What follows is an email dialog initiated by a non-Lubavitcher who, because of his sympathy with the movement, took issue with our condemnation of their theology. The version presented here is rearranged and lightly edited for readability. Our critic's comments will be indented in red characters and our responses will be in black.
The interesting thing is, that your entire condemnation of Chabad is based on something you take to mean an akirah of the 5th yesod[...]
Actually, besides the fifth, the book shows that modern Chabad theology is in direct conflict with Rambam's second yesod (that G-d is infinitely simple and internally indivisible - impossible if He is somehow to be found within human and other bodies or if He's somehow "everywhere" - you might understand things differently, but don't forget it's the Rambam we're talking about); the third yesod (how could an incorporeal G-d be areingeshtelt in a guf?); the fourth yesod (a G-d who is "synonymous" with a mortal human being must have had a beginning); the seventh (how many dozens of sichos refer to chabad rebbes as being neviim equal to or even greater than Moshe?); the tenth yesod (besides the many changes in halacha - which, while horrifying, are admittedly probably not direct contradictions to this yesod - modern Chabad theology does seek to change fundamentals of Jewish emunah); and, according to a few experts, the twelfth (for having so badly butchered the true emunah in moshiach).
[...]And even if all the Lubavitchers in the world come and tell you that that's not what the Rebbe meant and that's not how any Lubavitcher understands it, you'll insist on seeing it only your way, and demonizing the entire Chabad.
I'm afraid that actions speak louder than words. The fact that a very senior and influential Chabad rabbi like Shlomo Cunin could refer to his dead rebbe as the one "who really runs the world" and that his statement effectively evokes nothing but full support from Lubavitchers speaks volumes about what "all the Lubavitchers in the world" really believe. At most, I would speculate that he might have been very quietly criticized for having said those things in public - but not that anyone in Chabad feels his words are wrong!
That statement, by the way (and the sichos from which it was precisely quoted), is in direct and literal conflict with the second of the Rambam's five definitions of minus (Teshuva 3: 7)
[...]And please realize that you are taking thousands and thousands of Jews and cutting them off from Klal Yisroel. Please realize what you are doing.
Don't worry. We (along with the gedolim who are actively supporting us) know exactly what we're doing.
Take a look at the nefesh hachaim who says that to some degree you are being manhig the world.
Nothing of the sort. The Nefesh Hachaim (see shaar 2, ch. 10 and shaar 4, ch. 12) doesn't say that "we run the world" but that, through our thoughts and actions we create NEW worlds and run them. Just like we can damage the mikdash shel maalah through improper thoughts, we can also have an impact on the spiritual situation of levels far beyond our understanding.
Rabbi Cunin and his rebbe, on the other hand, are claiming that Chabad rebbes actually control all of the day-to-day events in THIS world.
[...]And either way, if you say that that's what they do or say, since they know good and well what they are doing and think that there is nothing wrong, wouldn't that be a classic case of shogeg??
Of course they are sincere in their error. But, as the book goes to great length to demonstrate, sincerity has no effect on key matters of emunah. The Rambam says it quite explicitly in More Nevuchim (1: 36) that if we were to say that sincere confusion removes the halachic label of avodah zarah then it would be impossible to ever find an oveid avodah zarah as they all believe what they're doing is correct!
Take a look at the Zohar who asks: Who is the one who controls Hashem, it's the tzadikim...
Zohar? It's actually a gemara (Moed Koton 16b). You should, however, see Kedushas Levi who asks how anyone could control God. Rather, God is a baal chessed. He wants to rescue Klal Yisrael from their oppressors and also wants to do chessed with His tzadikim. How can He do both at the same time? By planting in the minds of tzadikim the ideas that the klal can use to save themselves. That way, the Jews get saved and the tzadikim think it was they who did it and that they controlled God. Everyone's happy (and God's still in charge)!
How do you explain the fact that even though Rav Shach, the Gadol Hador at that time, said that the Rebba was a kofer, still there were always hundreds and hundreds of non-chabad people who waited on line to speak to the Rebbe. How could it be - if he really was a kofer, why would tons of non-chabad people still go to him? We all knew what Rav Shach said and still people waited hours and hours to speak to him. Would jewish people line up to speak to the pope?
Many tens of thousands of Jews - including more than a few huge talmidai chochomim from Poland - "stood in line" to speak to Shabbetai Tzvi. Yeravam ben Nevat had hundreds of thousands of followers and is described by the gemara in Sanhedrin as potentially nearly Dovid Hamelech's equal! Yet history has taught us what those two figures really were. Long lines of admirers don't prove anything.
I still want to know why people didn't listen to the Gadol Hador.
That's something for which I don't have a good answer. Unfortunately there were many things that Rav Shach said that were ignored. For instance, he would beg every rosh yeshiva and ben Torah who came to him in his later years to learn faster (he told one friend of mine who was in kollel at the time, to make sure, no matter what, that he learned a whole daf every day; first seder, second seder - it made no difference). He was firmly opposed to vocational training for bnei Torah in Israel, yet many now take such courses (and I'm not saying they're wrong). He opposed printing Torah books for kids with pictures (like the picture mishnayos series), yet many thousands are printed and sold. The difference, though, is that by these other matters there are gedolim of serious stature who hold differently on whom one can rely. However, I've never heard of any talmid chochom who says that it's permitted to daven to a dead rabbi or who isn't appalled to hear someone say "it's the rebbe who runs the world"! Even if there are rabbis who aren't familiar with Chabad theology, I don't believe that any one of them would, if shown the sources, say that these things are permitted!
I personally asked Rabbi Cunin's son about what his father said. Here is his answer:
"Thank you for your email, Moshe-- The brief excerpt of Rabbi Cunin's (my esteemed father) talk was posted without the knowledge or clearance, and is presented without context. Hashem runs the world. It is to Him that we pray for our needs and desires. Hashem has given the Jewish People tzaddikim in every generation, who are blessed with the spiritual power to intercede on behalf of the Jewish People and to pray on our behalf for our health, well-being and safety. Tzadikim have enormous spiritual powers to intercede on behalf of their flock. To quote the Torah, "A tzaddik is the foundation [yesod] of the world" (Mishlei 10:25). I do not believe the phrase "runs the world" is the most accurate reflection of the above verse, (and can obviously be misleading,) hence the confusion that may have been caused by the video that was posted without any knowledge or consent.
"If Rabbi Cunin was aware that his talk -- delivered to 10-15 people who absolutely knew the context, meaning, etc. of "A tzaddik is the foundation [yesod] of the world" vis-à-vis his words -- was going to be broadcast to people who are not versed or familiar with the meaning, I'm certain he would have chosen more appropriate and accurate wording.
"All the best and May Hashem bless you and your loved ones with the best of health, success and happiness.
He obviously gets a great many emails like yours because I've seen at least two other replies from him that are identical to the one you received. In any case, his "explanation" doesn't come anywhere close to fitting the words "the rebbe...runs the world." And, as Rabbi Chaim Cunin himself acknowledges, the possuk itself (tzadik yesod olum) really has nothing to do with the phrase. It's an attempt to deflect attention from the very plain meaning of the speech (and from the fact that their rebbe said exactly those words in describing his own dead father-in-law).
Frankly, if I were in a similar situation I would probably do the same thing. Let's say that I was teaching a class and accidentally touched on a subject that I held to be true but was very controversial and that the students weren't ready to hear. I'll give you an example: Say the kashrus of a particular food business in town wasn't really up to halachic standards but everyone used it, relying on an old rabbi who had his reasons for supporting it in the first place. Criticizing the kashrus would create a firestorm as the students would rush home to tell their parents and as they would then go to ask the old rabbi. And, in any case, it's very unlikely that anyone will stop eating there. What am I going to do when the students ask "Did you just say that that food isn't kosher?" I probably won't admit it. Even though that is exactly what I did mean, I'll search for some believable cover story like "no. I was just thinking about a restaurant in the town where I used to live" or something like that.
You can choose to believe this fellow when he says that his father really meant something that he didn't say, but to do that you will have to ignore a great deal of plain evidence - including the fact that their rebbe had said exactly that in exactly that context!
You are asking, "But what about what the Rebbe said "manhig" and betten".?" It makes no difference - here is a solid proof that he holds that you can't daven to the Rebba and that he can't run the world. No matter what the Rebbe wrote - he didn't take it literally. According to you no matter what a Lubavitcher will say, you won't believe them.
In the real world people often say things that don't represent their real beliefs. Car salesmen will tell you "this is a fair price" when they and you all know that it's simply a negotiating position (the gemara in nedarim even permits them to swear by HaShem's name to that effect!). Public health officials will often (and justifiably) seek to reassure citizens that an impending threat isn't as bad as it really is.
People with experience in life learn to take context into account and to parse sentences carefully.
For Rabbi Cunin Sr. to have meant what his son claims he meant, he would have to have actively rejected his beloved rebbe's explicit teaching, made his rebbe into a heretic and said words that are the precise opposite of his actual intentions. It's possible, I suppose, but not very likely at all...
The Rebbe never asks "how can you daven to a rebbe?"
"How can you daven to a rebbe" is, for all intents and purposes, the literal translation of "betten by a rebbe".
The rebbe is discussing asking a rebbe for a tikun.
It makes no difference. And trust me: you really don't want to get into a debate about the meaning of "tikkun".
[...]He poses the question that perhaps this is similar to having a memutza. On this the Rebbe explains that a rebbe is a clear conduit (memutza hamechaber) for G-d[...]
Read the Rambam's pirush to Mishanyos Chelek (Sandhedrin - the fifth principle) and you will see that believing in what their rebbe called "memutza hamechaber" is *precisely* Rambam's definition of minus! It is using someone or something *just* to bring you closer to God that is the problem!
[...]similar to the Ramban's explanation concerning the malach who relays G-d's message.
It's not at all similar. Not even close. If fact, he's got it exactly backwards: a malach transmits from God to us; their rebbe thought that he was able and needed to transmit from us to God.
He also states clearly that the chossid who is asking his rebbe is also one with G-d.
That's Neo-Spinozean Pantheism.
I'm aware of no rishon who ever used the term "one with God" and I would be most surprised if you ever found one. There's a reason for that, don't you suppose?
Have you read the entire transcript?
The entirety of Chassidus Chabad is about achdus Hashem, "Ein Od Milvado".
What Lubavitchers mean by achdus is virtually the opposite of what Rambam meant. According to Rambam, God is indivisible and infinitely simple. He is entirely separate from the physical world. Lubavitchers, lehavdil, teach that achdus means that God IS the world (i.e., pantheism) and everything physical is part of Him (i.e., incarnationism). It's two completely different languages. I just saw a very interesting teshuva from sefer Rav Poalim (the Ben Ish Chai - a huge master of kabbala - it's in Yore Deah 1 #56) in which he explained why kabbala seforim mustn't be translated into other languages. One of his concerns is that people who aren't talmidei chochomim and without a real, person-to-person mesorah will see descriptions that appear to describe objects (sefiros etc.) and assume that they are meant literally. This, says the Ben Ish Chai, could easily lead a person to imagine that God is somehow connected to the physical or even worse.
And this is exactly where Chabad starts.
How come I don't see any recent *machoas* from any of the *Gedolim?Shouldn't there be posters hanging all over?
How many times to they need to say the same thing? Rav Shach already wrote and published everything that needs saying. In any case, given our experience with very violent responses from certain Lubavitchers, I can well sympathize with rabbonim who prefer to keep their thoughts on the matter to themselves.
According to your reasoning, did I do the wrong thing if I felt pain when the Mumbai attacks occurred? Didn't you say that it's a mitzva to hate lubavitchers?
I don't believe that I've ever said people should hate Lubavitchers[...]
Why didn't you? Doesn't the Rambam bring down that it's a mitzva to hate them? [he quotes the Rambam's words concerning the practical consequences of failure to adhere to all of the principles that the Rambam wrote in summing up his discussion of the subject]
[...]Perhaps that's an ideal for gedolim to strive for out of their great love for HaShem but it's nothing that I see myself getting to any time soon. I don't feel any differently towards Lubavitchers than I do any other non-frum Jew. It's mostly disappointment and a hope that they will improve some time.
Think: the Rambam's words would apply equally to all non-frum Jews - not to mention a great many frum ones. If we were to apply them practically, the entire kiruv movement and the impetus to reach out through love to all Jews who aren't yet perfect would disappear. This Rambam is based, of course, on Chazal, but knowing when and where to apply it is a job for greater people than I. It is clear that this is not a focus of our avodah in this generation.
Should I not feel sorry for "little Moshe"??
I think everyone did feel sorry. It's very hard not to. But we have to separate our legitimate personal feelings from the clarity of vision needed to understand halacha.
So you are saying that there is no mitzva to hate Lubavitchers and that one shouldn't?
I can't say there is no mitzva - who am I to contradict Chazal? However, I am confident that there are very few people alive today - if anyone - who is on the level to actually perform this particular mitzva. The rest of us should focus more on worrying about and being respectful towards Jews who don't yet observe Torah properly.