What are the roots of Chabad Outreach? Perhaps the best way to understand it is to hear how the Rebbe himself describes it (from his collected talks, Shabbos Parshas Behar-Bechukosai, 24th Iyar, 5740)…
(The words of the Lubavitcher Rebbe…)
In certain segments of the Jewish community, the expression ‘Kiruv Richokim’ — drawing close those who are far — is used to describe the efforts to reach out to Jews who are presently estranged from Torah and Mitzvos. This expression is improper. Our sages tell us that it is forbidden to tell a convert “Remember your initial deeds.” Similarly, it is forbidden to remind a Baal Teshuvah of his previous behavior by calling him a Richuk — someone who is (or was) far away. It is true that the Talmud comments on the verse “Peace, Peace to the close and to the far,” stating “to the far who drew close.” However, it is improper to address those whom we wish to draw to Torah with that expression. For this reason, the Rebbeim never used such phraseology. They stressed the importance of loving all Jews — even one whom we never saw, — but they never used the expression ‘Kiruv Richokim.’
No Jew is ever Rochok — far away — from Yiddishkeit. The only reason the aforementioned text of the Talmud uses the terminology is because “Torah speaks in the language of men.” From the perspective of man, such an individual may be a Richuk, but from the perspective of Torah, Yiddishkeit is close to him.
Hence, there can be no condescension in the attitude with which we reach out to our fellow Jews. We must realize that “more than the rich does for the poor, the poor does for the rich.” When giving charity, the rich must give with a pleasant disposition, without letting the poor man feel that he is poor. The same principle applies in spiritual Tzedakah. In such a case, we are reinforced by G-d’s promise, “Since you gave life to the poor man… I will remember the Mitzvah you have done… and repay you soul for soul.”
(end of the Rebbe’s words)
When presented in his own words, it would seem rather difficult to disagree with.
In my words, we don’t dump on a Jew or consider him ‘lower’ because his circumstances weren’t as good as ours or have the learning opportunities ours have had. That ‘innocent’ neshama, from the standpoint of never being exposed to Jewish learning, isn’t of any less value than the neshama of the talmid chacham.
Is that Jew of less value because he wasn’t born in to an observant Jewish home? Frankly, that neshama may be on a much higher level that it can take the challenge, with a chance of success, of being born outside a Torah community and immersed in a non-Torah upbringing and still having a chance of returning and reconnecting to Torah.
So do you walk in looking down on all the poor ignorant masses that you’re about to share your deep Torah knowledge with? You who were raised in Boro Park, served chalal yisroel milk from childhood, licked honey off the alef beis at 3, had rebbe’s and rosh yeshiva’s directing you from the day the sandek held you, or do you rejoice that these neshama’s are overcoming their challenges by coming to you, and be so thankful that Hashem Yishborach has given you the opportunity to help them on their path?
Even thought the answer is obvious, it is something we need to work on internalizing.
Akiva writes regularly at Mystical Paths.