By R’ Chaim Bruk
We enjoyed such a wonderful Shabbos Nachamu in Bozeman. Jews from all over—Teaneck, Passaic, Toronto, Edison, Los Angeles, Lakewood, Brooklyn, Airmont, Monsey, West Bloomfield, Philadelphia, Tucson, and Cleveland, along with a local delegation from Bozeman, Belgrade, Livingston, and Helena—joined together for meaningful Shabbos meals and inspiring minyanim and shiurim. My son, Menny, who is spending quality time with me while Chavie and the girls are away, had a blast hanging with the boys from New York and made what I hope will be lifelong friends.
What is always fascinating to me is the brotherhood and sisterhood that’s created in our shul/home, without any judgment or divisions based on people’s finances. Almost all our guests stay at the three hotels and motels that are near our home. We all join together for the Shabbos meals, enjoying the same Shabbos delights. We all are experiencing the same natural beauty of Yellowstone and Glacier. And we all learn the same holy Torah. There are no “classes” of Jews. You don’t have to be wealthy to join us, as we don’t charge for meals (though we do ask for donations), and there is a sense of family in the room that is palpable. Whether it’s nusach Ashkenaz, Sefard, or Ari, we’re all davening together. There are those who wash for seudah shlishit and those who don’t, those who keep Rabbeinu Tam z’man for motzaei Shabbos and those who wear Rabbeinu Tam’s tefillin on Sunday morning, but we are all as one.
We laugh. We daven. We learn. We farbreng. We are one.
This idea really hits home for me, as my dad did really well financially when I was a child, but by the time I was a young teenager his business was struggling. No one ever knew that I was kid coming from financial difficulties, but it would’ve bothered me to no end if, at that time, I would have missed out on a good Jewish experience simply because my parents couldn’t afford to pay for it. We believe that the Aibeshter sends enough kindness our way that if occasionally there is a Jew who can’t donate for his Shabbos meals, we will be OK, and he shouldn’t miss out. In addition, Chavie’s home, where she grew up in San Antonio, was always open to all, and she insisted that our home be the same.
Just last week I was learning a Chassidic discourse, a ma’amar, that the Rebbe said in the winter of 1957. In it, he discusses the prayer “Tzorchei amecha merubim…” which is recited when one is traveling and unable to daven the full prayer liturgy properly. The abridged prayer means “The needs of Your people are many and their knowledge is scant. May it be Your Will, G-d, our G-d, that You should give to each one according to his livelihood and to each person enough to fill what is lacking and You should do what seems fitting to You. Blessed are You, G-d, Who listens to prayer.”
The Rebbe, in Chassidic fashion, digs a bit deeper and reads the words at the onset of the prayer differently: “The needs of Your people are many.” Why? Why do they need so much? Because “their knowledge is scant”—they aren’t acting wisely, and they are childishly consumeristic, which ends up making them need so much. If they were wiser or at least “acted smarter,” they would be happier with what they have and therefore less needy.
I think there’s a contentment that Jews find while in nature that makes them happier with what they have. This one camped out during the week, the other slept on the roof of his SUV, this one is crashing at a Motel 6-style joint, and others may sleep in their car. There is more to life than “things,” and a Shabbos in Bozeman brings Jews to a different plane where we focus on what actually matters in life. We enjoy thorough conversation about life in Montana, Jewish theology, life back home, and so much more.
This Thursday, the 20th of Av, is the 77th yahrzeit of HaRav Levi Yitzchak, the saintly father of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, ob’m. Reb Levik, as he was lovingly known, was exiled to Kazakhstan by the Communists and suffered tremendously from the insect-infested, food-rationed, Jew-hating, unbearable place where he was placed, and eventually the conditions affected him so much that he was overcome by illness and died in Almaty, the capital city. Reb Levik just couldn’t skate through the Communist decrees, like many others, by “playing ball” with their demands. He didn’t have to ensure every Jew in central Ukraine and beyond received shemurah matzah for Pesach, he didn’t have to ensure weddings and brissim were performed clandestinely, and he didn’t have to continue teaching and innovating Torah ideas when he knew they were coming for him, but he did it anyway, because that’s what a Jew does.
When we say in davening “Ki heim chayeinu,” that the Torah “is our life and the length of our days” that’s not hyperbole—it’s truth, emet l’amito. Baruch Hashem, we don’t have those types of obstacles anymore, as we can practice Torah and mitzvos freely and openly. If only we could learn to be thankful for what we have and not seek so much of the “mosros,” the Americanized wants that plague us 24/7, we’d be much better off. It’s no joke when it says in Pirkei Avos, “Marbeh nechasim marbeh da’agah”—meaning, “one who increases possessions increases worry.” We all need a break from that materialistic obsession, and a few days in the wilderness that Hashem created can do the job.
In this week’s parashah, Eikev, we read the words of Birkat HaMazon, Grace after Meals: “And you will eat and be sated, and you shall bless the L-rd, your G-d, for the good land He has given you.” Some explain that the greatest blessing is that when we eat we are also sated, because the challenge of always needing more creates so much aggravation, it’s just not worth it.
Rabbi Chaim Bruk is co-CEO of Chabad Lubavitch of Montana and spiritual leader of The Shul of Bozeman. For comments or to partner in our holy work, e-mail email@example.com or visit JewishMontana.com/Donate.