By Rabbi Chaim Bruk
As a child growing up in Crown Heights, my parents always instructed my siblings and me, whether in the mall, amusement park, or on the subway: “Don’t make a chillul Hashem.” They were asking of their children what Jewish parents have been asking since Sinai: don’t bring shame to our family, our people, and G-d, especially while in the presence of those who aren’t Jewish.
As I grew older and continued inhaling the Rebbe’s hashkafah, it became clear to me that it’s not only about not making a chillul Hashem, and it’s not even only about making a Kiddush Hashem; it’s about inspiring and educating the entirety of the world about a G-dly way of life. It’s a balancing act not to overly mingle with the world so as not to assimilate or lower our Torah standards, while simultaneously connecting with all human beings so that they, too, can appreciate what Torah has to offer them.
As a shliach, this is a daily balancing act.
Earlier this week, Chavie and I partnered with Montana State University to bring Mrs. Eva Schloss, an Auschwitz survivor and stepsister of Anne Frank, to Big Sky Country. With 1,400 people in attendance, Eva shared her story of survival and Jewish perseverance. It’s not the typical crowd that you’d expect in New York, Chicago, or Los Angeles; they’re Montanans, who don’t know, and mostly have never even heard directly from, the heroic survivors of the Shoah. In some ways they are thirsting to understand the experience of others and to learn from raw history. We could’ve certainly brought Eva on our own, but the partnership with MSU lifted the event and attracted so many who wouldn’t attend otherwise.
As I balanced the partnership with our Yiddishkeit, it was tricky. MSU has never hosted a kosher catered event in the 126 years since its founding. They’ve never dealt with a Jew who won’t respond to emails or answer phone calls every weekend due to celebrating Shabbos, and with our yom tov season consisting of many weekdays this year, the team at MSU started wondering whether I was making up holidays just so that I wouldn’t need to talk to them. Yet, when we don’t compromise on the Torah’s principles, it inevitably increases respect and allows for non-Jews to ask themselves, “What are my unshakable principles? What does G-d mean to me?” When we stand firm on halachah, even a university in Montana could cater a chalav Yisrael and mevushal-wine reception with a congressman, senator, and two mayors in attendance.
This was the Rebbe’s approach: Interact with the world, inspire your neighbors, integrate into the 21st century, but don’t sell your soul or your adherence to Toras Moshe in the process.
On that note, a week before the event, I received the estimated cost for the reception and almost fell off my chair. I kept thinking, “The event will be attended mostly by gentiles or Jews who are not yet keeping chalav Yisrael; why go through the headache of making it on the highest kosher standards?” Then I reminded myself that eved Avraham anochi; I am a shliach of the Rebbe — what would the Rebbe say? I immediately confirmed with catering that we accept the estimate. A half-hour later, literally, a local construction company approved, via email, our donation request for the Eva event with an amount that was almost exactly the amount needed for the catering. Hashem is incredible! It was in response to an e-mail I sent four months earlier. Is that hashgachah pratis or what? You can’t make this stuff up.
If we each remember that wherever we are, we are representatives of Avraham, carriers of the torch handed to us by our Avos and Imahos, we will have an easier time sticking to our beloved Torah and sharing its depth with everyone around us, true tikkun olam!
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.