By R’ Chaim Bruk
Zeesy, our 11-year-old daughter, returned last week from Camp Simcha Special in upstate New York. Words cannot adequately describe how amazing this place is and what it does for our beautiful girl. All year long Zeesy lives with an extremely challenging medical reality, a genetic disease that affects every aspect of her life. On most days, Chavie and I are sort of used to the rhythm of our life, but for anyone watching from the outside, Zeesy’s life journey seems impossible, and it isn’t lost on us that for Zeesy the struggle is real and may get more challenging as she grows older.
Her first summer at Camp Simcha was last year, and her counselor, Shana Lazarus, blew us away with her love, devotion, humor, sensitivity, and genuine care for her camper, our beloved Zeesy. All year long they’d FaceTime a few times each week, and when we were in New York a few months back for my dad’s 70th birthday, Shana arranged a big Zeesy celebration at her home with items Zeesy could eat, face-painting, music, and gifts galore for Zeesy and her siblings. Zeesy spoke about Camp Simcha all year—reminiscing about last year and then excitedly anticipating her upcoming summer. She was elated to hear that Shana would be her counselor again and Shana would pick her up in Bozeman and bring her to camp. As Zeesy is a fan of Dr. Middos, having that as part of the camp theme, including Abie Rotenberg singing at camp in the voice of Dr. Middos, was super-amazing.
Saying thank-you, expressing our hakaras ha’tov, is something we are to do all the time to everyone who helps us in any way. We express that to Hashem, of course, three times each day in the Amidah when we say in Modim: “For Your miracles that are with us each day … Your mercies have not ceased.” And when people are good to us, we certainly say thank-you and are appreciative. Yet, there are moments when it feels like more than just “thank-you” is warranted; it feels like “I don’t know what I would do without you. I don’t know how Zeesy would ever attain that joy and gladness without the amazing Chai Lifeline team. I don’t know what our summers would be like without it. We are grateful to be part of Am Yisrael that exudes this incredible chesed.” My hakaras ha’tov to the team, to Margolis, to Rivkah, to Esther Shaindel, to all the people whose names I don’t know, and, of course, to Shana, is etched in my heart.
In this week’s Torah portion, Devarim, the first in Deuteronomy, we read about Moshe’s conversation with the Jews in the five weeks leading up to his passing on the 7th of Adar. He discusses their travels through the land of Edom and says, “You shall buy food from them with money, that you may eat, and also water you shall buy from them with money, that you may drink. For the L-rd, your G-d, has blessed you in all the work of your hand; He knows of your walking through this great desert; these forty years that the L-rd your G-d has been with you, you have lacked nothing.”
Rashi explains, “Therefore you should not be ungrateful for His goodness to you by acting as though you were poor. Rather, show yourselves as rich people.”
It’s an amazing Rashi.
When we are rich and present ourselves to others as poor, it’s an expression of total ungratefulness to Hashem. If Hashem took you out of Egypt with incredible wealth and took care of you miraculously while in the desert with a variety of wondrous forms of sustenance, then don’t beg the Edomites for food; pay for it in cash and present yourself as well-off. This is not arrogance, which is abhorred, yet it’s also not false humility or downgrading our blessings, which is incorrect, too. Gratefulness is being able to realize that while we still need more berachos from Hashem and are always dependent on His kindness, we already have so much, and we must say, “Modim.”
Expressing gratitude is a multi-faceted reality that manifests itself, when done properly, in so many ways. On erev Rosh Chodesh, Thursday evening of last week, against the picturesque views of the mountain ranges of Bozeman and Big Sky, I was honored to be mesader kiddushin, officiating at the wedding of a young couple in our community. Nate and Rachel were planning their wedding in Caesarea, Israel, back in 2020, and COVID brought that exciting plan to a screeching halt. They married at City Hall a few months into the pandemic and about 16 months ago moved to Bozeman and joined our community. They have become active and supportive of our work, and it was time to ensure that their marriage is done right. As Nate is Sephardic, we got a date on the calendar just before the Nine Days, and before a small group of friends and family they were wed “K’das Moshe v’Yisrael,” according to the laws of Moshe and Israel.
In addition to my feelings of joy for their simcha, I felt a deep level of gratitude toward them for making the choice to marry a fellow Jew, making the choice to have a proper chuppah, including using the mikveh, and making the choice for Yiddishkeit to be a vital force in their lives, even when, sadly, many Jews their age don’t do the same. Klal Yisrael needs vitality, it needs young Jews, including the millions outside of the confines of the frum communities, to be engaged, to love Eretz Yisrael, to come to shul, to light Shabbos candles, to use a mikveh … Nate and Rachel proved to me that this is still possible, and for that I am grateful.
During the chuppah I acknowledged that this all came about because of my beloved Rebbe, zt’l, the Lubavitcher Rebbe. It was he who believed that sending shluchim to the four corners of the earth would inevitably bring more mitzvos to our world and change the trajectory of Am Yisrael qualitatively and quantitatively.
With this mindset of gratefulness in mind, I left Bozeman this past Shabbos and joined Chavie in San Antonio to celebrate the bar mitzvah of her oldest nephew, Mendel, the son of Chavie’s younger sister Rochel and her husband, Levi. I don’t leave town for Shabbos too often, and I wasn’t sure about spending Shabbos with fifty or so relatives from both sides of the family as it’s noisy and slightly overwhelming. (And I certainly didn’t want to subject myself to the ridiculous, inhumane temperatures in Texas.) Yet, I decided to go, because one of the ways we get to express our gratitude to Hashem for all that is good is to be at a simcha and to recognize how blessed we are to have family, how blessed we are to live in a time when we can come together for simchos, and how blessed we are that a particular gathering is for a simcha and not the opposite, G-d forbid.
I’ve often that for some reason no one ever questions me when I travel for a funeral, G-d forbid—it’s a given—so why, when it comes to a simcha, do we have to explain ourselves to those who wonder, “Why all the travel?”
It was a beautiful Shabbos.
I got to spend time with my in-laws, eight sisters-in-law, five brothers-in-law, loads of nieces and nephews, and old friends, and I got to see my nephew in all his young glory speaking to the community, reading from the Torah, chanting the Haftarah, and reciting the traditional Chassidic discourse based on Midrash Tehillim. We all enjoyed with pure simcha. I once read that “We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of those treasures,” so why don’t we do it more often?
As we usher in Shabbos Chazon, this year on the day of Tishah B’Av (the fast is postponed to the 10th of Av due to Shabbos), let us take upon ourselves to be more grateful, increasing the love load in our world, thus removing the source of the Temple’s destruction—“reasonless hatred”—and making this Tishah B’Av the first that is a holiday with the coming of Mashiach.
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.