7 Rules on "How to Talk In The Name of Lubavitch?"
September 5, 2019
Beis Moshiach in #1181, Op-Ed

Recently,a respected Jewish newspaper ran an opinion piece by a rabbi, on a timely and quite controversial topic pertaining to the Jewish community in New York State.

I remain uneducated on the topic itself, so I will refrain from commenting on it. I follow my doctor’s guidance on medicine and the community-Rabbonim’s guidance on community matters, out of the faith that regardless of the knowledge they have, their instructions are guided by Siyata DiShmaya.

It’s fine that people speak out on controversial topics, that’s what press is for. What bothered me about this particular piece was that the rabbi, who is a shliach of the Rebbe, signed off on the piece as a Chabad rabbi.

That’s also fine. I do not subscribe to the “Who-are-you-to-speak-in-the-name-of-Chabad?” approach. The Rebbe makes shluchim, and he wants them to speak their minds on “D’var Hashem Zo Halacha.” Neither do I think that anyone, at any level of establishment, has rights to the “official position” of Lubavitch.

I disagreed with some of the content of the opinion piece, and agreed with other points (and I think it would have been wiser to detach the two topics), but the “tone” of the piece was, to my taste at least, a far cry from how a “Lubavitch-sponsored” media-item should be presented.

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There are a few “guidelines,” as it were, that I suggest you should follow if you plan to invoke your association with the Rebbe in your public opinion:

1) Evaluate whether this sort of topic is fitting to associate with the name of the Rebbe.

I am referring to basic respect and dignity. For example, the fact that you like a certain restaurant has nothing to do with you being a shliach. It’s not a contradiction; you’re welcome to enjoy your steak any way you like. But you being a Chassid and a shliach has to do with the part of you which is more refined…

Remember also that the Rebbe wants Lubavitch to remain apolitical, so stay away from endorsing or undermining political figures or parties. Of course, important issues are often politicized, but try to veer away from their political side by pointing to their timeless aspects as they are addressed by the Torah.

In a similar vein, if you’re advertising a shiur, a course, a farbrengen or anything of that kind, then slogans about the Rebbe and Moshiach should certainly be on the material. But if you’re selling socks and shampoo, or if you’re looking for a wallet you lost, you ought to respect the Rebbe and just stick to your subject matter.

2) Have you exhausted all other avenues? 

If the matter is a community-based problem, not a global or national trend, have you tried to work with people diplomatically to fix it? Just take the Rebbe’s approach to the “Russia Demonstrations” in the 60s and 70s as a guiding example.

3) Remember that resorting to controversy and public criticism is a last resort.

Controversy has a price. Sometimes it needs to be paid, but it’s a hefty price. Inevitably, writing or speaking on controversial topics will leave someone hurt and shamed. It won’t contribute to Ahavas and Achdus Yisrael. Yes, there are times surgery is needed, but we shouldn’t run to use any opportunity to perform a painful and potentially dangerous procedure.

Just look through farbrengens of the Rebbe: for every “controversial” sicha, there are 10 others, including on timely, relevant “newsy” topics said in a positive tone.

4) Seeing the good in every Jew includes even those that may be doing something terrible.

Therefore, never direct your criticism to individual people or even groups. Speak of ideas and concepts.

I didn’t check this out, but I would be hard-pressed to find if, in public talks of the Rebbe, you would find the words “Democrats,” “Republicans,” “Conservatives,” “Liberals” or the like. It’s not that the Rebbe never mentioned terms from the political world — the Rebbe spoke about the president, the constitution, congress, petitions, elections, and so on, but rarely on the divisive area of the political world.

5) Be solution oriented.

In today’s world (and probably in the past as well) there is a tendency to be a “fighter” and to look out for wrongs. The test is what you do with the problem after you identify it.

Offer amicable solutions that even the subjects of your criticism can accept. Insisting on fixing the problem your way may very well be killing other solutions.

6) What matters most is not what you meant, but how people took it.

This is the hardest one. I write regularly, many times under deadline pressure and I occasionally fail on this one: I discover that people read into my words things I didn’t mean. You can very much avoid this problem by having two or three friends (someone critical is especially good for this) who will review what you want to say or write before it goes public and saves you from this pitfall.

7) Speak positively.

In the last sicha that we merited to hear from the Rebbe as of press time, the Rebbe gave an important, guidance: “Even when it becomes necessary to prevent your fellow person from doing something wrong, the most effective way is to influence him in a pleasant and peaceful manner.” (Parshas Vayakhel 5752)

The Rebbe isn’t speaking about the “ideal” or “most proper” or “holiest” way, the Rebbe is talking about the most effective, useful and productive way!

What is true with individuals is true with a community or a group of people. Persuade and convince, don’t attack.

This all the more true in Dor Hashvi’i, when the good in the world already “won the war” and we just need to open our eyes to see it.

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The bottom line is that shluchim have earned themselves a reputation for being made in the image of the Rebbe — kind, positive, helpful and loving. Let our writing and public appearances reflect that as well. ■

Article originally appeared on Beis Moshiach Magazine (http://beismoshiachmagazine.org/).
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