When my husband and I decided to become observant through Chabad thirty years ago, I was overwhelmed by how much I didn't know. By memorizing a few key Hebrew and Yiddish phrases, I felt more authentic around my new friends. I also felt more scholarly around my old friends, in case they asked why we made such a radical decision. (Hardly anyone did.)
Today, almost everybody is familiar with the world of Lubavitch. Here are five phrases worth knowing if you're talking to a Chabadnik. (It's also good to know that "Chabadnik" and "Lubavitcher" are synonymous; they both refer to a member of the Chasidic movement that began in the 1700's with Rabbi Shneur Zalman.
1."We will do and we will hear"--"Naaseh v'nishma" is how the Jewish nation answered G-d at Mt. Sinai; these are the words that bind every Jewish soul that will ever grace Planet Earth in an eternal covenant with Him. We agreed first to "do" the mitzvos, and then to "hear" them by delving into their meaning. Mitzvos are not meant to be busy work, but they're not a smorgasbord either. And not all mitzvos are meant to be understood; by observing the mitzvos that transcend reason, we show G-d that our relationship with Him goes beyond our intellect.
2."The main thing is the deed."-- "HaMaaiseh hu ha'ikker." Lubavitchers are taught to love doing mitzvos, and they're taught to love encouraging others to do mitzvos. Because every mitzva brings G-d's presence into this world, and that's the whole purpose of creation.
3."They believed in G-d and in Moshe His servant,"--"Va'yaminu b'Hashem uvi' Moshe avdo"are the words describing the Jewish people's response when Moshe split the Red Sea. I memorized this line within weeks of our encounter with Chabad. I had no choice--the idea that G-d operates through a chosen leader made everyone I knew uncomfortable--including me. Growing up, I didn't have a rabbi who I evened listened to, much less followed. But this Torah passage clarifies the basis and need for a Rebbe.
4."Think good and it will be good."--"Tracht gut vet zein gut."--This fundamental Chabad precept is more than the power of positive thinking. This expression refers to a Jew's innate spiritual power known as bitachon, sincere and complete trust in G-d. It is through this trust that every single Jew, regardless of personal merit, can be assured that G-d will come through with a completely good outcome.
5."When your wellsprings spread to the outside."--"Lichshayafutzu mayanosecha chutza."-- This mouthful of strange syllables is the answer Moshiach gave to the Baal Shem Tov, the founder of the Chasidic movement, when the Baal Shem Tov asked Moshiach for his arrival date. It was an other-worldly encounter that launched Chabad's mission to combine heaven and Earth. The "wellsprings" are the mystical secrets of the Torah, essential to Chabad teachings. The "spreading" explains why you find Chabad everywhere around the world.
With Chabad's growing ubiquitousness--thousands of emissaries will gather next week in New York for the men's annual convention--a little background can help everyone understand why these Jews are so committed to doing what they do.