“We do what is best for the mission, not what is fulfilling for the messengers.” That was how Rabbi Yosef Chaim Kantor, Chabad’s representative to Thailand and keynote speaker at last night’s Banquet dinner of the Shuchim Conference, assessed the differentiated nature of Chabad Shluchim.
Pricking to modern ears trained on the virtues of self-fulfillment, his remarks at the Garden State Exhibit Hall addressed the theme of this year’s conference: “One’s emissary is like the dispatcher himself.” Chabad Shluchim do not weary of their work even when the kind of rewards they hoped for don’t materialize, he explained, because the mission was never about personal reward. It was about fulfilling the expectations of the dispatcher, the Rebbe—that every moment be utilized to draw one more Jewish child in.
Few among the 3,850 who convened in the 70,000 square foot hall—the large majority of them, Chabad Shluchim—would disagree. Most have experienced frustrations and setbacks enough to make them take a hard look at the path they’ve chosen, and to hone their mission statements so that there is no confusing Chabad Shlichus with an outreach career or aspirations of personal advancement of any kind. To be sure, many find deep personal fulfillment in their outreach, but that, as Chabad Shluchim understand it, is incidental to their work.
Unyielding as that may be, their exponential growth—an oft repeated phrase at the banquet—indicates that they own up to this calling with unfaltering fidelity. The number of Chabad Shluchim grows dramatically year after year, with every new graduating class of rabbis and waiting lists of young couples seeking to join their ranks. Every year, new cities are added to the map of Chabad-Lubavitch: announced last night by Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky, dinner chairman and Vice Chairman of Merkos, is the appointment of young couples to Chabad centers opening for the first time in Ho Chi Min City, Vietnam, Guadeloupe, in the Caribbean Islands, Wellington, New Zealand and in the U.S., in Boseman, Montana.
Supporting this with love for the work of Chabad, is Mr. Sam Rohr, the evening’s guest of honor. Mr. Rohr, who stands at the head of the noted Rohr Family Foundation which underwrites numerous Chabad-Lubavitch initiatives, had the rapt attention of guests as he spoke about how he, son of a German Jew who raised him in the spirit of Modern Orthodoxy, came to Chabad. “How did I come here to address the most select gathering of Chasidic rabbis ever assembled?” he asked.
He recalled his first exposure to Chabad rabbis who seemed different from the others who frequently visited his former hometown of Bogota, Colombia, to raise funds. When they came to visit, he said, the Chabad rabbis were always asking his Jewish employees about their lives, about their children, about their education, and offered them the opportunity to put on tefillin. These rabbis, he said, were not satisfied with a contribution. “They wanted something more, and I realized that I should investigate Chabad.”
Mr. Rohr described his early work with Chabad, which began in Bogota as he facilitated the installment of the first Shluchim to Colombia. His involvement grew quantitatively, advancing Chabad’s Jewish educational and outreach activities over the years, so that today, the Rohr Family is a household name among Chabad Shluchim worldwide. He spoke glowingly of the work of Chabad Shluchim in former communist countries, and said that in his initial meeting with the Lubavitcher Rebbe, of blessed memory, he did not come to seek his advice in business, as many often did, nor did he come to see him perform miracles.
“I had already seen the greatest miracle—how the Rebbe had saved Russian Jewry, and American Jewry. . . .” Instead, he said, he came to thank the Rebbe for having challenged him to study more Torah in one year than he had in his whole life.
His regard for the study of Torah inspired him to support an initiative announced at last year’s conference, and expanded upon this year, that dedicates human resources for the exclusive purpose of teaching adult education classes in existing Chabad centers.
The Conference, interspersed with video footage that featured “slice of life” segments of young Shluchim leaving for lifelong destinations, and as they do their work out in the field, gave friends and supporters of Chabad, a look at the breadth and scope of a phenomenon that is riding on its own energy.
At best, however, the videos and speeches illustrate inspiring facts on the ground, enlarging the enigma Chabad-Lubavitch along the way. For all the scrutiny it receives, this movement spawned by the Rebbe with the help of a handful of Chasidim more than fifty years ago, remains inscrutable.