This past Shabbos, we blessed the new month of Kislev. We normally celebrate the annual Chabad Lubavitch shluchim conference in New York at this time of year. Along with all the positive noise associated with thousands of rabbis descending on New York and the incredible work we are accomplishing for Klal Yisrael, it’s a time for the shluchim to rejuvenate, when children come home to their father, the one who sent them and who guides them.
Back when the Rebbe was alive, it was all about the Shabbos farbrengen with the Rebbe at 770 when he had his beloved ambassadors around his “Shabbos table.” Today, it’s an opportunity for us to gather at his Ohel in Queens, his holy resting place, and spend a long weekend together in spiritual ecstasy and brotherhood.
Due to the pandemic and the ongoing challenges in New York, there was no in-person conference this year. For many of us, this weekend is a lifeline we await each year, so my colleagues and I in the “Wild West” region decided to gather for a Shabbos locally. For us, locally means within an 8–12-hour drive from each other, and Boise, Idaho, was picked as the most central location.
So on Thursday evening I landed in Boise, along with my son Menny, where the shluchim of Idaho, Montana, Utah, and Wyoming were gathering for “shevet achim gam yachad,” to inspire each other in our mission, soothe each other in our trials, rejoice with each other in our successes, and plan for future regional programming for Yiddishkeit.
I am not a night owl by any stretch of the imagination, as I generally aim to get a good night’s sleep. Yet, on Friday night, in the warmth of my brothers-in-arms, we sat up until 2 a.m. farbrenging. It wasn’t shooting the breeze, it wasn’t chitchatting, and it wasn’t “just catching up.” It was singing deep Chassidic melodies that touch the soul, it was each of us sharing what’s in our hearts as it relates to our mission, and it was learning the words of our general, the Rebbe, of blessed memory, who entrusted each of us to our respective communities.
It was special and uplifting.
Not all of us see the world exactly the same; we aren’t clones, but we all share a common love for the Rebbe and could think of nothing better to do 24/7, until our last breath on Earth, than to be his shliach, his empowered emissary. It isn’t an ego thing — it’s simply a z’chus to be, as we read in last Shabbos’s krias haTorah, an “eved Avraham.”
We cried, laughed, joked, learned, davened, and, most of all, celebrated our lot in life — “Ashreinu mah tov chelkeinu” — that out of a world population of 7+ billion humans, there’s a tiny number of shluchim who carry the Rebbe’s boundless love of Torah, Israel, and Jews to every corner of the earth. In the words of Dr. Seuss: “No one said it would be easy, just that it would be worth it.”
In this week’s parashah, Toldos, we read about Yitzchak Avinu’s growth in the Holy Land. The Torah tells us, “And the man became great, and he grew constantly greater until he had grown very great.” Rashi quotes the Midrash: “For they would say, “Rather the manure of Isaac’s mules than Avimelech’s silver and gold.”
It’s an interesting statement used to emphasize the wealth of Yitzchak, the infinite berachah he received from Hashem, as it related to his financial successes in the Holy Land. On a deeper level, it’s the understanding that when one chooses with whom to associate, it’s always a better choice to be on team Yitzchak, even when the job is not prestigious, than on team Avimelech, even if it’s glamorous. One offers us a relationship with something substantive, deep, and real, and the other grants us a superficial relationship with Avimelech and everything he stands for.
The Rebbe’s shluchim have their fair share of hardships, challenges, and obstacles to overcome. The mountain we climb each morning seems, on many days, insurmountable. We fight each day for the soul of Jewry, for the mitzvos of Am Yisrael that will bring Mashiach, but we also fight for the souls of our own children, their sanity, their chinuch, their social life, their well-being. We deal with fundraising “tests,” we work overtime for minyanim, we drive hours to get one brother or sister to do one mitzvah, we don’t know what being “unavailable” looks like, and yet, all the tzaros that comes with the job is worth it, because it brings one more of Hashem’s children, Yitzchak’s family, back home. Avimelech’s world may be glitzier at times, but realness and brightness are with Yitzchak always.
We missed being in New York, but as I spent 40 hours with my colleagues I was blown away by their selflessness. One of the chevrah got a “Karkafta” (a Jew in his sixties who never put on tefillin) to put on tefillin for the first time in his life and guided him with instructions that took almost two hours. Another one told us about a Jew who married out of the faith and “fell in love” with Christianity and is now in the process of “coming home” with the shliach’s help. Yet another told us about a late-night kitchen kashering that was done for a family who traveled for a ski vacation and with the shliach’s help didn’t need to downgrade their kosher observance, chas v’shalom.
These inspired shluchim are at the forefront of saving Am Yisrael. Not for allure, not for money, not for fame—simply to ensure that Yitzchak Avinu’s legacy doesn’t get lost. This Shabbos I salute my fellow shluchim and shluchos, those who inspire me to be part of a family of heroes and heroines.
I’m honored to be part of the Rebbe’s army.
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, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit JewishMontana.com/Donate.