Dec 19, 2013
The Call of the Void
Rabbi Yitzchok Schochet weighs-in on The Call of the Shofar, but asks a question Lubavitchers should be asking themselves.
Rabbi Yitzchak Schochet of the Mill Hill Synagogue in England and whom the Jewish Chronicle calls "One of the most outspoken Rabbis in the world," was asked by COLlive to weigh-in on the debate over The Call of the Shofar program. His father was Rabbi Dr. Jacob Immanuel Schochet OBM, a renowned authority on Jewish philosophy and mysticism:
Videos have been watched, letters have been read and we are all now a lot clearer about the Rebbe's perspective on meditation, hypnosis and other such like alternative forms of psychology.
But none of us are any clearer on the status of Call of the Shofar (COTS) – an organization that has become the center of much heated online debate as of recent.
Just scrolling through the comments on COLlive, one finds contradictory remarks. One comment from an apparent attendee insists that the meditation that takes place is strictly of a neutral and kosher nature. Not two comments later someone else claims to have heard from friends who attended that no meditation takes place whatsoever.
Therein lays the problem: No one quite knows what really transpires at the COTS retreats.
My brother posted some salient points on his now widely read Facebook page in response to those who asked him what he thought our father hk"m would say. He pointed out the following "red flags," on whether COTS is a cult:
"The way you tell them apart is by the end result. Not that you do the deed and see what happens. You analyze and determine as best as possible what the end result will be. If you cannot figure it out on your own, you ask the counsel of those wiser or better versed in the matter than yourself and have them help you figure it out. If the outcome is good then it's from the Yetzer Tov. If not, then it's from the 'other guy'.
That, to me, is red flag number one. Are there many people saying they went to these COTS retreats and came back changed for the better? Absolutely.
But there are also many reports of people coming back not only not improved but changed for the worse. That is very disturbing. Using medicine as an analogy: if you heard that some people were using a certain medication and it improved their quality of life. Others used it and it did nothing. That would not stop you from taking or trying that medicine. But if you heard that some people got sick from taking the same medicine, that should make any rational person take pause. Things that come from the Yetzer Tov can only produce good. There is no room for bad results. Thus his name: Yetzer TOV.
Red flag number 2: the need for secrecy. This is not Kabbalah or secrets of the Torah that needed to be revealed only to a select few until the time was right (haphotzas hamayonos chutzah). This is purported to be for everyone.
The 'secrecy' aspect is a basic marketing ploy that plays and preys on people's curiosity to get them to come to this secret life changing event. That is up there with the other marketing ploy of 'numerous Masphiem and shluchim have gone and it changed their lives' which is just an adapted version of the marketing ploy other such organizations (who are documented to be harmful) use by saying "attended by Fortune 500 CEO's" etc. Why those that attend are not allowed to talk about what happens at these retreats (not the details of what other people confided, but the overall program) is perplexing and quite disconcerting.
Red Flag number 3: the 'us versus them' mentality. Reading how some attendees apply pressure on others to come and when questioned, resort to denigrating well known rabbis and mashpi'im, even ones known to be experts in the field of cults, is again disturbing. The need of young inexperienced life individuals (certainly in this field) to put these accepted experts down publicly and express shock at those experts 'arrogance' and 'stupidity' is the epitome of arrogance itself! Hayotzeh min hatohor, tohor, v'min hatomeh, tomeh. The tactic of assuring members, if under attack, through emails and the like, that they don't need to defend themselves against these myriad of detractors, is boilerplate ‘divide and conquer’ techniques.
"One last clarification of another misconception out there. Many people have said that they know people that went and it did not have an adverse effect on them. That means nothing. Cults get many, many attendees to their events and weekend retreats. Not everyone is susceptible. Just like not everyone will get addicted to certain things and others will. It’s the ones that do that pose the concern."
I would make two further observations. There is an overarching halachic principle that "a judge cannot rule other than what he bears witness to with his own eyes." Plain and simply put, without knowing any of the details about COTS, it is difficult, if not in fact wrong to pass verdict on the organization; hence my brother only limited his remarks to 'red flags,' rather than outright criticism, in his posting.
In order to put paid to those concerns it behooves the heads of COTS to consider allowing a reliable rabbi --one who is thoroughly familiar with such sorts of trends as well as the associated relevant halachos-- to have access to what goes on.
Using a kashrus analogy, if one wants their product to be declared kosher they must allow a rabbi access to the food plant and all the ingredients contained therein. If COTS are emphatic about their confidentiality, they can take a leaf out of Coca-Cola's book and give restricted access to a particular Rabbi, letting him in on their secret, with the obvious confidentiality clauses signed.
If COTS was to insist it is not concerned with the labeling, potential clients ought to then seriously consider the validity of an organization that will disallow a rabbi access. If you won't eat the uncertified food that nourishes your body knowing how it is damaging to your soul, then you must equally avoid whatever is purported to nourish your mind, for it can be equally damaging to your spiritual self.
On the particular topic of cults –-and I am not suggesting that COTS is-- one must bear in mind that most are unfamiliar with the methodology and tactics of cults.
Only earlier this week, a self-styled rabbi in Denver who purports to be Chabad, wrote in a public forum in support of the Kabbalah Center. Notwithstanding his obvious ignorance of cults and apparent total lack of knowledge of the halachos associated with the study of Kabbalah, the argument that he finds much positive upside in the center (even as he acknowledges certain things wrong as well) goes against the very basics of Judaism.
The end hallows the means is a pagan concept. Robin Hood is not a Jewish role model. It only proves the point how anyone can make a gross error of judgement.
Finally, I find myself wondering why COTS has become a focal point of concern, especially within Lubavitch. There are many of us who had the very real zechus of experiencing the Rebbe first hand. There are many others besides who will have been impacted through toifeach al minas lihatfiach.
But perhaps there is a whole new generation emerging that feel that much more distant and are looking to fill a void. It is undeniable that that void can be readily filled through the study of chassidus.
Are mashpi'im reaching out beyond the confines of Yeshiva walls? Must we rely on others to come up with innovative fads in order to satisfy a yearning? Can we not determine ways to provide the appropriate fulfillment through the time-hallowed means of pnimiyus haTorah that has been the very spine of Chabad through the ages? Maybe some searching questions in this regard can put to rest this whole saga.