Feb 11, 2019
Our Standards Are in Your Hands
Illustration photo by Shimi Kutner

Op-Ed by Rabbi Shimon Posner: "The standard you bear within Lubavitch becomes the standard that others call their own."

By Rabbi Shimon Posner - Director of Chabad of Rancho Mirage, California

If a community is to have any cohesiveness to speak of, they must share a commonality in dress, speech and deed, or at least some of them. Once the sharing is lost then the community is lost, people can still live in proximity to each other but they are no longer a community. Therefore, debating, arguing even bickering over what are those norms is to be expected.

The next invariability will be enforcement; will it be formally standardized, will policing be necessary, or will formal shunning do? How about a raised eyebrow, or the all-American polite smile as you 'take your business elsewhere'? Vote with your feet as its sometimes called.

Clarity was handed to me by an unlikely but delightful source, a Satmar mechanech whose anonymity I will maintain because he didn't offer to surrender it. He was touched by one of the men at minyan which led him to recount the story of his father in law.

A Holocaust survivor, he had arrived by way of HIAS (Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society) which at the time helped place survivors in cities throughout America. He ended up in Pittsburgh but already before 1950 had relocated to Williamsburgh. Significantly, the Satmar Rebbe had approved of his remaining in Pittsburgh.

The Divrei Yoel, as he was known, was adamant that anyone who was serious about living frum in America, erlich it was called in his circles, must live in Williamsburg. Not more than kdei chimutz he insisted, borrowing the halachic term for the maximum time that dough can remain untouched without turning to chametz, approximately eighteen minutes. No one could live more than eighteen minutes away from Williamsburg.

It was when the BQE (BrooklynQueens Expressway) was built, significantly shortening the drive from Williamsburg to Boro Park (presumably traffic wasn't as bad then and the drive was under 18 minutes) that his adherents requested his OK to move to Boro Park. His legendary quick wit was on full display when he answered, "if you insist, then make the move. But notice, as you leave Williamsburg, the sign on the yeshiva reads in Hebrew/Yiddish Torah Ve'Yirah D'Satmar. As you return from Boro Park the sign reads United Talmudical Academy. He was, of course, referring to the placement of a sign alongside the building's corner, but his message was clear: here standards are upheld. So it was significant that the Divrei Yoel had faith in this man to maintain his Yiddishkeit in Pittsburgh, so far from a like-minded community.

When this man eventually moved to Williamsburg, he was very keen to see the Frierdiker Rebbe. Why? I was not told. As his son in law recounts, the Frierdiker Rebbe's voice was too tortured to understand or even hear without the benefit of the Mazkirus. The Frierdiker Rebbe asked, "vos zeit ir avec fun Pittsburgh?" (why have you left Pittsburgh). "Ich hob gebrocht a sviva" the man answered, "I so badly wanted to live in an environment." The response from the Frierdiker Rebbe was so forceful, passionate, loud and clear that no repetition was needed. "Mach a sviva!" the Rebbe answered. "Create an environment."

The simple meaning was, I believe, that the man should have stayed in Pittsburgh and contributed to the growth of Yiddishkeit there. But maybe, just maybe, and I believe this the case, the Frierdiker Rebbe was giving a perhaps subtler but profound message. Perhaps the admonition was "don't think that when you're surrounded by thousands of like-minded individuals that the sviva is a given, that you can take a passive role, that you can go with the flow, tickle the water maybe, but no strong, broad strakes needed here.

Not so. An environment is the product of one. You are creating an environment and you must constantly question if that environment is the correct one. In other words, regardless of what you would have done or not done in Pittsburgh, do not think for a minute that your work in Brooklyn is less dependent on you. Don't confuse standards, environments and comfort zones. If you chose to live in Williamsburg, mach a sviva!"

Insular communities rely heavily on standards. The precise, original meaning of a standard was a flag, the colors that served as a rallying point as an authorized exemplar. It is by definition clearly defined and of common usage.

Lubavitch brought something different to these shores. My father, Rabbi Zalman Posner, of blessed memory, and my uncle Rabbi Leibel Posner, may he live long and be well, would go into yechidus with the Frierdiker Rebbe before Pesach and go home (to Chicago at that time and later Pittsburgh). We're very happy with you, the Rebbe began one year, you're doing well. But when your father was in Lubavitch "iz geven gor andersh" it was very different, and as the Frierdiker Rebbe said the word gor he gestured with his partly-paralyzed arm. (I know this because my father and uncle lived with these words for all the ensuing decades) the davening iz geven andersh, di lernin iz geven andersh and continued in that vein. Zolst zich nisht mestin by boys fun street, zolst zich mestin beim tatten. Don't compare yourself to the boys in the street (yes, speaking in Yiddish, but using those two English words, R' Shmuel Levitin was astonished when he heard that) live towards your father.

Alan, a friend of mine who died young, had gone to college in New Orleans. His Manhattan office boasted citations from The Big Easy and was replete with 'laissez les bons temps'. His college buddy eulogized him, some people come to New Orleans and leave, some come and stay. Alan took New Orleans with him. If you truly love something you will not only reflect it when it surrounds you, you will exude it.

It might be easy to grow up in a community with clear and strict standards, it is very hard to live in one as a grown up. Because as a grown up you see that there is no big THEY out there who can determine right from wrong. You are responsible to measure towards that barometer. And you are called to account for not doing so. Called to account by He who created you, called to account by those who came before you and called to account by those who come after you.

I was not raised among like-minded individuals, and I was at the (st)age that blending in was a strong value. We boys were taking our yarmulkes and jumping as high as we could to see if we could swipe the doorway lintel with the edge of our yarmulkes. So I was bareheaded for a moment and I took my shot. No one had ever told me not to, but somewhere, somehow, I knew that it was less than. Rabbi Zaklos was our teacher then, and with a barely perceptible notion that I'm sure no one else noticed, he squinted his eyes and shook his head, the message being clear "Iss passt nisht" the most life-affirming untranslatable Yiddishism that ever was. It was my own moment in a journey of not keeping up with the Joneses -- or the Schwartzes.

Sometimes, I find it hard to articulate why something doesn't sit right, but I learned that that's okay. Years later Rabbi Mordechai Mentlick was farbrenging and suddenly cried out "I don't know how to explain this, ober is muz zein andersh, things must be different!" as he dissolved in tears. I don't know what prompted him but the message is clear. Comfort zones and other beckonings hold near-constant attention. Don't make the mistake of seeking out others with like-minded comfort zones so you can be ordinary.

Yosef Hatzadik saw his father's visage in the window; it was most certainly a disturbing sight in the most carnal sense of the word. He did not throw a shoe at the visage, nor he did he give it the gold-watch treatment, or ignore it. He lived towards it and was imprisoned and defamed for it. Yet in that very choice, he taught us to live towards our ess passt dir nisht.

You can be a reflection of your neighbor's mutually-agreed comfort zones. We know well that there isn't a one among us who doesn't harbor an inner behaima who wants nothing better than to snort at the trough. And then it becomes the occupation of the community only to agree on the trough's size and placement and first dibs.

But there isn't a one among us whose heart doesn't flutter with pride at our great and eternal legacy. Your inner light, though perhaps unseen by others, can beckon the noblest within said neighbors with such intensity as to instill within them the courage to exchange comfort for glory, cowardice for bravery, slovenliness for determination, Chamberlain for Churchill.

The standard you bear within becomes the standard that others call their own. In the world of Lubavitch, this is the lamternsh'chik.

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Opinions and Comments
Awesome article!
(2/11/2019 10:26:03 PM)
Living in crown heights we have the the grate privilege of having amazing 5 mashpim who gave up from there busy schedule to help our community in many ways like shidchuim and Farbangenes
Thank you rabbi Goldberg!!!
(2/11/2019 10:30:56 PM)
Excellent article.
Beautiful article.
Lots of food for thought!
Please keep writing....
(2/11/2019 11:17:01 PM)
Good on ya mate!
Well-articulated Reb Shimon as usual!
From your fan down-under
(2/12/2019 5:44:57 AM)
Wow. What an editorial.
(2/12/2019 6:33:01 AM)
Thank you
Firstly for your message.
Secondly for an incredible piece of writing.
(2/12/2019 6:33:53 AM)
Beautiful and so true
Thank you for saying this!

What rabbi mentlick said years before hold true so much more now. Imagine what he would say now
(2/12/2019 6:50:43 AM)

Well articulated, in a sensitive and thoughtful way.
Thank you
(2/12/2019 6:58:21 AM)
Words well written!
(2/12/2019 8:11:46 AM)
Reb Shimoen
As usual, your stuff is gevaldig!!!!!
(2/12/2019 8:46:08 AM)
How come it didn't/doesn't work?
I've grown up with this "ess past nisht" all my life (quarter century), and as is apparent, it simply doesn't work anymore. We're doing what we always did and getting what we always got. People are making it "fit" more and more.
(2/12/2019 9:50:52 AM)
It goes both ways
Contemporary Lubavitchers are redefining our collective identity (or at least extending the definition) by how they choose to live their lives, whether you like it or not.
(2/12/2019 10:44:16 AM)
It's a process
Thank you R' Shimon for a great article.

One point I might add is that whether we like it or not, Lubavitch has become different. B'Etzem it is and always will be the same, but many things about Lubavitch have changed. I don't mean this in the modernization or anything to compromise values ch"v. I just mean that for generations Lubavitch was a shpitz chassidus. Even the simple chassidim were giants in avodas halev or avoda pnimi, kabolas ol, iskafya mesirus nefesh, or ahavas yisroel. Even in negina (it is well known the story of Reb Notah Paharer when he came to learn in Lubavitch and what the Rebbe n"e said on him).

And then there were rabbonim and lamdonim, ovdim and maskilim in chassidus, mashpiim and rabbonim, those by whom it was evident their great stature. Even the gvirim and the most balebatishe yidden were a step up from the average amchoh yid.

In short, Lubavitch was exclusive. Not everyone could identify with and strive for such goals and ideals. Today Lubavitch is not exclusive. Lubavitch is inclusive.

There are many who fall short of our ideals that still identify as Lubavitch and we need to include and embrace them. Realize that those folks who are not "there" yet (are any of us really even close?) have made a good beginning and we can be more helpful to them by appreciating the progress that they've made than by notifying them that they're falling short of the mark.

For example, I daven early in the morning in 770 and see many yugeleit who would be described as modern- jeans and a checkered shirt, no jacket and hat, fancy cell-phone etc. I know many of them and recall when they were bochurim. I remember not being sure if they would continue on the path of Torah and mitzvos and hoping that Hash-m would help them. Today they daven with a minyan, on time and lead honest lives. For them, they are doing amazing. When I see them today, davening early, learning a shtickl Tanya farn davnen, sincerely saying the words of davnen even after the ballebatim have completed their exactly-29-minute daily offering, I am forced to wonder who the chassidim are? Who is living up to the expectations? Who is giving the Rebbe nachas? Everybody is. But as we have been learning in Tanya recently, perek chof zayin, there are two types of nachas.

Let's not forget that Lubavitch is to love a brother even if he isn't what he should be.

And to those who taineh that to truly loving him is to rebuke him and coax him onto the right path, we need to only look with our eyes and realize that everyone is different. Some will respond well to the push and some won't. Some need a push and some just need to know that it's perfectly okay for them to be where they're at and that they're doing well. This validation will help more than the push. Just some food for thought. Sometimes the best way to get someone to where they should be isn't to tell them how they should be. Sometimes it's more effective to appreciate them for where they're already at.

This is in part the greatness of the Rebbe. This is what Moshiach is. What used to be accomplished only through rebuke can be accomplished through love and acceptance today.

Also, this whole notion that when you lower the bar for yourself, you lower it for others. It's nonsense. Everyone is responsible for their own decisions. You're never going to "Jewish guilt" this generation into doing the right thing. They are full of chutzpa. Just learn how to transform it so that they can take their chutzpah and use it on the world.

Yitzchok Miller.
(2/12/2019 11:21:56 AM)
What is the explosive word?
Rabbi Posner, you wrote a beautiful piece. It was well thought out, well explained, heavy on the message and light on finger pointing.

The issue is, many people today can't be bothered.

As a woman, when the topic of Dress is raised (The word Tznius causes people to run a mile), among many popular responses; "The Rebbe had Ahavas Yisroel for everyone" or "Live and let live".

Truth is, many of us, myself included, don't like to be told what to do. We want to live an easy and comfortable life, watch Netflix or Hulu, wear whatever we want, mingle freely with other couples and of course we are proud to be Lubavitch.

When everyone around us is continuously shedding Halachos, Minhagim and Chumros (not necessarily in that order, and yes, I'm aware of the difference between them), we become swept along, and later justify our choices by proclaiming: "I'm not Chassidish".

The change can only start once we all recognize that the Rebbe advocated following Halacha, and despite his love for all Jews, had very clear standards for all of us.

As a result of this post, I will take upon myself to be more careful in an area of , there, I said the explosive word.
(2/12/2019 11:28:34 AM)
One of the best articles ive read on COL.
Thank you
(2/12/2019 11:44:44 AM)
very well written
(2/12/2019 12:23:28 PM)
Thank you!
Gorgeous article and very motivating.
(2/12/2019 12:37:11 PM)
Thank you - Very inspiring and empowering
More please!
(2/12/2019 12:41:14 PM)
We need the Rebbe in a guf
Until that second, we have to use his holy words as a guideline of what to do and may Hashem give us all the strength and push to do so, the way it needs to be done.
(2/12/2019 1:35:27 PM)
Rabbi Pinchos Woolstone
When I first visited Crown Heights in the 70s, the community was basically homogenious,Russian Chassidim and their children and a group of Baalei Teshuah eagerly inbiding the atmosphere.
The Rebbe was expanding world Lubavitch by the day,
Today nearly a quarter of a century after the Histalkus Lubavitch is not homogenious, there are different attitudes and approaches, there is no one truth.
My old friend Rabbi Shimon Posner makes many salient points I would add that if we want to grow in a healthy way, in a Torah way in a Lubavitch way we must listen to peoples concerns fears and anxieties and then find solutions which would be consistant with the Rebbe's approach.
Knowing the Rebbe's approach is not simple; brave (or foolish) is the man or woman who can utter the words....." I know with certainty what the Rebbe would want in such and such circumtances..."
May I suggest that leadership with bitul and humility would set the stage for meaningful change we all desire.
(2/12/2019 3:02:53 PM)
Beautiful, powerful, and so crucial
In a society that ch"v more and more embraces the logic of haskalah, this is a critical call to return to roots, regardless of the alluring and persuasive call of "the neighbors".
(2/12/2019 3:17:10 PM)
CH Mother
Beautiful Op-Ed! Thank you, Rabbi Posner, for this! Please write more.
(2/12/2019 6:21:27 PM)
A true Chasid
(2/12/2019 9:29:48 PM)
You have my vote for a job well done
Thanks for taking the time to carefully write such a beautiful, powerful article.
(2/12/2019 11:46:54 PM)
Positivity and motivation
This is one of the first op-Eds Ive read on col that has not been slamming or shaming at some sort of issue that people do and blaming about problems but rather a constructive, respectful, and motivational peice. Thank you!
(2/13/2019 6:09:54 AM)
Thank you Rabbi Posner and COL for helping to publicize.
Comments 13 and 14 are tear jerking. So real it hurts to not be able to talk it out with these people IRL.

- Eli
(2/13/2019 8:39:36 AM)
Sivan 25
Spoken from the heart , penned by his soul
A yid who lives physically in the desert, but
spiritually lives in 770.
Perhaps we would all benefit if Rabbi Posner would write
More frequently..
May hashem bless him and his family with everything.
You make your parents a"h and your famy very proud of you.
(2/13/2019 10:21:05 AM)
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