Sunday, March 15, 2009

Moshiach Madness

One of my favorite personal Lubavitch stories comes from my stint in West Hartford as the rabbi of Congregation Agudas Achim.
One morning during aseret yemei teshuvah, one of the local Chabad shluchim - his name is Mendel Samuels - (he's still there in Connecticut - Chabad shluchim are funny that way) came to me in my shul to borrow a Torah. They were just getting things off the ground, and he needed the Torah for Yom Kippur. Sure, no problem.
After Yom Kippur he came over to return the Torah.
"How did it go?" I wondered.
"Well," he said, "Kol Nidrei was amazing. We had over a hundred people." He was right - that truly was amazing.
"But what about Yom Kippur morning?"
"Actually, that wasn't so great. We had to wait until eleven in the morning for a minyan."
It was then and there that I gained a tremendous amount of respect for Chabad shluchim. I myself served in a shul whose membership was far less frum than I. I learned to call frantically for a tenth man for minyan, daven until yishtabach and wait (and pray) for a tenth man, and even to daven without a minyan at all. But never on Yom Kippur. Right then I realized the level of devotion and decidation that these guys have, to go where no one else will go to build a Jewish life.

I write this story because I don't want to seem like a Chabad basher - especially because I'm about to criticize Chabad. By the way, this is my blog and my post, but it's really Rena's passion. She got much more worked up about this than me.

On Friday morning, I picked up a copy of one of the two religious Zionist newspapers published in Israel called B'Sheva. (It's the newspaper of Arutz 7 - the one you all know and love.) The paper was fine, but the back cover caught Rena's attention. It was an ad for a concert by Avi Piamenta. Here it is:

So you look at the ad and think: OK, I might not like Avi Piamenta, but what's wrong with the ad? I'll give a closer look at the upper part of the ad, and translate:

במצות הרבי מלובביץ' מה"מ להתוועד ביחד בעניני משיח וגאולה בחודש אדר בשנת "הקהל" שאחרי שנת השמיטה לאחדות העם ולשלמות התורה והארץ
According to the instructions of the Lubavitcher Rebbe מה"מ (I'll get to that soon) to gather regarding matters of Moshiach and redemption in the month of Adar during the year of hakhel after the year of Shemittah, for the unification of the nation and the completion of the Torah and the land.
What caught Rena's eye was the מה"מ after the Rebbe's name. What does it stand for? Can you guess? I checked a reference of Hebrew abbreviations (page 8) and came up with a few suggestions:
מהא משמע - "from this we learn" - nope, doesn't fit.
מלאך המות - "the angel of death." I sure hope not.
Of course, the abbreviation stands for מלך המשיח -- "the King Moshiach".
I'm not sure why it surprised us. Were we shocked seeing a reference to a dead, great rabbi as the Moshiach in a regularly read religious Zionist paper. On the back page? Was it upsetting to see it so boldly proclaimed, as if it was a matter of fact that the Rebbe is/was/will be the Moshiach? Or perhaps what upset me is the fact that Lubavitchers feel the need to both state their belief that the rebbe is Moshiach and at the same time hid it, in plain view in code. I'm not sure. But for whatever the reason, I find the ad very much upsetting.
I shouldn't be surprised. Dr. David Berger has been writing about this sort of thing for years, and we conveniently ignore it - perhaps because of all the good that Chabad does, perhaps because we prefer to take a "Don't ask, don't tell" position. Perhaps because the mainstream Orthodox movement really has no idea what to do about it.
Yet, every time Dr. Berger's name comes up somewhere, a chorus of Chabad sympathizers try and discredit him for his "malicious slander" of Chabad. (See the comments on this article, or here to see what I mean.) I guess I sort of thought that it was a "secret". Even Chabad officially seems to admit that the rebbe died. Rabbi Samuels' Chabad of the Valley website explains that,
The Rebbe started his leadership in 1950, with only a few hundred followers in America, from what was once a large and vibrant community in Europe before the War. He passed away in 1994, and Jews study his teachings and wisdom around the world.
I guess now we've reached the point where things aren't so secret anymore.