By Rabbi Chaim Bruk
Some aspects of our shlichus are visible to all. Chabad centers all over the world are led by rabbis and rebbetzins who strive to bring authentic Yiddishkeit to local Jews, host countless visitors for Shabbos — and, in some places, weekday — meals, inspire college students, care for the elderly, ensure no Jew ever feels isolated, and serve as beacons of light for Jews and a torch of continuity for Jewry. Yet, there is one group of people we affect that for some reason flies under the radar; yet, this segment is very much part of the journey to prepare the world for Mashiach’s imminent arrival.
These people are spiritually thirsty gentiles.
In this week’s Torah portion, Yisro, we read about a Midianite prince who had it all. He was well-connected, a deep thinker, a soul-searcher, and a devoted father to his daughters. He lived in a world where Jews were hated and Judaism despised; the “easy” thing to do would have been to quash any positive internal feelings he may have felt to the G-d of Israel. Yet, he couldn’t help himself and he fell in love with Judaism, but it wasn’t love at first sight and it wasn’t because Moshe married his daughter. He analyzed and sought to understand every “spiritual” and “religious” path that existed at the time; he wanted those philosophies to work, to brighten his life, but they didn’t, as superficiality wasn’t enough for Yisro.
His inquiries led him to Hashem.
Today, millions of gentiles are searching. They’ve tried all the common religions and even the unconventional paths of the east, yet many of them haven’t found the spiritual serenity they yearn for. They’ve all but surrendered to being “lost,” and then one day they meet a shliach or shluchah, dynamic representatives of the Rebbe, who live in their community and seem satisfied with their Judaism. We may shop at their businesses, they may do work in our homes, and some have sought us out deliberately as they’ve moved away from their “houses of worship” due to the inconsistencies they’ve discovered, and they’re hoping, eagerly, to catch a glimpse of Judaism’s light from us and our children.
It’s a fascinating experience, as we don’t proselytize or proclaim Judaism’s superiority; we don’t shove it in their face, yet they want it, passionately. They come to classes that are open to the public, they ask for Jewish calendars and publications, and they even give tzedakah towards our work. We simply live according to Torah, celebrate a life inspired by chassidus and its inner joy, and they see it and want to know more about it. When they meet a Jew, any Jew, who believes deeply like Yisro that Judaism is G-d’s greatest gift to humanity, when they feel that we are exuding from our neshamah that “Moshe emes v’Toraso Emes,” they feel it and it’s contagious.
Maimonides rules in his code of Jewish law that Jews are to guide the world to follow the seven Universal Laws of Noah. Simply speaking, the Rebbe, of blessed memory, demanded of us that in addition to reigniting the flame of Jewry, we are to interact with gentiles and teach them that they, too, have a Torah-guided path to G-d, and that is through the seven fundamental laws gifted to Adam and Noah:
- Acknowledge that there is only one G-d.
- Respect the Creator.
- Respect human life.
- Respect the institution of marriage.
- Respect the rights and property of others.
- Respect G d’s creatures.
- Maintain justice.
In his 1987 farbrengen on Purim, the Rebbe addressed this halachah and explained that though for hundreds of years Jews didn’t practice this halachic ruling, it was due to the inevitable Jewish persecution that would result and the sincere worry that it would be perceived as a Jewish attack on Christianity or Islam or a Jewish “plot” to take over the world. Yet, today, not only are gentiles not opposed to learning about the Noachide laws, they are searching for answers, answers that exist only in Torah that we must share with them, pleasantly and respectfully.
I see this every day in Big Sky Country. People want to learn from us and grab onto any tidbit of Jewish thought that we are willing to share with them. While there are Jewish organizations that spend their entire budget and all their time focused on anti-Semitic tweets and/or Facebook comments that are in desperate need of their condemnation and outrage, the majority of human beings are beautiful souls who want to learn from us. They don’t want to know only what you stand against; they want to hear something insightful, something G-dly, something holy. Yisro wasn’t only a former pagan who realized the vanity of “everything else” — he was someone who loved Torah and its deep wisdom. Instead of spending our time on the gentiles who hate us, why not spend it on the millions who admire us and want to learn Torah?
We complain too often about being misunderstood, but, sadly, we don’t spend nearly enough time educating and enlightening those who aren’t part of our community but want to celebrate the same G-d and His teachings. When Mashiach comes, the Beis HaMikdash will reopen for all people who want to serve G-d; let’s start that openness now.
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.