Last night (well, really this morning), I happened on an article in the online version of the New York Observer that dealt with the "Mosiach" divide in Lubavitch.
Now, before I get started, I want to be perfectly clear on my stance so that nobody goes all hog-wild with their comments. I will go on record as stating that Chabad has done a tremendous job of bringing wayward Jews back to the fold, as well as providing religious infrastructure to Jews who find themselves in Nowhereville, Anywhere. Moreover, and not least of all, I am personally indebted to Chabad, since during my years in the Southern US, Chabad was the only orthodox option available.
The article described in detail the current divide in Chabad between those who believe that the Rebbe was/is Mosiach/has not passed on to the Olam Habah. The particular focus of the authour was on how the divide between Mosiachists and non-Mosiachists (according to the journalist, the latter were the minority) has subdivided Chabad into two parties, which do not intermingle. This divide has been evident for quite some time, as evidenced by the fact that the last community I lived in consisted exclusively of two Chabad shuls: one ostensibly non-Mosiachist, the other Mosiachist, and they were located, naturally, kitty-corner from each other. But when I read the article, there was a woman who was featured as the cornerstone of the extreme Mosiachists, who acknowledges being unlearned and looks to the Igros for answers if need be. To each their own I said...until I read how, on either Tisha B'Av or 17 Tammuz (the journalist does not specify, due), the same woman ate and drank because "when the Mosiach is here, all rules are turned on their head".
One bone of contention that I have always quietly held with Chabad is the emphasis on the Rebbe above all else: the favouring of learning Sichos versus Gemara, of telling a Mimar of the Rebbe versus a Divar Torah proper, etc. Granted, I understand that Chassidic sects operate with a focus that differs than that of Misnagim. But I do not believe that placing one's Rebbe on par with Hashem is sanctioned by anyone. Throughout the Torah, emphasis is placed time and again on foregoing agents as conduits to Hashem. We are the sole nation who have a direct relationship with Hashem, so why render things murky with such a heightened relationship with the Rebbe to the end that emphasis on Hashem is lessened? My issue, in other words, is with balance. Perhaps a brief story will illustrate how imbalance in this regard is inappropriate and downright reminiscent of Christianity and other revolutionary-minded sects.
While attending a Chabad shul, there was a girl there who came to shul quite frequently. For her, shul was mainly a social versus spiritual event; whenever she attended, she unfailingly managed to talk throughout davening, even throughout Kriat HaTorah. However, one afternoon over Seudah Shlishi, while her husband was giving over a Mimar, I whispered something to my friend- something along the lines of "Please pass the potato salad". She shushed me so loudly that I had to go over once the men had returned to davening and ask her why she chose to shush me so vehemently. She responded: When my husband is saying a Mimar, the berachas are raining down from Shemayim. I could not help but wonder why complete silence had to be maintained during a Mimar, but Kriat HaTorah was a free-for-all. As far as I am concerned, who actually believes that talking during Kriat HaTorah is mutar? Unfortunately, the girl in question was born and raised FFB in Crown Heights. I doubt that neglect of Torah is what she learned there, so how did she arrive at her then-mindset? I do not mean to single out this girl by any means, but her words and actions are illustrative.
To summarize, I find the focus on the Rebbe as Mosiach dangerous for two reasons. First, as has been exemplified by other Chassidic sects recently, divisiveness in any group is spiritually lacking, if not destructive. Given that we are supposed to have ahavah and respect for each other, any issue that so divides a party should be carefully examined in order to find a solution. Achdus, in other world, should be of primary importance, and the refusal to co-exist amicably, to "intermingle" is both troublesome and problematic. But secondly, and perhaps even more importantly, emphasis should alway remain primarily on Hashem. Look at Breslov. Here is a group whose Rebbe has been gone for centuries, yet Breslovers manage to live and breathe the teaching of their Rebbe as a way to increase their personal relationship with Hashem. To put it differently, while they put great importance on the teachings of their revered leader/founder, those teachings serve only to create a feeling of closeness to Hashem that is not reliant on Rebbe Nachman as a conduit. Instead, his teachings serve as a method of improving one's spiritual health, which in turns improves one's physical/emotional health in this world.
I hope that Chabad, an organization that does so much for kiruv, can remember to apply the fundamental message of kiruv to itself: that the reason and purpose for our existence in this world is loving and serving Hashem and Him alone. In the case of Klal Yisroel, there is neither need nor tolerance for either intermediaries or revisionism- without propagating evil, chasve shalom! I consequently hope that the two factions can find a common ground and that achdus can prevail. For what, in the end, is achdus but a way of demonstrating love for Hashem?