A few weeks ago, I received a donation in the mail from a Jew who lives in Connecticut but has a second home in Bozeman. Along with the check, he wrote the following note.
Dear Rabbi Chaim,
Thanks for the warm welcome on Simchat Torah. I felt lucky to celebrate with such a joyous group. Your recollection of Brooklyn brought home to me the sacrifice that shluchim like yourself make, even though it brings you joy, too. Montana is lucky to have you.
Until next time,
It really meant a lot to me, and I’ll tell you why.
Holidays like Simchas Torah are hard on shluchim families, especially those living in small communities like in our “neighborhood” of Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Utah, the Dakotas, and eastern Washington. Only a small group of holy souls join us for hakafos and the incredible Simchat Torah traditions, as it comes after Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Shabbos Shuvah, Sukkos, and so many prayer services and celebrations; for Jews who grew up with one day of Rosh Hashanah and a partial day of Yom Kippur, they are “yom tov-ed” out by the time Simchas Torah comes around. As David describes, the troupers who do come are pumped with joy and dance the night away with pure simcha, but it’s not easy making it feel like 770.
When I was growing up in Crown Heights in the late 1980s and early 90s, Simchas Torah with the Rebbe at 770 was the most epic moment of the year. I’d stand with my brothers and father, a few feet from the Rebbe’s main podium, and experience unadulterated simcha, joy that is truly indescribable. The Rebbe would uplift us and take us to another universe, a world of Elokus, G-dliness, where “Ein Od Milvado,” there’s nothing but Hashem, permeated our hearts and souls. So, naturally, Simchas Torah in Bozeman, where I am charged with creating that atmosphere, is no piece of cake.
It felt good to me that David recognized something that many don’t — being a shliach in rural America comes with sacrifice. Not the sacrifice of no kosher sushi or no local sheitel macher, but sacrifice on the “community” front — being away from childhood friends and beloved family with whom we want to celebrate life. Sure, we know we are doing the right thing, the best job in the world (what can be better than bringing Mashiach?), but we also miss out on being in the communities where simchah, kedushah, and taharah are readily available for men, women, and children.
Like Yaakov Avinu in this week’s parashah, we know that going to “Charan,” away from our families, away from our “Yitzchak and Rivka,” away from our home turf, isn’t just an escape route from Eisav, but a mission to transform “charon af shel Makom,” a place that the Midrash says was deserving of G-d’s fury due to their horrible behavior, and make it a dwelling place for the 12 tribes of Israel. Baruch Hashem, I get a minyan in Bozeman on most Shabbosos and yom tov mornings (through myriad pre-Shabbos/yom-tov texts and calls), and, indeed, I was honored to be called for Chassan Bereishis for the eighth year in a row; yet, I salute my colleagues who dance on Simchas Torah morning with a Chumash in hand, as they have no minyan and they, like Yaakov Avinu, are doing it, despite the sacrifice, for Klal Yisrael and our future.
It hits home every now and then, when Chavie and I look at each other and say, “We should really get away for a few days,” or “We could really use a break,” or “We’d love to go to the city for a few nights just to get a breather,” but we can’t, as there’s no Bubby or Zaidy down the block, no in-laws who could each take a kid for a day or two, or even the opportunity to travel together by ourselves to attend a simcha without bringing the whole family along on the flights to New York or Eretz Yisrael.
Shluchim and shluchos aren’t pity-seekers; we don’t feel sorry for ourselves. I write this so that Am Yisrael appreciates a bit more the amenities one has while living in the Five Towns, Kiryas Yoel, or Passaic. Family is an invaluable part of the human experience and even more so in the Jewish world. We thrive with family; we grow with family. I grew up so close to my grandparents and the hundreds of cousins who helped make me who I am, but my kids don’t have that. So if you do, be grateful for it and celebrate it.
Sure, FaceTime and Skype are great and have made seeing family a bit more accessible, but David hit the nail on the head when he pointed out that it’s a sacrifice, not only being distant from the Rebbe’s Ohel in Queens, but being far from our beloved families. I am comforted knowing that Yaakov Avinu, the Bachir Ha’Avos who epitomized our founding Patriarchs, also spent much time alone on a mission.
He succeeded and so will we. Mashiach will come, and our children will spend time with their family in the courtyard of the Beis HaMikdash, may it be speedily in our days. Amen.
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 email@example.com or visit JewishMontana.com/Donate.