Friday, April 01, 2011

A Cup of Wine and an Empty Chair

This disturbing and yet not surprising video of a group of Lubavitch Chasidim at Chabad headquarters in Brooklyn’s Crown Heights neighborhood once again raises the Moshiach question. It is of relatively recent vintage and shows a line of young Lubavitch Chasidim passing by an empty chair with a sliver cup full of wine in front of it as the crowd sings their by now infamous ‘Yechi’ chant proclaiming posthumously that their Rebbe is the Messiah.

It is no longer news that such things go on. Especially in hotbeds of Moshichism like 770 Eastern Parkway. But what it reinforces in my mind is the notion that this phenomenon not only still exists, but that it exists in far greater numbers than anyone in Lubavitch is willing to admit. The video is only an 11 minute clip of what must have been a much longer period of time where many Lubavitchers passed by holding an empty cup as if to await getting ‘Shiryaim’ (leftover portions) of the Rebbe’s wine sitting on the table.

I am not going to get into the various gradations of Meshichist beliefs in Lubavitch. Suffice it to say that there is some level of belief by rthe vast majority of them that his resurrection to become Moshiach is at least a remote possibility. Even the supposed anti Meshichists within Chabad believe that. Very few reject the notion that he is no more Moshiach than anyone else who ever died and has about as much chance of being resurrected for that purpose.

This video is a corroboration of that. The claim among many anti Meshichist Lubavitchers is that there are only a few of real Meshichists; that they have commandeered 770; and that they make a lot of noise. They are sourced in the city if Tzfas in Israel. I think this video clearly shows that that the Meshichist faction is not all that small; that these beliefs continue to this day unabated; and are quite readily found right here in the United States.

Here’s the thing. There are many Chabad houses around the world. And they provide a major service to Klal Yisroel. They are there for any Jew to use and freely offer assistance to any Jew who comes to their area.

How many times have I heard people who travel a lot say, ‘Thank God there was a Chabad House in that town.’ ‘They were warm and welcoming… helping me with food, and Shabbos accommodations.’ Always gracious, unassuming, and undemanding.’ All they wanted to do was help a fellow Jew.’ ‘I don’t know what I would have done without them.’

These are typical responses I hear all the time. Indeed, they are all over the world. One can almost always rely on a Chabad House no matter what remote part of the world in which one finds themselves.

But that is really only a by-product of why they are there. Their purpose is first and foremost outreach to fellow indigenous Jews trying to connect them with their heritage. That’s what they have always been known for. That is what the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s main goal was. And no one was better than he was at achieving it. He inspired loyalty like no one else in the Jewish world – bar none. That loyalty led his emissaries to go to the remotest areas of the world as long as there even the smallest number of Jews located there. And that loyalty continues well past the Rebbe’s death.

But how on earth can they reach out to any serious secular Jewish individual if they are aware of the kind of thing that goes on in 770? How can they possibly explain it? What can they tell a college age youth for example about a long line of Lubavitch Chasidim trying to get ‘Shirayim’ from a cup in front of empty chair? Even if they would explain that it is merely a symbolic act to show how much they love, respect and miss him by mimicking what they did when he was alive – is that normal? Is that how people that mourn the death of their leader express their sorrow and longing for his presence?

To say that they simply don’t tell people they reach out to about this kind of thing doesn’t really work anymore in the era of the internet and YouTube. But even if they could hide it, is that the most honest and honorable way to reach out to fellow Jews in an effort to show them the truth of Judaism? …by hiding their own truths from them?

This is why I speak out from time to time about this issue. Not because I want to bash Lubavitch. But because I value their service to Klal Yisroel too much to ignore these kinds of problems. I realize that my protests have little impact on them and will probably not change too many hearts and minds there. But that does not free me up from trying. It is hard to believe that this kind of thing still takes place in 770 and has not died down so many years after the Rebbe’s death.