What Chabad Got Right

I launched a new project last week and I’m alternating between excitement, despair, and abject, mind-shattering, horrifyingly loud shame.

My yetzer hora’s going nuts-o, like a madman at the supermarket, shoving grocery carts to block my path from doing something as seemingly innocuous as picking out bananas. Or starting a fun, contemporary art postcard subscription service. 

My mind sweats in fear of what I have done. All I hear is me. Yet I’m also starving for myself and not finding it anywhere. 

I’m having trouble separating between me and everyone else; we’re all bleeding into one, painful feeling of apprehension.

It’s pretty clear I need a good dose of Chabad philosophy to even myself out.

I think we can all agree that one thing Chabad tradition- and in particular its last and most cherished Rebbe– got right was the establishment of healthy, spiritual habits.

Daily study of Chitas for one; Chumash, Tanya, and Tehillim, plus three chapters of Rambam for those hardy enough to take on more.

Birthday rituals starting from a young age as a day of introspection, tzedaka, tehillim, and farbrengens. 

The 12 Pesukim. Oh Gd, the 12 Pesukim.

I always think about what a random passerby must think of these hardcore munchkin activists shouting en masse in a foreign tongue at the top of their lungs.

Truth be told, seeing hundreds of kids at one of Chabad’s many community rallies in Crown Heights, with their fists in the air, screaming back Hebrew verses at the tops of their lungs looks really weird.

 It’s like the spiritual inverse of a KKK rally.

“IN THE BEGINNING!” the leader shouts in Hebrew from the podium, pumping his fist upward. 

“IN THE BEGINNING!” the hundreds of kids roar back, arms raised in unison. 







The crowd goes wild.

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It just kills me. The best. 

I digress.

Chabad- like most religions and cultures- recognizes that the ego (or what Chabad calls the animal soul) is one of our greatest enemies, though Chabad also sees it refreshingly as one of our most potential allies.

The idea that one should study Chassidus before davening, early in the morning, is a fantastic spiritual habit.  When I actually get myself to do it, it helps me escape the heaviness of the world and body I’ve woken up to.

“Think,” it urges me, tempting me like cold orange juice and an almond flour banana chocolate chip muffin.

“Chew on this.

Go upwards.

This world we live on, is actually one of many, many other worlds.

Each world made up of many different elements, fitting together. Myriads of angels. 

We’re just a seed of an idea in Gd’s brain.

Gd has many seeds. 

We are but rays of the sun. But within the sun itself, it is as if all of the light that shines forth into the universe is is nothingness.

‘For surely its radiance and light glow and spread forth there too; more strongly, in fact, than they spread forth and glow in the space of the universe. Being close to its source, the light is more intense. But there — within the sun — its very existence is nullified within that of its source; it is as though [the light] were absolutely non-existent. All that is seen within the sun is the sun itself, not the light which is merely a product, an offshoot of the sun.

…Exactly so, figuratively speaking, is the very existence of the world.

…This is the true meaning of G‑d’s unity — that He alone exists, and there is nothing besides Him. (Chapter 33, Tanya)’.”

Between unraveling the jungle of “Where We Are” to “What Here Is” and “Who Is We” and “Where Is He”, I lose my all-encompassing sense of self. The skin that previously encased my brain, suffocating me, peels off.  My mind rides on the flow of engaged love in thinking, learning, and understanding.

I realize I’m not that important, and that’s a good thing. I’m just an earthly vessel with a strange, dynamic power source surging within. Or who I am is that strange power source. Either way, everything functions.

Life doesn’t appear so serious anymore. The world doesn’t feel so heavy. It’s actually light and pulling me up with it. I’m riding the waves. I’m part of the bobbing sea.

It’s hard to always feel like human-fleshsuit-sized miniature prisons. Props, Chabad, for establishing the spiritual habit of early morning intellectual meditation.

It has got to be part of the answer. Or at least the question. Or something. Or probably better yet- nothing.