Just how widespread is the Chabad belief that their rebbe "runs the world" and that, even after his death, he responds to the prayers of those who believe in him?
Now, more than ever before, we can answer that question.
This past November 2011, the main banquet of the annual Kinus Hashluchim (an annual gathering for professional Chabad emissaries from around the world) took place at the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal. Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky
hosted the event, addressing the 5,000 attending shluchim. In the course of his remarks, he offered this blessing:
"may the Rebbe look upon our gathering favorably, his presence is here with us now and may he grant our requests"
It was an assembly of no less than 5,000 of the most respected and mainstream individuals Lubavitch has. This, inarguably, was the very core of the modern movement. And before this audience, without a single noticeable word or act of protest in response, a significant leading figure clearly identified their departed rebbe - rather than God - as the one who has the power to grant the requests offered through human prayer.
Even if one will argue that some of those present rejected this formulation but nevertheless remained silent, their failure to register any protest means either that they don't consider the issue important enough to get involved, or that they are intimidated by the overwhelming majority of their colleagues who accept the belief. Either way, the conclusions we may now draw are clear.
Let's trace the evolution of our growing awareness of the depth of the problem.
Years ago we demonstrated that Lubavitchers were educated through official Chabad sources to treat their deceased rebbe like a god: to pray to him
, to constantly think about
his powerful, all-knowing presence
and to ascribe great world events to his influence.
We can all observe the intense and universal loyalty Lubavitchers have for their rebbe's teachings (among which the above principles are included). But many people still refused to believe that the same Lubavitchers who act as Torah educators, shochtim, sofrim and simple, kind and decent neighbors also share this theology. And that their theology affects their ability to live as kosher Jews.
Somehow, it was widely assumed, "normal" Lubavitchers don't actually listen to their rebbe's teachings on this subject.
When it was pointed out that some Lubavitchers referred to their rebbe as "boreinu" (our creator)
, the Orthodox mainstream barely noticed, (justifiably) considering it to be the work of "just a few lunatics from Sfas."
Similarly, Leah Lipszyc - the wife of a prominent Chabad shaliach - once described her reaction to a difficult experience:
"Rebbe," I thought. "I know you're here with us. I know you help people in difficult situations. I think this fits the criteria - please help us now. And do it quickly, please, before one of these guys snaps and decides to shoot."
Where was this account published? In the non-Chabad Horizons Magazine (winter '97-'98, Number 15, page 131). But Mrs. Lipszyc too is only one woman. And the publishers of Horizons aren't even Lubavitchers!
Later, it became apparent that a number of Lubavitch print publications and web sites (from various locations around the world) regularly encourage a rebbe-chassid relationship along the lines of the most problematic of the teachings we've described. That too was dismissed as the work of a vocal but unrepresentative minority...people living at the fringe of Chabad whose words are largely ignored by the official mainstream population.
Later still (in late 2008), a video surfaced
showing one of Chabad's most powerful and respected shluchim describing how everyone will soon see that "it's the rebbe who runs the world." There is no evidence that this rabbi was ever criticized within Chabad for what he said - after all, wasn't he only quoting his rebbe's words (see שיחת ש"פ תרומה, פ' זכור, ח' אדר, ה'שי"ת)? On the contrary, the fact that the Internet was filled with attempts to rationalize the message says quite a lot about mainstream Chabad's current mindset!
At around the same time, Rabbi Mordechai Shmuel Ashkenazi spoke before thousands of Jews at a memorial gathering for the victims of the tragic Mumbai massacres. As widely reported, his address included these words:
"הם נטבחו ממש כמו במעשי הצלב, כמו פרעות ת"ח ות"ט עם תשמישי הקדושה בידיהם. הם הזדככו בצורה כזאת שאף אחד מישראל לא זוכה לזה. הם יגיעו תיכף ומיד למחיצתו של הרבי. הם יצעקו ויזעקו בפניו: רבי, תציל ותגן על כל אחד ואחד מהשלוחים במקומו, שלא יהיה להם כל נזק.
"They were slaughtered just as in the crusades, with their holy vessels in hand, like in the massacres of tach v'tat. They were purified in a way that no other Jew merited. They will immediately reach the rebbe's presence. They will cry before him: Rebbe! Save and protect each and every one of the shluchim wherever he is so that he should come to no harm."
Yet despite the video's wide dissemination and the fact that Rabbi Ashkenazi's speech was no secret, they too sparked little practical change. "After all," one could reassure himself, "it was just one or two men."
Still, we were told, the elite core within modern Lubavitch - the shluchim - were as a group highly educated and pure and clean in their beliefs. These are the people who teach Torah to the children of both Chabad and of other Jewish communities, and what they both believe and teach is beyond reproach. Whatever problems might exist at the fringes of the movement, surely don't affect the vast majority of these dedicated shluchim.
But now we know better.
Now there is no excuse for a Jewish public policy that does not responsibly take this deviation into account.