic counselor, author, teacher of Jewish mysticism, and a life-long member of Chabad tells an insider’s story of the growth and success of the movement. He begins with a number of core beliefs and practices, which he attributes to Chabad’s success, including unconditional love and a nonjudgmental view of people, especially Jews who neglect fulfilling the mitzvot.

Chabad’s accomplishments and triumphs emerge from creative decisions, beginning with Rabbi Sholom Dovber Schneersohn, the great-great-grandson of Schneur Zalman, around the turn of the twentieth century and continuing with Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the seventh and final successor to Rabbi Zalman, in the mid to late twentieth century.

In the late nineteenth century, Eastern Europe’s Jewish community experienced threats of assimilation from such non-religious beliefs as secularism, communism, and the Enlightenment. Although many yeshivotshuttered because young Jews were choosing these non-Torah paths, Schneersohn opened his school, a Chabad-centered yeshivaTomchei Temimim, “Supporters of the Pure Ones,” in 1897.

Tomchei Temimim succeeded, and Dalfin emphasizes that empowering the students led to its success. Schneersohn’s “empowerment was firstly to open a school with young minds. His focus was the youth…. [Secondly, Schneersohn] harnessed the youth by empowering with knowledge and responsibility… preparing the world for the Messiah.”

Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the Rebbe, understanding the inevitable evolution of religious movements, continuously spoke of “new approaches in order reach everyone.” Like missionaries of the Church of Latter-day Saints, volunteers, young men and women in their late teens and early twenties, who proselytize, perform church services, provide humanitarian aid and community service, and like Seventh-day Adventist Church missionaries, volunteers who fulfill Jesus’ words, “Go and make followers of all people in the world” (Matthew 28:19), the Rebbe, choosing quantity over quality, urged Chabad’s members to go into the world as Jewish messengers, emissaries of the Chabad Movement. “His emissaries, followers, and people throughout the world who respect him did exactly that. They allowed themselves to be empowered and took the initiative. The result… is Chabad’s unprecedented success.”

The first Chabad House opened in the early 1970s, and since then, “the word on the street has been that Chabad Houses receive financial assistance from Chabad’s central headquarters in Brooklyn, the Merkos organization. This is not true.” Each emissary is responsible for raising any needed funds to support his programs, which is quite a feat, considering that there are no membership fees whatsoever at Chabad Houses.

Money, however, is donated directly to Chabad by very wealthy people. “I’m not just talking about people with millions, but billions…. Their donations are part of the answer to this book’s question, ‘What is Chabad’s secret to its unprecedented success?’” This money is used for, among other things, large worldwide building projects. Dalfin, who asserts that Chabad dedicates much time and resources catering to them, suggests that this method would work in other organizations, if they adopted Chabad’s outreach model.

In Chabad’s Secret, Dalfin explains how Chabad’s innovative educational and global initiatives have added to its growth. These include, Merkos L’inyonei Chinuch, Chabad’s central educational organization, Chabad Houses, Jewish Learning Institutes, Roving Rabbis, Passover and summer programs, CTEEN, a College Campus program, and Internet resources and iphone/ipad apps. Dalfin assures us that Chabad’s innovative leaders, and the volunteers who support them, significantly contribute to Chabad’s success.

Another of Chabad’s successful initiatives is the National Committee for Furtherance of Jewish Education (NCFJE), initially established in the early 1940s by Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Schneerson to provide New York’s Jewish public school students with a free Jewish education through the Jewish Released Time program, which takes Jewish students to a local synagogue the last hour of public school, one day per week. Today, NCFJE is a multi-faceted charity that protects, feeds, in addition to educating thousands of Jewish children throughout the New York metropolitan area and around the nation. The Chabad on Campus International Foundation, which maintains the network of Chabad Jewish Student Centers on college campuses throughout the world, has grown significantly since the first one opened in the early 1980s.

Chabad’s Secret closes with a look at the relative success between Chabad and other Chasidics sects, between Chabad and the conservative and reform movements, and between Chabad and alternative Jewish movements. Intended or not, the non-Chasidic reader comes away with a most interesting perspective of the historical infighting among the various sects and movements.

Dalfin is a cheerleader for Chabad, and rightly so. Its achievement in attracting followers, providing services for and reaching out to the greater Jewish community is unmatched by any other Jewish body. Whether you rejoice in their accomplishments or not, Chabad is a success and so is Chabad’s Secret.

*

Dr. Fred Reiss is a retired public and Hebrew school teacher and administrator. He is the author of The Standard Guide to the Jewish and Civil Calendars;Ancient Secrets of Creation: Sepher Yetzira, the Book that Started Kabbalah, Revealed; and a fiction book, Reclaiming the Messiah. You may comment directly to the author at fred.reiss@sdjewishworld.com, or post your comment on this website provided that the rules below are observed.

As taken from, http://www.sdjewishworld.com/2015/06/02/book-review-chabads-secret/  on  September 10, 2017.

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