I got a couple emails from a friend of mine this morning, and tonight we had a little chat, all of which I thought might interest y'all. The first email was sent at 5:15 AM, and the second at 7:15 AM. I take no responsibility...
This link is a section from a very polemic website that has many negative things to say about Lubavitch. However, it is my opinion that the person behind it, whether he is right or wrong, is someone seeking the truth. The following link is a long dialogue between that person and a Chabadnik who I also believe is seeking the truth. (It seems that the Chabadnik is a relatively learned ba'al teshuvah, but not a major scholar, and that the other fellow is a FFB through Chabad that left the Chabad path to sojourn instead in the yeshiva world and who is also learned but not a major scholar. One line in particular, where he mentions the infinity of G-d in an overly simplistic fashion, leads me to believe he has spent some time around chareidi kiruv people.) Anyway, its an interesting read and it discusses some deep concepts. It could be that its also a great waste of time (note what time of night I sent this email), but I thought it would at least give you something to satisfy your natural curiosity at the milieu of pundits and to distract you from your jitters.
Interesting. I have confirmed what I suspected before. This "Identifying Chabad" guy has good arguments for why some things in Lubavitch, particularly the inflation of the "hiskashrus" concept and the cult of personality surrounding the Rebbe are problematic or objectionable, but his notion that the concept of hiskashrus and "betten" a rebbe are avodah zara according to Rambam are based on his misunderstanding of those concepts and the Rambam, although its easy to see why a reasonable person could draw his conclusions from both the Iggeres in question and the Rambam.
If hiskashrus, "betten" and "atzmus u'mehus...areingeshtalt in a guf" are understood from an emotional and spiritual perspective, its not so different from the notion that a tzaddik can help a person reach G-d by getting in touch with their connection to Him or even by basking in the aura of the tzaddik and thereby "transported" to a higher level of awareness of God, or even simply the benefit of being close to a mentor. In some ways, l'havdil, even one's relationship with God is comparable to a relationship with a mentor (think master and Master, which can be terms of service, ownership, tutelage, respect, or endearment, or any combination). I once heard a rabbi talk about how "G-d is THE rebbe" to describe this relationship between man and G-d, in response to which [name expurgated to protect the guilty] who was also there whispered to me "as opposed to 'the Rebbe is god'." Anyone who's ever been close to a rabbi or a mentor, or ever studied Torah from someone or from the writings of someone dead, knows that in some way your connection to the goals and ideas they present you is shaped by and association with the person(s) themselves. That's exactly why college textbooks give you a bio of the men behind the intellectual history of the subject matter. Imagine being mentored and taught directly by those men to appreciate their fields of study.
It's when hiskashrus becomes a very literal metaphysical concept that it becomes trouble. The easiest example is the notion that "betten" truly means the Rebbe controls one's fate and presides over (not just intercedes on behalf of) one's needs and so davening to him in that capacity becomes merely a hair's distance from treating him like G-d, or that "atzmus u'mehus...areingeshtalt in a guf" literally makes the Rebbe into G-d or G-d incarnate or G-d's spirit invested in a man such that "all that the Father is, I am."
Another problem is what Leibel Groner once told me that "one cannot attach himself to G-d without attaching himself to a tzaddik" implying either that G-d is inaccessible without the tzaddik's help or that one must go through the tzaddik to get to G-d (both appear to me to be "memutzah hamechalek").
Also, this guy never properly studied idolatry in the ancient world, or he would understand the difference between prayer and "service" in the Rambam (even though the formulation of the 13 Ikarim includes prayer as only fitting for G-d). "Service" is worship or ritual devotion, its theurgy and primal and involves submitting yourself completely into unity with something other than G-d to serve that thing or to "get closer to [G-d]." I don't think that "betten a rebbe" or hiskashrus or even "making one's will in accordance with the will of the rebbe" are really practiced in the way the Rambam calls avodah zara. The website's claim that "memutzah hamechaber" is what the Rambam is talking about, and says is worse than memutzhah hamechalek, is refuted by seeing how memetzah hamechaber is exactly the opposite of giving oneself wholly to an intermediary to get closer to G-d.
Taken too literally, too far, or practiced too intensely, the concept of memutzah hamechaber does become awfully close to avodah zara, and you and I both know people who's "relationship" with the Rebbe is creepy and too absorbing. I for one am not comfortable with the fact that hiskashrus is emphasized so much even at the extreme "not so creepy" end of the spectrum, and it does hurt to see how dangerously its expressed in writing in the Igros Kodesh. But this doesn't make Lubavitchers heretics.
What makes them heretics is clearly that they pronounce things funny. ;)
i need you!
i need your email!
The Friend: ok
can i publish it, expurgated for privacy concerns, on mine blog?
The Friend: there's nothing private in the emails except the sender information
and maybe my gmail signature if its there
TRS: i will clean it up i will
The Friend: first, before you post it
what did you think
i thought you had some valid points (perhaps)
The Friend: thanks
The Friend: that website definitely had a bone to pick
but a simple reading of that iggra is pretty, um, foreign
TRS: which letter?
and anyway, isn't it iggeres?
The Friend: the one about the Rayatz
TRS: which said...?
The Friend: that the difference between asking a deceased rebbe for help and asking things from 'intermediaries' or the dead, is that when one pleas to the deceased rebbe, he is actually pleading to G-d Himself, since the human rebbe is really just "the complete and absolute inherent essence of G-d Himself that dwells in a physical body"
and that a chossid should devote most of his conscious thought to the rebbe
and make sure his every desire conforms to the will of the rebbe
now, fancy kabbalistic notions of panentheisim and bitul atzmus/bitul yeshus, etc notwithstanding
it "farshtinks a bissel"
TRS: ahh, such a typical close-minded litvak you are
The Friend: having a profound spiritual connection to a tzaddik and his teaching doesn't require "Shivisi HaRebbe Negdi Tamid"
and "Make your will into His Will, that he will bend the will of others towards your will"
and "know that seeking the rebbe's help from beyond the grave is not a problem because the rebbe is nothing other than G-d Himself incarnate"
I for one don't think its meant to be taken that way
but its very easy to see how this guy saw it
TRS: well, every translation is by necessity imperfect
The Friend: well, I must protest, considering that the translation is pretty specific
TRS: who translated it?
The Friend: oy
I'll translate it if you want
TRS: no, it's ok
i'm not saying that i disagree with it
The Friend: hold on
I made a mistake
the quote that is the most problematic
is not from the iggeres on devoting one's thoughts to the rebbe
its somewhere else
have to find it agian
TRS: no worries
The Friend: aha
its from a sicha
TRS: nu, which sicha?
The Friend: from Acharon Shel Pesach 5710
The Friend: Likutei Sichos volume two, pages 510-511
TRS: nu, i can show you more impressive things the Rebbe wrote or said
The Friend: the truly "damning phrase" is:
Atzmus u’mehus alein vi er hat zich
areingeshtalt in a guf
the igeres only mentions memutza hamechaber
which is not necessarily a problem
although the thing about making the rebbe the focus of all your daily thoughts is creepy
cause that's G-d's territory
TRS: you like the phrase atzmus um'hus bguf gashmi?
The Friend: ?
TRS: as in, do you think it's a good phrase?
The Friend: I remember once my sister told me that she babysat for the [name expurgated to protect the guilty] kids and the art project they'd brought home from preschool was a list of mitzvos they'd done to give nachas to the rebbe on construction paper now
that's just creepy
TRS: hey, don't send your kids to a lubav school if you don't want that
The Friend: do you want your kids being taught implicitly that the point of doing mitzvos is for the sake of the Rebbe?
it doesn't matter that explicitly they are taught about doing the will of G-d
they are shown in school at the youngest stages of chinuch that in spite of all the rest of Torah, the personal connection to mitzvos is getting closer to the rebbe or making him proud of us
does this disturb you?
The Friend: yes
I don't think being a devoted chossid of the Rebbe requires thinking of the personal meaning behind mitzvos that way
TRS: all right
do i annoy you?
The Friend: no
surprise me maybe
what would Zalman say?
TRS: zalmen shechter?
The Friend: who?
[name expurgated to protect the guilty]
he'd agree with you in public
and me in private
The Friend: maybe
I'm not public to him
TRS: all right, he'd agree with me when talking to you
The Friend: doubtful
TRS: all right, then he wouldn't
i haven't had enough mature discussion with him to be able to accurately predict his predilections
The Friend: I doubt that most lubavs really think first about nachas for the rebbe when the do mitzvos or daven
TRS: but they should
The Friend: but wanting to feel that the Rebbe somehow knows and is proud, or would be proud of them is probably important
The Friend: "but they should" you are such a devil's advocate
you don't believe that for a second
TRS: i don't?
The Friend: oh please
you don't put on tefillin to please the Rebbe
TRS: your fear f heaven should be like your fear of man...
The Friend: and your motive for doing mitzvos is that its G-d's command, its 'what you do', its what a good chossid of the Rebbe does, since a true chossid lives up to his Rebbe's teachings, etc
not that it pleases the Rebbe
you should fear G-d as if he's as clearly real to you as a person, but not that you should revere man as much as G-d
don't make reverse kal v'chomers
anyway, enough advocating
you have my permission to post my rantings
TRS: i appreciate it
how about your rantings on this forum?
also properly edited of course...
The Friend: uh
TRS: well, you decide
The Friend: well, ok
TRS: you are truly a friend indeed
The Friend: now how about the fact that you are getting married in two weeks
The Friend: really
TRS: no bed wetting