By R’ Chaim Bruk
Musings Of A Shliach From Montana
Last summer, after my dear friend Mike passed away, I wrote about the role that we shluchim play in the lives of our fellow Jews who live in our respective communities, especially as it relates to end-of-life challenges, practical and emotional, for them and their families, and dealing with their funerals and shivah, and preventing cremation, chas v’shalom. It never becomes easy, as we’re in the midst of losing a friend, congregant, supporter, while we are simultaneously required to stay strong, focused, inspired, and loving and empathetic throughout the gut-wrenching process.
A few months ago, a member of Bozeman’s Reform congregation, whom I’ve known for a decade or so, was diagnosed with a brain tumor. He’s originally from Hewlett (yes, the one in the Five Towns) and considers himself super “secular.” He and his wife have always been friendly and kind to me and to my family, but they never connected to our spiritual offerings. He’s in his eighties, and full of energy and life. He loves hiking and traveling, and, suddenly, overnight, life itself was on the line. He’s a sweet man. Coffee with the rabbi? Yes. Dinner with the Bruks? Yes. Helping me “personally” make a minyan for my 35th birthday? You bet. Reading and commenting positively on my weekly e-mail? 100%. Regular services for Shabbos and yom tov? No. A Pesach Seder with Chabad? No way. Laying tefillin? Not a chance. “We are Reform, and when choosing to attend services, we will attend there.”
After Fred was diagnosed, he was flown to Seattle for surgery where he stayed for a few months, and throughout this time I was in touch with him and his wife. We davened for him, made Misheberachs for him, checked in with his kids, and hoped for the best. The prognosis isn’t the best and Fred is now home and being cared for locally. I try to visit with him every week. I crack jokes that make him laugh, I force him to answer my questions, which is good for the skills he’s relearning, I farbreng with him about life, kids, dogs, weather, souls, and I spend time with his wife, uplifting her, listening to her, and encouraging her to take care of herself in the process, so that she doesn’t die on the inside along this journey.
Why do I visit Fred? He’s not my supporter or my congregant. Yet, he’s my friend, a dear friend, a fellow Yid with a glowing soul who loves his people, loves his heritage, and loves his family. He’s kind, gracious, dignified, and never speaks bad about anyone. Where a person chooses to pray should not be how anyone is judged. When I left his room last Friday, I asked him if he wants me to turn off the light and make it a bit darker for him to sleep. He responded, “Chaim, when you leave, the light goes away, and it always get darker.”
It was so moving. An 83-year-old father of three who has been married for way over 50 years and only met me when he was in his early seventies considers me a light in his life. How does that happen? I will tell you: With love, no judgment, and not wasting time on debating issues we won’t agree on, and rather spending time in conversation, in love, and in humor, recognizing that though we don’t agree on everything, we are brothers, we are family, we are Am Echad, one nation attached at the hip.
In this week’s Torah portion, Emor, we read about the Omer barley offering in the Beis HaMikdash and the counting of the Omer itself. We count days and weeks for seven weeks from the second day of Pesach until Shavuos, when an offering is brought from the new grain in the Holy Temple. The idea of counting the Omer is simple, but so, so important: We mustn’t waste our time. Each moment that Hashem has given us is precious—we can’t squander it because the “office is closed for the holiday” or the boss “gave us time off.” We may not have anything pressing and we just want to chill, but time is finite; if misused, that can be the greatest detriment for us as human beings and especially as Jews. Being organized with our time, living with proper time management, is the Jewish way and a healthy path that will keep us on our toes to get things done for Hashem, for Jewry, for our families, and for ourselves.
When we meet with people who, according to the “rules of nature,” don’t have a very long time to live, it’s eye-opening and gifts the visitor with deep introspection. Pondering the limitations of our time, the allotment given to us by G-d to live on His earth, wakes us up to be more productive, to mend more fences, to be kinder to ourselves and those around us, to tap into the spiritual reservoirs of Torah Judaism, and to live every moment with hakaras ha’tov, gratefulness, for all the blessing in our lives. We are less inclined to get upset at our spouse and kids if we are living in a state of gratefulness.
During the winter of 1970, a group of chassidim flew to New York from Eretz Yisrael to be with the Rebbe for the 20th anniversary of Yud Shevat, when he accepted the mantle of Chabad Lubavitch leadership. This group of Israeli Chassidim sat in 770 at a special farewell farbrengen a few hours before their scheduled flight from JFK back home to Israel. The clock was ticking, and the Rebbe was speaking. Many of the visitors felt anxious about their upcoming flight and found themselves glancing at the clock time and time again. The Rebbe noticed the uneasy faces and suddenly began describing an experience that had taken place around 40 years prior with his father-in-law, the Frierdiker Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneerson, zt’l.
The Frierdiker Rebbe was scheduled to take a trip from Leningrad (St. Petersburg) to Moscow. This mission was pivotal for Russian Jewry. As a prime suspect of the Soviet authorities, his upcoming journey was fraught with great danger. A short time before the scheduled train ride, the Rebbe entered his father-in-law’s room. He found him deeply involved in a communal endeavor that required total concentration. The Frierdiker Rebbe was completely calm, with no sign of apprehension about his upcoming departure.
His son-in-law was surprised. How is it possible to remain so calm and concentrated before such a dangerous excursion? The Frierdiker Rebbe answered with the secret to successful time management: Live in the present moment. The Secret Police may be waiting outside the door, but right now, there is work to be done.
It’s easier said than done, but living in the moment, in the present, is so important. The great sage, the Rashba, found time to fit a daily stroll into his busy schedule as rabbi, teacher, community leader, and doctor. He was focused on each of his activities as if nothing else existed, and the productivity of his minutes and hours was maximized. We shouldn’t have to wait until experiencing a life-altering event, a potentially deathly illness, or to be a shliach sitting with someone on his deathbed, to realize that time is sacred and should be utilized.
The Rav, Reb Yoshe Ber Soloveitchik taught that the first mitzvah the Jews were commanded as a nation was Kiddush HaChodesh, to sanctify the moon and keep a lunar Jewish calendar. He makes the incredible point that as the Jews emerged from Egypt, from being slaves to a free people, they now had control of their own time and were commanded to take note of that, because it’s the essence of being Jew. In the words of Bruce Lee, “If you love life, don’t waste time, for time is what life is made up of.”
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.