I confess.

The Torah and its observances are what my whole life and soul are about. But it wasn't always so; that took retrospection and careful thought.

There were times I wanted to make a bonfire on Shabbat.

And play my guitar on a Jewish holiday.

And to do away with the divider that separates men and women in the synagogue.


There is an image of a fire seared into my consciousness after hearing it described by the Rebbe countless times.

The following is a paraphrased version of his heart-wrenching words:

"A devastating inferno rages outside; a spiritual holocaust that has painfully claimed so many Jewish lives... What Hitler, may his name be blotted out, was not able to achieve, the ravaging fires of assimilation are sadly achieving…"

In each generation, the Jewish nemesis has a different face. In our day it comes disguised as ignoranceIn each generation, the Jewish nemesis has a different face. In our day it comes disguised as ignorance, which equals apathy and results in intermarriage and assimilation, causing more Jewish loss than any of our enemies have throughout history.

"If you know of someone sleeping in a burning house, the responsibility to save his life is yours, for he is incapable of helping himself…

"Become firemen," the Rebbe pleaded. "Put an end to these destructive fires!"

Fire Regulations

So, I'm ready to don the fireman outfit I've abandoned since childhood; where do I begin? How do I put out the fire of indifference and assimilation?

The task seems impossible, for it entails the bridging of two polar-opposite worlds: the secular and the sacred, the modern with the so-called "antiquated."

It challenges me to articulate religious truths to progressive minds that perceive them as dated; to communicate our rich, but ancient heritage to modern hearts.

I must learn new paradigms and frames of reference, it would seem, if I want to share the preciousness of our tradition with those who are unacquainted with their venerable past. I must become a savvy marketing professional, if I want to "package" Judaism properly and have it appeal to the masses.

I must feel the heartbeat of society to know where they're at and where they're going, in order to adjust myself and my message to them.

And it seems logical that I'll have to sacrifice some of the integrity of my message – perhaps to discard some of the many do's and don'ts – in order to make Judaism feasible for a Western clientele and give it contemporary allure.

Which explains my earlier confession: Declining to shake the hand of a woman whom I care to bring closer to Jewish tradition will likely drive her away! Besides, the last thing I want to do is hurt another person's feelings.

From a marketing point of view, doing away with the synagogue divider is a brilliant idea!The same goes for doing away with the mechitzah (synagogue divider), and arranging a Shabbat sing-along with music around a crackling fire. From a marketing point of view these ideas are brilliant!

For if I don't "learn the talk and do the walk," the Judaism I offer won't be "with it" and the people I share it with won't "dig it."

The Second Fire

This leads me to another fire.

The sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, was once at a meeting where one of the participants suggested compromising Torah law in order to save Judaism—then under attack by all types of ideologies that targeted Jewish youth. His eloquent and persuasive argument was that "for drinking purposes, water must be pure and clean, but when it comes to putting out a fire, even dirty water will suffice."

This well-meaning Jewish activist clearly admitted that a breach of G‑d's law resembles "dirty water," but what else could be done—a terrible fire burns!

The people at the meeting were impressed by the logic; that is, until the Rebbe countered sharply, "But what happens if one mistakenly tries to put a fire out with kerosene..?"

Of what use are his good intentions? Instead of bringing salvation he has helped destroy.

Well Meant

Sadly, our history contains many examples that confirm this point. Even our beloved Moses, who needs no introduction, went too far with a very good idea.

Before leaving Egypt, he was motivated by pure and loving intentions to accept the petition of a large group of gentiles seeking to join the Hebrew faith. Without consulting G‑d, but driven by the desire to glorify His name, he welcomed this wave of converts whom he viewed, and wanted others to view, as living proof of the living G‑d.

Moses' dream of sanctifying G‑d's name, inspired by the greatest of intentions, turned into a nightmareIn the long run, G‑d disapproved.1 For it was this group, labeled "the great conglomeration," that introduced chutzpah, and eventually mutiny, into the camp of Israel. In fact, according to our sages,2 they are to blame for the Golden Calf fiasco, which left a permanent3 stain on our people's record.4

As it turns out, Moses' dream of sanctifying G‑d's name, inspired by the greatest of intentions, turned into a horrible nightmare in which G‑d's holy name was desecrated.

Take One

According to the mystics, this was old news—merely a repeat of an earlier mistake committed by Joseph while he served as viceroy of Egypt.

According to rabbinic tradition,5 when Joseph was in charge of Egypt's well-stocked storehouses, he made the distribution of grain to the needy Egyptians contingent upon their circumcision!

Of course they bucked, complaining to Pharaoh that they were being exploited. But to no avail. "Do whatever Joseph tells you to do," was Pharaoh's reply.

What was Joseph up to?

At the time, Egyptian society was steeped in the pursuit of illicit carnal pleasure,6 which, as Maimonides writes,7 is reduced by circumcision. Thus, by having the Egyptians circumcised, Joseph sought to refine them, in part by diminishing their obsession with carnal indulgence.8

According to Lurianic tradition,9 however, his plan backfired—for G‑d had intended the mitzvah of circumcision for the seed of Abraham only.

Indeed the Egyptians became more refined as a result of the mass circumcision that ensued. But as a result of this refinement, they became worthier of receiving Divine beneficence. Unfortunately, though, they weren't refined enough to use this power newfound properly, and used it instead to persecute the Jewish people.

Put simply, the time-tested truth that was formulated by these incidents and others10 is that more is sometimes less.11 We have to follow the word of G‑d, although at times we may feel that we have brilliant ideas that will further G‑d's agenda. We cannot please Him, by acting contrary to His wishes.

The same is true with one who chooses to disregard a mitzvah – no matter which one, whether (seemingly) big or small – in order to make Judaism more appealing to the uninitiated.12

Nothing but the Truth

One final note is in order.

Before figuring out how to preserve, we must identify what we seek to preserve.

Is it a language, a culture, a tradition, a philosophy, a group of customs, a background, a race, a dream, or a gene?

Or is it a religion, a mission, a promise; a covenant between Creator and creation?

Before figuring out how to preserve, we must identify what we seek to preserveIs it about an identity or is it about truth?

If the former is of concern, marketing is the name of the game.

But if the latter is of primary importance, authenticity is the only solution, for truth compromised is truth no more. It isn't a matter of degrees.

What's in It for Me?

Our people stands at a historic crossroad. Never has the threat to Jewish continuity been so real.

Among American Jews who have gotten married since 2000, nearly six in ten have a have married out. And among Jews who got married before 1970, just 17% have a non-Jewish spouse.

Notably, nearly one third of American Jews born after 1980 do not consider themselves to have a religion.13

Jerusalem, we got a problem.

But how is it fixed? How do we hold on to the next generation?

Instead of watering down the Torah until it's hardly recognizable, and translating it into mundane language so that society can "relate" to it, let us raise the bar of society by teaching them the elevated language of the Torah.

Communication may be crucial but not at the expense of the message. If the package itself is impressive the wrapping paper will cease to matter.

The words are precise: "Bring them to the Torah"; not the Torah to themIn the words of our sages when describing Aaron (one of the first outreach workers): "A lover of every creature, and brings them close to Torah." The words are precise: "Bring them to the Torah"; don't bring the Torah to them.

Through the process of illumination – not elimination – we will get through to the lost children of our generation.

Through bringing Judaism alive, Judaism will live on. Through teaching Judaism with sincerity, passion, authenticity, and joy—it will be embraced. If instead of investing in advertising, we see ourselves as walking advertisements for Judaism, it will catch on.

In the long run, this is the only strategy that will work.