The first time I read "The Catcher in the Rye," I was probably about 16, and taking a high school literature class called "Psych. Lit." Several years later I had the opportunity to teach it as part of the curriculum at the high school where I was teaching. If there was one major point that never failed to make me think, it was that of Holden's Messiah complex--the inherent need to save and protect others (sometimes at the risk of one's own livelihood, happiness, success, etc.)--which comes out many times during the course of the novel. PsychologyDictionary.org defines the Messiah complex as "a complex in which sufferers have a desire to redeem and save others, some sufferers have harboured[sic] the delusion of being a saviour[sic] of people."1
One of the many problems with ultra-orthodox Jewish outreach is the existence of this savior complex. Among individuals it may seem mild and innocuous, but on a grand scale it does exist, and I believe that it forms the basis for kiruv in the first place. A few posts ago, I wrote about the Emergency Soul Saving In Progress, in which I quoted from Project Inspire's video, "Rescue Mission, The Time Is Now." In the video, a huge point is made about how it's time to save the non-orthodox Jews from secularism. He stated that "when klal yisroel [the Jewish people] is in danger in a big way, when HaKodesh Baruch-hu's (God) children are in danger with millions of nefeshes getting lost, we need to have that same kind of outcry.... We need to help save the Jewish people."2 In this case, each person is important to bring Jews back to the fold, to save them.
I recently read another piece written by Aliza Bulow, a convert to Judaism who has been doing kiruv for decades. In her article, she reflects on her very first time as a "Partner in Torah," in which she helped another woman learn about Judaism. When Bulow's young children asked her about her volunteer work she tried to explain that the woman she was working with wasn't "lucky" enough to grow up in an orthodox household and never learned about this type of Judaism. Bulow's children, not understanding how this was possible, responded by asking if the woman had been kidnapped when she was little. Aliza Bulow explains in her article that "she was kidnapped by pogroms that sent her family to America, by a harsh reality on these shores that was not conducive to mitzvah [commandment] observance, by public schools whose goal was to assimilated [sic] all within it’s[sic] walls, by uneducated grandparents and disconnected parents. Her neshama, [soul] and the neshamas of thousands like her, was kidnapped and held hostage, for generations, with the only ransom being Torah knowledge and the only one who can pay it being a Jew who cares enough to take the time."3 To make the connection that not being raised orthodox is like being kidnapped from Judaism upbringing is a pretty big stretch. We, the readers, should walk away with the understanding that thanks to Bulow's efforts as a rescuer of kidnapped souls, another Jewish victim of assimilation is being saved. The woman she's teaching is now regarded as having victim status. But if Bulow is the savior, and her Partner in Torah is the rescued victim, then who are the culprits? In Bulow's narrative, the parents and the grandparents are to blame, as is the public school, whose role, she believes, is to assimilate everyone. (Rather, it's to give kids a balanced education, something too often lacking in the ultra-orthodox world.) Mrs. Bulow, a career kiruv worker who loves her job states that:
Not only do I get to do kiruv, but I get to help others do kiruv as well. Sometimes I feel like a honey bee, flying right into the heart of a city’s kiruv flower, gathering the nectar of good ideas and getting covered by the pollen of excitement and dedication so prevalent among those devoted to Klal Yisroel, then I fly to another city and pollinate: spreading enthusiasm, sharing inspiration and strengthening spirits.
I work for Ner LeElef, a Jewish leadership training organization based in Israel, with branches throughout the world.Aliza Bulow is sort of like a superhero-fairy, spreading good kiruv vibes to other kiruv workers, saving kidnapped souls, and attempting to influence non-orthodox Jews to take on an orthodox lifestyle. (Notice that her organization's goal is to "generate growth and vibrancy in the Jewish people by cultivating strong leaders who can effectively develop and guide Jewish communities." This is a diplomatic way of saying that they're training kiruv workers to come into your community in an effort to transform the community from secular to orthodox.) Is this outreach work even necessary? It really depends on your perspective.
It’s[sic] goal is to generate growth and vibrancy in the Jewish people by cultivating strong leaders who can effectively develop and guide Jewish communities. In addition to training rabbis and their wives, and sending them out “into the field”, Ner LeElef seeks to ensure success by offering follow up care to it’s[sic] graduates as well as to other kiruv professionals.4
Rabbi Shlomo Wolbe, a man with a very interesting history, wrote that doing kiruv is important because it will bring Moshiach [the Jewish messiah] and because it will get you a place in "the world to come." He explains that:
Even if he is ready, the Moshiach [Messiah] cannot come unless we repent. The Gemara (Sanhedrin, 67) discusses this in detail, and the Rambam (Hilchos Teshuva, 7:5) records it as follows: “Every single one of the prophets commanded repentance. Israel will never be redeemed without repentance. The Torah promises that ultimately Israel will repent at the end of their exile, and immediately they will be redeemed…”
This means that the only requirement for the coming of the Moshiach and the redemption is repentance. We have to repent. And what about our brothers…B’nai Yisroel [the children of Israel/the Jews] who are far away from fulfilling the commandments? They have to repent, too! And we have to help them come close to repentance.Rabbi Wolbe stresses that one's final redemption in the "World to Come" rests on one's responsibility to bring other Jews back to Judaism so that all of the Jews can repent and the messiah can come. His approach is to instill fear into his followers. If they want to ultimately get into heaven, they must fulfill this mission of bringing the non-orthodox to orthodoxy. Whether or not Wolbe wants to be the big savior isn't even an issue. His concern is all about getting the messiah to show up and, dammit, if that requires the saving of some souls, that's what needs to be done.
There is something wonderful in the book Chovos HaLevavos (Shaar HaBitachon, Chapter 4): “A person’s good deeds alone do not make him suitable for the reward of the World to Come. G-d considers him suitable only because of two other things that he must also do: one, that he should teach others about the service of G-d and guide them in doing good…”
This concept is awe-inspiring. If a person does not “teach others about the service of G-d and guide them in doing good,” then he will not be worthy of the World to Come… Everybody who is involved in Torah needs to know this…especially today, when we are in such a dreadful situation. The only solution is for Moshiach to come, and Moshiach will only come if Am Yisroel [all of Israel] repent. That means everybody! Every member of Yisroel must come back in repentance.
We repent as individuals, but it does not seem to bother us that there are thousands of Jews who are far from Torah and the commandments. We do not even think about them. May the Heavens have mercy, we are not worthy of redemption. Every avreich [newly married and/or yeshiva student] who is occupied with Torah must help bring the unobservant back to G-d.
A leading Rav has determined that everyone is required to give a tithe of their time to helping others, which would amount to approximately one evening a week. Just once a week! Go to some place where non-observant Jews live and help them come close to Torah and the commandments.5
The underlying problem with Project Inspire's video, Aliza Bulow's articles, and Rabbi Wolbe's writing is that they are all being incredibly self-righteous and selfish. They are pushing their personal agenda without regard (and in many cases, without respect,) for those who will be personally affected. Their work is for their benefit and what they think will benefit all Jews. But not all Jews are alike or support their efforts, or even want to be orthodox. Rabbi Wolbe wants to save all of the Jews by making them orthodox and bringing Moshiach. Project Inspire wants to save all of the lost souls. Aliza Bulow wants to rescue those who were "kidnapped." Holden Caulfield in "The Catcher in the Rye" also wants to save people--children, to be exact. But he's a kid, and can barely keep his own head above water. The difference is that Holden, despite being a fictional character, is sitting on a couch in a therapist's office. He'll probably be able to work through this Messiah complex. The others? I'm not so sure.
1. "What is Messiah Complex?" Psychology Dictionary. PsychologyDictionary.org. accessed 7/18/2013.
2. qtd. from Project Inspire. "Rescue Mission--The Time is Now." Kiruv.com/articles/1204/rescue-mission-the-time-is-now/
3. Bulow, Aliza. "My First Partner in Torah." A Bite of Torah.com. February 15, 2008.
4. Bulow, Aliza. "Honey Bee Kiruv." Horizon Magazine. A Bite of Torah.com. 2007.
5. Wolbe, Rav Shlomo. "Rav Wolbe Zt”l’s Vision." Kiruv.com. July 23, 2012.