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The Myth of Chabad Outreach

The Myth of Chabad Outreach

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There are many myths about Chabad. Like the one that Chabad invented Jewish outreach. Don’t believe a word of it. Chabad never did outreach. The term is antithetical to everything that Chabad and the Rebbe stand for.

Take the case of the rabbi who wrote to the Rebbe boasting that he was involved in outreach. He used the Hebrew term kiruv rechokim, which translates as “bringing close those who are distant.” The poor rabbi must have really regretted that letter. The Rebbe wrote back indignantly:

You call them “distant”?! What gives you the right to say that you are close and they are far? You must approach each one of them as though you are the King’s servant sent with a message to His most precious child!

Others who spoke with the Rebbe on the subject have similarly groped and fallen. One Chabad supporter told the Rebbe about a Shabbaton he had sponsored for over forty couples who “had no Jewish background.”

“No what?” the Rebbe responded, as though in shock.

“No Jewish background,” was the hesitant response.

“Tell them that they have a background! Their background is that they are children of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob!” the Rebbe replied.

So I don’t believe that the Rebbe preached outreach, and Chabad, from what I’ve seen, doesn’t practice it. Sure, the word gets used, but there are days I think we should ban it. We don’t need any more distinctions between Jews. We certainly don’t need to divide ourselves between those who are on the inside and those who are on the outside. In Chabad, there is one Jewish people, all of us in the same inside of the same boat.

So what do we practice? What is a Chabad House? What is the mitzvah campaign? What are all these beards and black hats, sheitels and long skirts doing in the most bizarre places, if not outreach?

Quite simply, we are patching up the boat.

In the Rebbe’s words:

A Jew may say to you, “Why can’t you leave me alone? Why can’t you just go and do your thing and let me do mine? What does it bother you if I drill this little hole in my little boat?”

You must answer him, “There is only one boat, and we are all in it together.”

That is and always was the theme behind the mitzvah campaign. Again, in the Rebbe’s words:

The soul of the mitzvah campaign is ahavat Yisrael—love of the Jewish people. And the meaning of that love is that we are all one.

That’s why there was never a campaign that was meant only for “them out there.” Every campaign encompassed and embraced the entire Jewish people. When there was a tefillin campaign, not only did we run out on the streets to roll up sleeves and apply the “Jewish blood pressure test”—we took our own tefillin to a scribe to be checked as well. When the Rebbe initiated the mezuzah campaign, he made sure to discover a cranny of his own office that could use a new mezuzah as well. When he started a campaign to have a charity box in every Jewish home, he started personally handing out dimes and dollars to children and grownups to give to charity.

So, if a Chabad House is not an outreach center, what is it?

Chabad is an idea. An idea that is valid no matter where you are and who you think you are. It wasn’t invented yesterday, and it’s not going away tomorrow. It is the idea that every person has to use his own mind to awaken his heart and connect with his G‑dly soul. A Chabad House is a place that facilitates that. For anybody who wants to make that connection.

So why are we “out there”? Why do we make such a big deal of traveling to the furthest reaches of the world, as long as another Jew might be found there? Aren’t there enough Jews to take care of in Brooklyn and Jerusalem?

Because this is the mandate given us in our time, to “spread the wellsprings to the outside.” As the Rebbe pointed out, not that the water from the wellsprings should spread to the outside. That would be outreach. The wellsprings themselves should be outside. The “outside” should become wellsprings. Every single one of us, without distinction.

There’s a Jew somewhere in the world who imagines he’s “out there.” He doesn’t find in himself—if he ever stops to look for it—any connection left with his people. Maybe he’s far away on the globe, maybe further in ways of life, ways of thinking.

We come to him and tell him, “Really, you are on the inside. Really, you never left. The fact that you find yourself so ‘out there’—you were guided to this place, this mindset, so that even here you would find the Torah and even here you will delight in its living water. Until you yourself will become a wellspring to this part of the world.”

In Chabad, every reach reaches deeper within.

Rabbi Tzvi Freeman, a senior editor at Chabad.org, also heads our Ask The Rabbi team. He is the author of Bringing Heaven Down to Earth. To subscribe to regular updates of Rabbi Freeman's writing, visit Freeman Files subscription. FaceBook @RabbiTzviFreeman Periscope @Tzvi_Freeman .
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Anonymous Boynton Beach,FL May 8, 2017

Thanks for this exceptional "vort". This explains a lot. As always the Rebbe hit the nail on the head". Reply

Anonymous israel July 5, 2016

perfect as usual Reply

Jorge Qro. Mexico October 10, 2015

My appreciation to all those who are or have become wellsprings of Chassidism Only the lonely in their loneliness can appreciate in its entirety the uplifting power of these words. Not long ago I indulged in digging into some sources to know if I had Jewish roots. What a tragedy, I found that nor my father nor my mother families had any Jewish roots. Now that I know that all Chabadniks are in the same boat all Jews are I feel more relaxed. One source I consulted had a banner now I want to share with you. "Hearken, my son, to the discipline of your father, and do not forsake the instruction of your mother." Proverbs 1: 8. And certainly, we all are children of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob! Reply

Shaul Queens May 20, 2017
in response to Jorge:

What do you mean, "we all" are "children of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob"? That's like saying we all are children of King Tut, or we all are children of Gilgamesh.

We all are children of Adam and Eve, and of Noah, but we are not all children of Shem. Some are children of Ham. Some are children of Japheth.

And not all the children of Shem are also children of Isaac and Jacob.

Not all the children of Abraham are children of Isaac. some are children of Ishmael.

Not all the children of Isaac are children of Jacob. Some are children of Esau.

What do you mean when you say we "all are children of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob"??? Reply

Chabad supporter May 6, 2015

Kiruv Rechokim Interesting to point out that the Rambam in hilchos teshuva clearly states that before one does teshuva he is called "rochoik" etc.

Call it whatever you want, keep up your amazing work of bringing Jews even closer! Reply

Bea (Devorah) WNY April 30, 2015

Chabad speaks for itself The Holy Hebrew Letters bless ChaBaDa and they make this ministry a house of Mitzvot. Chabad is blessed by HaShem through the divine holiness of Chokmah, Binah and Da'at and Chabad blesses me much more than any other man made creation. The Power of the Torah is His Letters and Numbers as is the power of Chabad... not man's power but the power of HaShem when mankind TRIES to make Torah real here on Earth. B"H for His divine inspiration of ChaBaDa onto righteous men and women of great faith and fiery passion. Reply

Avrohom Monsey, NY April 30, 2015

Thank you to The Rebbe and his shluchim for being there and reminding me that we're one nation. Also thank you to R. Freeman for writing articles like this to fuel us further along in our journey. Reply

Tamyla Abraham Annopolis April 30, 2015

The right direction to see Beautiful! I feel contented by just reading this. Reply

Doreen Toronto April 30, 2015

The Myth of Chabad Outreach I have never found Chabad going from door to door. I have found Chabad going through the streets to share in Mitzvot as in helping men if they wish to put on the phylacteries, or make the blessing in a Sukkah, give out candles to women for Friday night. Not once did they say something that encouraged people to follow their ways or lifestyles. If you seek them out, they are there for you. Reply

Anonymous April 30, 2015

I'm not all that observant and I'm not going to be. Chabad outreach is nice. It gives me an easy way to learn things... including things I wouldn't have though to ask about. Reply

Pessach Chusyd S. Paulo Brazil April 29, 2015

Wellsprings to outside Great article, Rabbi Tzvi. I loved knowing else about that matter. Thank you so much. Reply

Shoshanna Houston April 28, 2015

To Lila--

Find an orthodox Sephardic (Ladino) congregation. Or even an Ashkenazi congregation. Attend services. Ask to be invited to Shabbat dinner at people's homes.

If you like the people, ask the rabbi how you can be a Jew, if that is your desire. It will take a year (or more) to learn enough to be even an ignorant Jew.

I was trained in eating kosher from earliest infancy. I saw how my mother kept her dairy dishes and pots and pans and food in separate cabinets from the meat utensils. Learning as an adult is hard.

If the rabbi turns you away, go a second and a third time. It is customary to test people's sincerity and stamina by turning them away three times. It is hard to live as a Jew. Jews NEED a great deal of sincerity and stamina to endure.

But if, after that, he still turns you away, seek a congregation in a larger city, or in another country. Some congregations are more welcoming than others. I can tell you two welcoming congregations in Houston, Texas. Reply

Anonymous April 28, 2015

For us all Chabad was there for me when I returned. I'll always be thankful to the Rebbe and Chabad for that.
Continued Hatzlacha. I'll do my part too. Reply

Ezra Ezraty Huntington April 27, 2015

Thanks for all you do. Reply

Lila Gonzalez Canada April 27, 2015

Outreach But, what about someone who wasn't born as a Jewish, but somehow yearns and loves the Torah?

That is what happened to me. I am not Jewish by birth, but the wholeness I find in the Torah and the love I have for it, can not be measured. Reply

Michelle uk April 26, 2015

thankyou thankyou for this beautiful insight. I was directed to Chabad many years ago and still feel I have a place and can be a part even tho I am not Jewish, as I learn with you and travel with you as a Noahide and for that I will always be grateful, as Chabad helped me understand this. More so when one day I was able to travel to London and not just see from the outside, but equally walk amongst you and visit the Chabad House in London. May Hashem continue to bless you in His service. love x Reply

shlomo BROOKLYN November 26, 2014

great article Keep up your holy inreach! Reply

Anonymous September 28, 2013

Confused This entire article confused my view on how I viewed Chabad/shlichus since I was born (I am a FFB Lubavitcher).
Since I was young I was told "chabad is outreach, you reach out to people and give them the happiness of living a Yiddishkeit life to them" "You teach them, and reach out to them", etc.
And here I am told "Chabad was never outreach". So what were/are we? Clarification needed!!! Reply

Barney Borås, Sweden December 7, 2010

Either way, Chabad does wonders I don't know if it's right or wrong to describe Chabad as outreach or inreach. But I do know that I feel welcome, accepted and appreciated there, regardless of my level of observance. Also, whatever step in the right direction I take, however small, whatever mitzvah I do, however small, is greeted with great encouragement. Which encourages me to take the next step, do a somewhat bigger mitzvah. Reply

Igern Paris, France November 4, 2010

Very insightful I've never thought about Chabad as an outreach organisation, but rather as the builders of Chasidut

For me, that's not outreach -that's nothing less than sharing the beauty of Torah and the beauty of the world G-d has given us!

And is because of you that people like me are today Torah observant. And for that, I'd like to say: thank you! Reply