What Do Messianic Jews Stand to Learn About Outreach from The Rebbe's Army? (Part One)

March 5, 2015

I have recently been reading extensively about the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Of Blessed Memory, certainly one of the most remarkable human beings of recent centuries. I have long admired focused people, and he was perhaps the most focused person I have ever encountered: someone whose life was clearly and tirelessly about one thing, in his case bringing Jews back to Torah and Mitzvot as a catalyst for the coming of Messiah.

In 1951, he reluctantly took over the leadership of Chabad a year after the death of the Sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, his father in law, Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, ztz"l.  He started with few people, and in his forty-one years of leadership of the group turned it into the most dynamic force in the world for Jewish community transformation.

There are many factors that contributed to this success. HIs brilliance, surely. Also, the fact that he so clearly epitomized his message and ethos--there was no contradiction between who he was and what he taught. But there were other factors as well.

In addition to three biographies of the Rebbe, by Joseph Telushkin, Adin Steinsaltz, and Chaim Miller, together with some of my leadership associates at Interfaithfulness, I am now reading The Rebbe's Army: Inside the World of Chabad-Lubavitch by Sue Fishkoff.  As we are reading, we are noting lessons from the Rebbe's practice and that of Chabad from which we and people in the Messianic Movement, as well as all Yeshua believers could benefit. Frankly, the book moves us deeply, and moves us  to shame as to how it compares so favorably with the state of religious practice which has sometimes been our own, and to which we have at times been exposed.

Here are three lessons from the first chapter of this arresting book:

  • Sacrifice - Young sh’lichim (representatives) are ready to go anywhere, living in poverty and isolation, working very hard, using all their creativity, all for the Rebbe and for the cause. “Chabad has the biggest army in the Jewish world ready to live on the edge of poverty.” The Rebbe taught:

A hassid is he who pus his personal affairs aside and goes around lighting up the souls of Jews with the light of Torah and mitzvot, Jewish souls are in readiness to be lit. Sometimes they are around the corner. Sometimes they are in a wilderness or at sea. But there must be someone who disregards personal comforts and conveniences and goes out to put light to these lamps. That is the function of a true hassid.

In a day when Yeshua faith is treated like a life-enhancing app, these words about selfless and sacrificial dedication shine brightly. One cannot help but be reminded of Yeshua's words about the kinds of disciples he seeks, "Any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple." Am I saying that we stand to learn something about being disciples of Yeshua from the example of the Chabad sh'lichim?  Yes I am.

  • Theological optimism - believing that success awaits them if they will but go and do what they are supposed to do. Two quotations from the book underscore this, one from the Rebbe and one from kaballistic literature.

The Jew is a creature of heaven and earth, of a heavenly divine soul which is truly a part of Godliness clothed in an earthly vessel. . . . whose purpose is to realize the transcendence and unity of his nature and of the world in which he lives within the absolute unity of God. The realization of this purpose entails a two-way correlation: one in the direction from above downward to earth; the other, from the earth upward. In fulfillment of the first, man draws holiness from the divinely given Torah and Commandments, to permeate therewith every phase of his daily life and his environment; in fulfillment of the second, man draws upon all the resources at his disposal, both created and man-made, vehicles for personal ascendancy and, with him, that of the surrounding world (19).

For thousands of years—since the beginning of creation---a piece of the world has been waiting for your soul to purify and repair it. And your soul, from the time it was first emanated and conceived, waited above to descend to this world and carry out that mission. And your footsteps were guided to reach that place. And you are there now (20).

Can you imagine a more motivational message then this,  that you were born for such a time as this and that at this very moment you stand on the doorstep of fulfilling your divine destiny?

Compare this optimistic message with the pessimism and negativity in Yeshua believing circles, that "many are called but few are chosen," that Jewish people are hard to reach, resistant, gospel hardened, that their minds are veiled, etc. Regardless of the theological underpinnings of such statements, the end result is a certain pessimism about how Jews might respond to what we have to say, and a dandy excuse for the ineffectiveness of our efforts.

The Rebbe was known for being unfailingly positive. He even refused to call a hospital a "beit cholim" (house for the sick), but preferred the term "beit refuah" (house for healing). He recognized the toxic effects of negativity, and knew that pessimism and negativity only contribute to a loss of motivation and momentum.

In an earlier post, I spoke of "natural branches outreach." You might read that and cultivate a different attitude than the one that prevails. You will find that here

  • Warm acceptance of Jews in whatever condition they are found. Sh’lichim display a counterintuitive combination of operational flexibility and high standards of practice. And within that counterintuitive combination, “the Rebbe taught his followers never to embarrass another Jew for knowing little about Judaism, but to teach what they know in a humble and friendly fashion” (23).

Do the people with whom you seek to share your faith view you as good news or bad news? How often is your message something like this, "Brenda, your life is a mess, and according to God's word you stand under his judgment. Frankly, if you don't believe in Yeshua, you are going to hell. And that makes me really sad, because I care about you." Regardless of your theological grid, here's my question: Do you make causing people to feel bad about themselves to be a precondition for their accepting the message and benefits you seek to bring to them? Are there ways to share the good news that are not predicated on the negation of the people you speak to, and do not use threat as a goad for "making a decision?" Do people feel good about themselves and their prospects after your religious conversations, or is that a matter of indifference to you? Do you ever put people down as a proof that you are right and they are dead wrong?

These are interesting questions. They need to be asked. How are you going to answer them?

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