Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Yiddn Ein Mishpoche

In the well-known Lubavitcher datebook, Hayom Yom, the entry for 24 Tevet reads as follows:

On this day the Alter Rebbe passed away in the village Piena on Saturday night of parshat Sh'mot 5573 (1813). He is interred in the city of Haditz.

My grandfather (R. Shmuel) asked the Tzemach Tzedek: What did Grandfather (the Alter Rebbe) intend with the "ways of Chassidus" and what did he intend with Chassidus?

The Tzemach Tzedek answered: The "ways of Chassidus" are that all Chassidim are to be like one family, with affection, as Torah teaches. Chassidus is vitality. Chassidus is to bring life and illumination into everything, to shed light even on the undesirable - to become aware of one's own evil exactly as it is, in order to correct it.

"alle Chasidim zolen zein vi ein mishpacha al pi ha'Torah b'ahava" - Chassidim (meaning, at least in current Lubavitcher parlance, all Chabad Chassidim) are one family, joined in joy and love of all Israel, such that we can self-correct.

Perhaps that kind of unity is only possible in a group joined for a moral/spiritual purpose, such that one person won't get massively offended when another tries to correct their behavior or attitudes. Perhaps part of that is the secret of real Kiruv, bringing others close enough so that they can be brought to proper Torah-dig behavior and ideas.

However, in a larger sense, Jews are one family. The Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik has made the distinction between the Covenant of Destiny (Brit Goral), a covenant of shared fate and restoration made with Abraham, and the Covenant of Meaning (Brit Yi'ud), made with Moses at Sinai, and binding all Jews to the Jewish religion. Jews opt out of the Jewish religion, but they cannot opt out of the covenantal community of destiny.

As R' David Hartman has said, extending R' Soloveitchik's vision into an ideology of kiruv:

"Religious Jews who are deeply concerned about the fate of all Jews must not only share the burdens of survival but also strive to build spiritual bridges among Jews. The sense of community that preceded mitzvah must also influence one's approach to the observance of the commandments. Halakhah is addressed not to the singular individual, but primarily to the individual rooted in the historical destiny of community" (Conflicting Visions, p. 27)

I have seen Jews be the fate community.

In Adar 2002, when Debbie & I last visited Israel, we had spent a shabbat with friends in Ramat Gan. After Shabbat, we heard on the TV about an attack on guests attending a bat-mitzvah in Geulah, a religious neighborhood in Jerusalem. It was terrible - people killed as they went to the party.

The next day, we were on a bus to the Diaspora Museum in Tel Aviv. Traffic was terrible - with attacks coming every 2-3 days, the police were inspecting vehicles on the bridges over the Yarkon. The driver had his radio on, as usual, tuned to a news station. At one point, the announcer said he would read the names of the dead from the previous night's attack. The driver turned up the radio, and as name after name was slowly read out, you could see people all over the bus sobbing, putting their heads down, personally hurt by this attack. Didn't matter that the dead were mostly religious and the bus-riders mostly not, the death of cousins always hurts.

So more than the Tzemach Tzedek said, that (his) chassidim were one family - we Jews are all one family, all of us in the covenantal community of fate.

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