Rabbi Chaim Bruk and his family

By R’ Chaim Bruk

In this week’s Torah portion, Mishpatim, the first parashah we read after receiving the Ten Commandments in Yisro, we mostly read about interpersonal relationships and healthy human behavior. While so many mitzvos are geared to our eternal bond and vital relationship with G-d, what is referred to as “bein adam l’Makom,” Mishpatim kicks in with laws of damages, loans, indentured servitude, treatment of converts, and so much more, all in the realm of “bein adam l’chaveiro.” It’s like the Talmudic tractate of Bava Metzia comes alive in our parashah and serves as the foundation for how we are to be menschen in a tough world. Hashem makes it clear from the beginning that just as the Ten Commandments were given by G-d at Sinai, so, too, all the mitzvos, including the ones that seem to make so much logical sense, are Divine in nature and should be treated as such, period.

I was thinking about the Torah’s emphasis on “bein adam l’chaveiro,” because someone said to me recently, “You and Chavie juggle so many things, and it’s hard to believe that two people, devoted as they may be, could manage this juggling act and give people the time of day and ever have a moment for self-care.” 

I thought about what they said and realized that the only reason we can live our lives this way isn’t because we are superhuman or super-special, but because the Rebbe, zt’l, guided us to realize that the foundation of how we think of, speak to, and interact with fellow human beings is a reflection of our G-dliness. It’s the old Chassidic dictum that teaches that there’s no better way to express our love for Hashem than by loving our fellow Jews. Here’s the logic: when we love that which our Beloved loves, it’s a super-expression of our love, extending even beyond our Beloved, Hashem, expressing how deep that love for Him truly is.

Since I wrote last, just one week ago, it’s been a whirlwind of activities that are almost always about one-on-one moments that are uplifting. Even I wonder how we squeezed that in to seven days.

We hosted a young Chabad couple and their six-week-old baby from New York, who came out upon our request to visit the community of Billings, Montana, the largest city in our state, and will now open a Chabad Center there, our fourth center in Big Sky Country. Chavie taught two Tanya classes, one for the local community and one for the greater Jewish community. I drove to Dillon, Montana, four hours of driving roundtrip, to lecture for a group of college students on what life is like for a Jew so that when they graduate as schoolteachers they will be knowledgeable about Judaism. (By the way, I discovered in the class two young Yidden, including one who didn’t know he was Jewish, but after sharing with me that his maternal great-grandmother survived World War II, I notified him that he is a Jew and saved a neshamah.) I was called by the chaplain at the Bozeman Health Hospital to meet a couple who moved here during COVID and just gave birth to a Jewish baby and will have a baby-naming at our shul in a few weeks. A Jew from Helena came down to say Kaddish for his father who died in Florida during COVID (I wrote about this a year ago when we bought him an airline ticket because he couldn’t afford the flight to his father’s funeral). My assistant, Mendel, gave Hebrew School lessons to a young child of an Israeli couple who are living in town. Chavie cooked for and hosted over 55 people for Shabbos meals, doing it with love and perfection as usual. Included in the guest list was an amazing family from Lawrence and another fine family from Miami. A young Jew from Big Timber showed up to shul for the first time in a decade and was called to the Torah for an aliyah. I gave my Wednesday-night parashah class (it’s on Zoom, too, and y’all are always welcome to join) and videoed my daily morning parashah inspiration videos (which you can get on WhatsApp if you’d like). We helped a Jewish family in Roundup with financial reassurance as they are struggling.

And that’s what I remember offhand.

I don’t share this to show off in any way, chas v’shalom, to tell you how amazing Chabad is, or to give my dear readers my weekly schedule. I share this to emphasize the importance of being there for other human beings in whatever capacity they need. Tzedakah isn’t just the vital act of caring for the body by feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and housing the homeless; tzedakah for the soul, the heart, and the brain is just as important. In the pyramid of life, ahavas Yisrael must always come first; it’s the basis of our humanity, the basis of our Jewishness, the basis of our Torah observance, the basis of it all. What value is our enthusiastic davening or our passionate Torah learning if we can’t treat our fellow Jew, fellow human, our own family, with respect and dignity? What value is learning the daf or daily Rambam if we don’t talk to family members and choose to live for years in a machlokes, quarrel?

It doesn’t fly.

Mishpatim is a long parashah with long Rashis and halachos from here to Timbuktu. How many pages of Gemara talk about how to treat another human being and how many talk about our relationship with Hashem? There are way more tractates that deal with humans’ treatment of other humans than there are about our Yiras Shamayim, our fear of heaven. Of course, at the core of a Jew there must be Yiras Shamayim, but a good way to internalize our bond with Hashem, to experience the vitality of our G-dly connection, is by being a mensch, which refines us to be better at all things that matter, including our “bein adam l’Makom” to-do-list.

Let’s face it: we live in a very needy world. Not just the Jews in my Montana community, but humans all over are struggling. Human beings are overwhelmed with mental-health needs, emotional-health needs, spiritual-health needs, physical-health needs, and material-health needs, and each of us is in the position to live up to Mishpatim by being there for someone who could use a boost, helping hand, supportive act, or encouraging talk. If you’re feeling down about your relationship with Hashem, pause, help your fellow and you will see how much closer that brings you to G-d. Love Hashem, love the Torah, love your fellow Jew, and don’t get stuck in one or the other. They are interconnected and all need nourishment to make us live as “souls on fire.”

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 rabbi@jewishmontana.com or visit JewishMontana.com/Donate.


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