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Did Chabad fulfill the mission of the Arizal (Rabbi Isaac Luria) and the Baal Shem Tov?

July 29, 2017

The answer to the second part of the question must be “Yes”. The Chabad movement has opened close to a thousand centers throughout the world, including in remote communities devoid of Jews. In the process, they have carried out their mission of portraying a combination of warmth, unfettered hospitality, and education about Judaism`s basic rituals and moral requirements. They do so at enormous personal sacrifice, little outside funding, and overcoming the challenge of gaining access to kosher food, education to their children, and separation from Jewish communal life. The answer to the first part of the question, in my opinion, is a resounding “no”.  Let us draw a parallel between the evolution of the revealed parts of the Torah, and the revival by the Arizal of the Mystical dimensions of Torah. The Revealed part of Torah begins with the Oral Law, (Mishna), its classic style of challenge and debate, (found in the Talmud), the early Codifiers (such as the Rif, Rabbeinu Asher, and Maimonides), finalizing in the 16th Century Jewish Code of Law, authored by Rabbeinu Asher`s son Rabbeinu Yaakov, who compiled the “Arba Turim”, which was later edited and clarified by Rabbi Yosef Caro into the Code of Jewish Law (Shulchan Aruch), regarded as the final authoritative expression of the Oral Law. In contrast, in the mystical dimension of the Torah, manuscripts such as Sifra D`Tzneusa, Sefer Ha’Bahir, and Sefer Yetzirah, would correspond to the Old Testament, the Idres (authored by Shimon Ben Yochai), would correspond to the Mishna, the Zohar to the Talmud (in its Haggadic style),  the Pardes, authored by the Ramak, corresponding to the Tur and the Kisvei Arizal corresponding to the Rambam or the Shulchan Aruch, carrying the undisputed authority of the essentials of the Rashbi, but expressed in Hebrew rather than Aramaic, with the organization of the systems and process built around the concepts of a Universe beginning with a contraction, followed by a thumb-print in the remaining vacuum, being pierced by a rod of light (Kav), then descending through a descent into the lower worlds of Partzufim (Countenances) and Sefiros (the pre-formative elements of intellect and emotion). The task of delivering both the revealed and concealed dimensions carrying the didactic detail of the Ari Ha`Kodesh, but packaged and promoted in the style of joy and song during prayer was commissioned by the Baal Shem Tov`s successor to Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, the first Chabad Rebbe. It`s important to note that Rabbi Schneur Zalman was Lithuanian, deriving from generations of Talmudic leadership. His innovative approach was less recognized in the Jewish Intellectual Centers of learning such as Vilna, causing the young prodigy to move with his family to the Ukraine. His style (which perfectly balanced the didactics of the Arizal with the joyful outreach of the BSHT) caught hold like a wildfire among the Jewish peasants in Ukraine and White Russia. In contrast to the challenge facing Rabbi Schneur Zalman, his son, Dov-Ber, now known as the “Mitteler Rebbe”, could focus his writing on the mystical dimensions of ancient Kabbalah, bringing it in detail and elaboration to the scholars of the esoteric. The past century saw a major disruption in learning and teaching of the deep works of the Mitteler Rebbe. The Bolsheviks outlawed the teaching and practice of the teachings of the subsequent Chabad Rebbes. Following the arrest and exile of Rabbi Joseph Isaac Schneursohn in 1927, the Chabad movement in Russia and Ukraine went underground. They were in constant pursuit by the K.G.B. Chabadniks were shot on sight, imprisoned, or sent to Siberia. Few returned. Many were killed by the advancing Germans (hundreds of thousands, – excluded from the 6-million Jews who perished in Concentration Camps.  Yeshivas, ritual Pools (Mikvehs), Kosher wine, Matzah for Passover, Jewish calendars, were destroyed by the Soviets. As the Nazis advanced Eastward, Chabad Hasidim migrated without any material sustenance, until a few hundred survivors made it alive to Shang Hai, China. During this period, there was no contact with their Rebbe, who was himself in flight with his immediate family, arriving in New York in 1940. In summary, from 1917 the Chabad movement of Eastern Europe, Ukraine, and White Russia, was under siege and from 1927 they were without contact with a living Rebbe to teach them. The scholars were decimated and the surviving ones went “underground”. Less than a hundred Chabad families made it to the U.S. by the end of the War, but individuals dribbled out in the 1960`s and 1970`s.  In 1927 the first Chabad Yeshiva was established in Rostov. Most of the movement was in a state of flight, without access to modern methods of information dissemination. This, in my opinion resulted in a depopulation below the critical-mass required to carry the body of esoteric knowledge into the modern era. The proof of that is that the current focus in Chabad Yeshivas is the study of the teachings of the 7th Chabad Rebbe, who Himself understood the material, without a collective holding structure to facilitate the transfer of information from the celestial heights reached by the 7th and final Chabad Rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneursohn, down the chain to the rest of us. You cannot run School for Graduate Studies with  only a Dean without faculty. Following the passing of several remaining Elders in the Chabad Community, including his Av Bais Din (Chief of the Rabbinical Court), Rabbi Zalman Shimon Dworkin, Personal Secretary Rabbi Chodokof, and His Brother-in-Law, Rabbi Shemaya Gurari during the early to middle 1980`s, the Rebbe remained essentially isolated. To this day, the community remains leaderless.

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