By Rabbi Chaim Bruk
When Chavie and I moved to Montana a year after our marriage, we weren’t yet blessed with children, so the primary “worry” of our shlichus was how we would reach more Jews and remain financially viable in rural America. In a state with no Federation, Hillel, or Jewish Family Services, there were no “famous” mega donors, and the fear of falling short was real.
In 2009, the moment we adopted our first daughter, Chaya, our “worry” shifted from finances to chinuch. No, we didn’t find a miraculous donor to bankroll all our activities, but when weighing the challenge of fundraising versus chinuch, Chaya’s Yiddishkeit was indisputably the priority. Raising a child in what east-coasters call “flyover country,” with no Jewish schools or preschools, and with most of our children’s friends being non-Jews, I was scared out of my wits. As our family grew with the adoption of four more beautiful kinderlach — Zeesy (2010), Menny (2013), Shoshana (2016), and Chana Laya (2017) — the chinuch challenges intensified.
I am a firm believer that working in service of Klal Yisrael, bringing Hashem’s light to new frontiers with the goal of bringing Mashiach, is vital and that Hashem will care for our children’s spiritual well-being. Yet I occasionally feel natural parental fear regarding their knowledge of Torah and Hebrew reading success. It’s the internal back-and-forth, recognizing that these kids are taken care of by our “Commander-in-Chief,” but also being practical and wondering what else I can do about their chinuch. The Rebbe Rashab, נ”ע, the fifth Rebbe of Chabad, once said, “Just as wearing tefillin every day is a mitzvah commanded by the Torah to every male individual regardless of his standing in Torah, whether deeply learned or simple, so, too, is it an absolute duty for every person to spend a half-hour every day thinking about the Torah education of children, and to do everything in his power — and beyond his power — to inspire children to follow the path along which they are being guided.”
Living far away from traditional Jewish infrastructure brought this idea home.
Then Friday night happened.
Our son Menny, a little bundle of joy who is on the wild side and as entertaining as they get, the kid who collects Minnesota Vikings football cards, climbs to the roof of my car to dance, and would love to get a family dog, asked if he could share parashah. I started with some very basic questions: “What’s the name of the parashah? How many floors did Noach’s ark have? Where did Avraham hide Sarah on the way to Egypt?” He answered each question like a champ. I was floored. It was a moment of genuine nachas. I’m used to Chaya and Shoshana knowing parashah, and I’m used to Zeesy chiming in on occasion with a bit of Jewish knowledge, but Menny? It blew me away.
How did he learn it all without my knowledge? Before he goes to sleep, he listens to Rabbi Levi Goldstein’s Living Sidrah tapes. That, along with books and the Shazak Parsha App, gives him the opportunity to master the stories of Chumash. The Know Navi series is helping him appreciate the stories of Nach, and Machanayim booklets, along with Rabbi Burston’s story tapes, are giving him a healthy dose of sipurei tzaddikim that inspire and uplift.
He’s also developing his friendship with Yosef, the son of the Chabad shluchim in South Korea. They met while spending Shabbos in New York at the Rebbe’s ohel this past July, when chassidim commemorated the 25th yahrzeit of the Rebbe and sought to nurture his eternal legacy. Despite the 16-hour time difference, they try to Skype every once in a while and crack themselves up in their half-hour conversations. I don’t doubt that having a friend who is a fellow chassid, living remotely like him and sharing so many of the same challenges, is giving Menny a boost in his Jewish confidence, which is so important.
Does Menny read Hebrew fluently yet? Nope, despite intense learning with his online tutor. Do I want him to be a speed reader like me? Indeed, I do. Yet I’m trying to internalize what Chavie and I have learned from Dr. Brad Reedy, author of The Journey of the Heroic Parent: we can only give it our everything and then let go of the outcomes, as they are out of our control. Dr. Reedy teaches to simply let go for the sake of our sanity and our children’s well-being, but as Jews, coupled with emunah and bitachon, we have a bonus — letting go because Hashem oversees the result.
So holy brothers and sisters, when you visit a rural Chabad center and ask the shluchim, “What do you do about your kids’ schooling?” remember that the real answer is that we work overtime to give our children an uncompromising Torah education without the conventional methods of chinuch, and, in addition, we worry a lot.
Next time you are eager to complain about your kids’ schools, when you’re asked to join avos u’banim learning after a long day in the office, or when you’re overwhelmed by the nonstop requests for donations to support afterschool activities, say thank you to Hashem for allowing your children to live in a generous country, where Jewish children can receive a Jewish education par excellence without fear of persecution — and that you don’t need to spend time explaining to them why we don’t celebrate Xmas!
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.