For those of you who don’t know, Chabad is a sect of Hasidic Judaism that originated in Russia and whose home base now exists in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. Like all Hasidic dynasties, Chabad’s leader is called a “rebbe”. A rebbe is not at all like a rabbi. He is more of the spiritual guide and light of his Hasidim.
The latest Chabad rebbe was unlike any other rebbe to exist. He was not just a spiritual leader, but a world-changer. A leader who envisioned every single Jew reconnected to his or her Jewish roots. And because of that, he sent out thousands of his followers to every corner of the world. These people are called “shluchim”, or messengers, and they dedicate their entire lives to reminding Jews that they have a Jewish soul that can’t be extinguished. They stand out in public, looking like madmen, asking Jewish people to put on tefillin. They arrange Shabbat meals for the community, whether that community happens to be two Jews or two hundred or two thousand.
The Chabad shluchim, especially since the Rebbe’s death, are the torch-bearers of everything the Chabad stands for.
Unlike missionaries or other “professional” clergy, these men and women aren’t hired. They are self-created entities. They fundraise, they market, they run all their services. Until they raise enough money, they and their wives are almost completely on their own.
And, one more thing: these men and women, they never return. They go to wherever they go for life. People who spent their lives living in Brooklyn have made the decision to move to wherever they are needed. Sometimes small towns. Sometimes huge cities. Sometimes halfway across the world.
Yesterday, I was lucky enough to come to a gathering of these shluchim. Every year they come together for a gathering called the “Kinus”. Over four thousand men who live all over the world. From Wisconsin to Thailand to India to the Congo to Australia to… everywhere.
A friend of mine, Levi Pekar, was sitting with me, and we were talking about how special these people were, how powerful what they do is. I happened to use the words, “front lines.” In other words, that these are the men fighting the spiritual war to keep Judaism alive.
And Levi said to me something that really resonated, something I’m still trying to comprehend: “They’re not just the front lines,” he said, “Because these men will never return from duty. They’re going to die at war. There is literally no hope of their returning.”
It’s true, I realized. Until Moshiach comes, these men aren’t just soldiers. They are the cannon fodder. They are being sent out specifically to die wherever they commit themselves to. They will never move back to where their families are, even if their parents are sick. There’s no such thing as them getting better job offers.
But I was thinking: these Chabad rabbis, these men and women who sacrifice everything, who literally die for their beliefs: they reminded me of something. As soon as Levi said the words, I couldn’t help but think to myself something that I regretted at first.
“Shluchim are suicide bombers.”
I even said it to Levi and immediately felt uncomfortable. Obviously.
But I’ve been thinking about it since… and I can’t get the thought out of my head…
They say that there is a kosher equivalent to every unkosher thing that exists. Usually they mean this with food.
But you could say it about the world too. The opposite of a killer is a healer… a doctor. The opposite of a thief is someone who gives charity.
And the more unholy a thing, the more holy its opposite. To save someone’s life is such an incredibly holy thing, and thus it’s no surprise that to kill someone is an incredibly unholy act.
A suicide bomber decides that he wants to do anything to change the world for his beliefs. He is willing to lay down his own life, to kill himself, in order to make that happen.
These people change the world. Not for the best, obviously. In fact, it’s hard to imagine a worse thing to do. To strap yourself with explosives, walk into a group of innocent people – men, women, children – and blow them all up just to make a point.
A suicide bomber is one of the lowest pieces of scum on the earth. Even moreso because he is operating based on religious belief. He is twisting everything about religion and turning something that is inherently peaceful and about inspiring life into a tool of destruction. Not only that, he destroys the most holy thing he possesses, his body, in order to reach his ends.
A Chabad shliach also sacrifices everything for his beliefs. But rather than destroying his body, he uses it to its utmost potential in order to reach his goal. Rather than destroying people phsyically, he raises them up spiritually. They use religion in the way it’s meant to be used: as a means to get people in touch with their inner truth. As a way to live true lives.
And, of course, they will die on their mission. Until Moshiach comes, they are on a kamikazee mission. But this act of sacrifice isn’t one of misguided destruction, but inspired creation.
In other words, the mission Chabad shluchim have taken upon themselves is the most beautiful, most holy work, in the world. These men and women are the spiritual opposite, the metaphysical mirror image, of the darkest, most vile people to roam the earth.
Every single moment, I thank G-d that one of them walked into my life and turned it upside down, upending it completely. Every good thing in the last six years of my life has happened because of that man. From living in Israel to getting married to my work at Charidy.
Thank you, Chabad shluchim.