By Vivian Ho, Allston / Brighton TAB
Although followers of Chabad consider themselves Orthodox Jews, followers of Chabad should break free of definitions, Rabbi Tzvi Freeman said to Shaloh House congregation Sunday night.
Freeman, an author and lecturer, spoke to about 100 people about bringing new meaning to the word “orthodox,” in line with the Chabad beliefs of spreading goodness and knowledge. He encouraged the congregation to bring change to the world rather than remain stagnant.
“We’ve been convinced that our whole purpose is to preserve,” he said. “We do what we do today because that’s what we did yesterday, and the day before and the day before.”
However, the Jewish faith began when Abraham changed what he knew and denounced idolatry. The Jewish faith began with radicalism, Freeman said.
“Everything goes one way, but a radical stops and says, ‘Wait, this is different,'” he said.
Freeman described the common perception of orthodox as having a “nice potted plant in your house” that remains the same year after year because the plant is actually not real, but plastic.
“That’s what we call orthodox,” Freeman said. “We are doing this today because our parents did it yesterday. Why did they do it? Because their parents did it before them.”
Freeman said Rebbe Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the leader of the Chabad movement, asked the Jewish people not to remain the same, but to do what they can to change the world.
Freeman spoke as part of the 10th of Shevat festivities, a day celebrating the day the Rebbe took leadership from his predecessor. This year marked the 60th anniversary of Rebbe Menachem Mendel Schneerson’s leadership.
“It’s a very joyous event,” Sara Rodkin, wife of Shaloh House Rabbi Dan Rodkin, said as her children ran around her. “It’s a celebration of the current Rebbe, as well as the Rebbe before him.”
Before Freeman’s talk, attendees watched a video of the Rebbe rising to his leadership position.
“When the Rebbe was accepting to be the Rebbe at the time, to lead the seventh generation, the Rebbe said, ‘Don’t think you’re in for a free ride,'” Freeman said. “The Rebbe looked as us and said, ‘I believe in you.’
“That is what I call radical,” he said. “The most radical thing is the Rebbe’s belief in us.”
Freeman said the Rebbe believes in the Jewish people to be the ones to usher in change through good deeds.
“What the Rebbe gave us is knowledge that we’re not supposed to be ashamed,” Freeman said. “We’re supposed to be out there changing the world, turning the entire world over to goodness.”
Rabbi Dan Rodkin said he thought Freeman gave “an amazing talk” delivering the message of the Rebbe. Rodkin said growing up in Communist Russia where religion was outlawed, he grew in his faith because of Rebbe Schneerson.
“He came at a very hard time for Jewish people, right after the Holocaust,” Rodkin said from the men’s side of the room. “He cared about every single person.”
Shmuel Posner, rabbi of the Chabad House in Kenmore Square, said he thinks Freeman’s talk “really encapsulates what the Rebbe is all about.”
“What the Rebbe taught us was to think out of the box, to approach the world as what needs to be done,” he said.
Thinking “out of the box” doesn’t have to be an ordeal, Brighton resident Chaya Edelson said.
“We all have an obligation to making a difference in someone’s life,” she said. “It can be opening the door for someone, smiling at someone, telling someone ‘good job.’ It doesn’t have to be a grandiose act. The smallest act can change someone’s day.”
Brighton resident Myriam Lebowitz said she appreciated the universal message of Freeman’s talk.
“It doesn’t matter if you’re Jewish or not Jewish,” she said. “Whatever we can do to better a person’s life — that is our responsibility.”