In commemoration of the Rebbe’s 25th yartzeit, many articles have been written about the success of Chabad in carrying on the Rebbe’s vision.
Many are trying to understand the secret to Chabad’s success. Every once in a while, I read about a rabbi or organization that proclaims we need to learn from Chabad how to be successful in reaching Jews from all walks of life. At times, they include specific suggestions. We need to be more welcoming. We need to be more joyous. We need to change our model and offer free programming. We need to learn how to market Judaism.
These are all good points. I may be biased, but I agree, Chabad is pretty good at all the above. However, those are not the key ingredients to Chabad’s success. A friend of mine who was a marketer for a large food company once told me, “My job is to get you to pick up the can the first time; quality control is responsible for getting you to pick up the can the second time.” The typical remarks about Chabad’s success, listed above, are what may get people into our doors the first time, but what helps us get them in after that?
Here is the good news: The Rebbe often proclaimed that he did not copyright his ideas. In fact, he wished that others would adopt and implement them, as well! So I want to share what I learned from the Rebbe and what I believe to be some of the essential ingredients that together create the success of Chabad.
First and foremost, the Rebbe taught us how to view a fellow person. Every person possesses a soul, “a part of G-d.” This is who they are, and this is how they are to be treated. It is not easy to always see through the façade of the body, past people’s actions, but we need to always remember that within each one of us there is a unique soul and that is who we truly are. We see in others what’s most important to us about ourselves. The more we are in touch with our own soul, the more we are able to see the soul in another. When we view every person as a soul, we can have unconditional love for them.
The next important concept is the value of a mitzvah. Every time a person does a mitzvah, be it putting on tefillin or lighting Shabbat candles or any other of the 613 commandments, it has an impact on the person and on the world that is infinite. That explains why the Rebbe encouraged people to stand on the streets and help Jewish men put on tefillin and offer the women Shabbat candles. Many people questioned the benefit of asking a person to put on tefillin as a one-time thing, but the Rebbe argued that one infinite mitzvah performed by one infinite soul is of tremendous value.
People crave authenticity. The Rebbe taught that one must never compromise on Torah and mitzvot. I may not be ready to fulfill every mitzvah today — in fact, it is not a good idea to start with everything at once, the chances of that lasting are slim — but that does not mean I have to compromise on what is the truth. So while the Chabad House is run in accordance to halacha, the participants, including the rabbis and rebbetzins, are all on a personal journey to fulfill more and more every day.
When one realizes that everyone has a special soul, every mitzvah has infinite value, and every person is on their personal journey, this leads to an attitude of not being judgmental of others.
Chabad is an abbreviation for Chachmah, Binah and Daat — wisdom, understanding and knowledge. These ideas are expounded upon in Chabad teachings in depth. When learning Chassidus, one gains deep appreciation for these ideas, and they bring a sense of joy and life to Torah and mitzvot.
The Rebbe’s secret to success? Recognizing the value of every Jew and of every mitzvah, and refusing to compromise on either of them. pjc
Rabbi Yisroel Altein is co-director of Chabad of Squirrel Hill.