When my husband and I decided to become observant, I was overwhelmed by how much I didn’t know. Memorizing a few key Hebrew and Yiddish phrases helped me feel like less of an outsider. I was also hoping to sound scholarly if any of our old friends asked what in the world compelled us to make this decision. (Hardly anyone inquired.)
Today, everybody knows somebody who’s a Lubavitcher. If you want to engage in good discussion with one, and sound like you’ve read at least the Sparknotes, here are five phrases good to know when talking to a Chabadnik. (Also good to know “Chabadnik” and “Lubavitcher” mean the same thing; they both refer to a member of the Chasidic community founded in the 1700’s by Rabbi Shneur Zalman.)
1.Naaseh v’nishma–“We will do and we will hear,” is how the Jewish nation answered G-d at Mt. Sinai. It’s also the first phrase I learned, my way of explaining that we didn’t have a choice once we knew that every Jewish soul that would ever live agreed to an eternal covenant. We agreed first to “do” the mitzvos, and then to “hear” them by striving to understand 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; we observe the mitzvos that transcend reason, known as chukim (e.g., kashrus, the totally-not-understandable body of laws concerning the suitability of food) to show G-d that our relationship with Him goes beyond our intellect.
2.HaMaaiseh hu ha’ikker–“The main thing is the deed.” In terms of keeping mitzvos (commandments of the Torah), whether you’re there or not, or even if you’re not sure you want to go there, #everymitzvahmatters. Lubavitchers love to talk about mitzvos. The exact number of mitzvos is 613, even though we only observe about a third of them today. (The other two-thirds are only binding when the Temple exists in Jerusalem.) I first heard this number 613 as an adult, and I thought this random big number was just the teacher’s way of saying you could be busy all day following the commandments.
3.Va’yaminu b’Hashem uvi’ Moshe avdo–“They believed in G-d and in Moshe His servant,” are the words describing the Jewish people’s response when Moshe split the Red Sea. I had to memorize this line within weeks of our encounter with Chabad. The idea of a “Rebbe” made a lot of Jewish people nervous. It made me nervous. Growing up, I didn’t even have a rabbi I listened to, much less followed. Now here I was talking about a spiritual guide known as a Rebbe. The idea of a Jewish leader who had a clear G-dly connection took some getting used to, but I quickly realized the issue was mine.
4.Tracht gut vet zein gut–“Think good and it will be good.” For years I mistakenly thought this saying meant that positive thinking yields positive results, but this expression refers to a Jew’s spiritual power known as bitachon, trust in G-d. Every single Jew, regardless of conscious belief or merit, has an inner reserve of this soul power. It’s good to know that if you trust with every fiber of your being that G-d will come through for you, He will.
5.Lichshayafutzu mayanosecha chutza–“When your wellsprings spread to the outside.” It took years before I even attempted to say this Hebrew phrase. I still have to ask my kids to help me pronounce the rallying cry that inspires Lubavitchers everywhere. This was Moshiach’s answer to the Baal Shem Tov, the founder of the Chasidic movement, when the Baal Shem Tov asked when he would arrive. (The encounter occurred while the Baal Shem Tov was deep in contemplation on Rosh Hashanah in 1746.) These wellsprings represent the deep and mystical concepts that elucidate the spiritual reality of all creation. They also explain why Chabad Houses exist virtually everywhere on the planet.
So that’s my first course of Lubavitch 101. There are many more concepts and terms, plus holidays that only Lubavitchers celebrate. But these five phrases are a good place to start if you want to practice sounding like a Lubavitcher.