By R’ Chaim Bruk
Last Shabbos we hosted two Israelis, one from the Golan Heights and the other from Herzliya, for the Shabbos meals and minyanim. I didn’t know them before their visit; we welcome guests from around the world all year long who visit Yellowstone and Big Sky. These two lifelong friends were road-tripping to Yellowstone. We had a great conversation at Shabbos dinner, but it really took off after Shabbos lunch at the shul, where I sat with them until 3:00 p.m., listening to fascinating stories and anecdotes from a 74-year-old and 81-year-old, respectively.
The mitzvah in the Torah we read just a few weeks back, “You shall rise before a venerable person and you shall respect the elderly, and you shall fear your G-d,” speaks volumes to me. I’ve always been infatuated with listening to the stories of those who came before me. There is so much to learn from the life experiences of those who lived in eras that preceded ours. When they are willing to share, I listen and internalize; they have a sense of wisdom, love for life, and appreciation for the gifts of life that as youngsters we don’t seem to see on our own.
After everyone left shul, it was just the three of us. Shimshon, the older of the two, who was a kibbutznik and was just called to the Torah for an aliyah during Shacharis for the first time in “forever,” said to me in Hebrew: “Chaim, I have deep wounds of conscience about raising my older three children on the kibbutz. They are closer to their friends from the kibbutz than they are to their own siblings. I could never make it home on most days with enough time to see them, and they slept in the communal bunkhouse. I think the kibbutz style of breaking up the family unity is a huge mistake.”
I could hear the pain in his voice. He wishes his oldest three would be as close to each other as his younger three kids, and he regrets not spending enough time with them in their youth.
I was mesmerized. Before me sat an extremely successful businessman by all barometers; yet, at 81 he’s bemoaning what he could’ve done better for his children. It made me think back to 2009 when we adopted our first child, Chaya, and Chavie said to me, “My father was almost always home for dinner with the family. I would like very much for us to do the same. Dinnertime should be sacred.”
It was interesting to me, as my father, who worked tirelessly in the hustle-bustle of 47th Street in New York City, never made it back from Manhattan on time for family dinner, but it was a good idea and I accepted. Everyone in Bozeman knows that from 5:30 p.m. until after the two younger kiddos are in bed, I am unavailable. No classes, no meetings, no minyanim—family time.
In our parashah, Bechukosai, we read of the “klallos,” the curses with which Hashem will plague the Jews if they don’t follow His rules. It’s pretty horrific, and this parashah (along with Ki Savo in Devarim) is not my favorite. Yet, I think we need to rethink the terms “curses” and “punishments” and see them as: “I can create my own destiny.” If we live a holy, spiritual, productive, and kind life, it’s been built into the nature of the world by Hashem that good will come about as a result. Yet, if we choose immorality, cruelty, boredom, coarseness, then we will reap what we’ve sown, which will manifest as curses. If we want our children to grow up a certain way, if we want them to have the foundations we cherish and value, then we must give them the gift of having a present and active parent; it doesn’t happen by osmosis or by throwing money at them.
Chavie and I try to take the kids on family trips multiple times each year. It’s not easy, as we can’t really leave for Shabbos, but we do it anyhow, sometimes by car, sometimes by plane, sometimes by RV. All children deserve their parents’ undivided attention, at least sometimes. I try to play games, read books, learn Pirkei Avos, play football, and do bedtime with the kids often. It’s what makes me their father and what will mean the world to them as they head out one day to take on the world. When my oldest works her shift at the coffee shop, I try to swing by the drive-thru to get a black coffee just so she knows I am around and care. I have my moments, as every parent does; my kids are far from “easy,” but they are the ones Hashem asked me to care for and I will do my very best.
Parenting is complex, especially as kids get older—it’s the hardest job G-d gives a human being. Fasting on Yom Kippur, eating matzah on Pesach, keeping the laws of family purity, and davening three times each day are all small potatoes compared to dealing with a child who has special needs or mental-health challenges, or even dealing with a healthy teenager full of exploding hormones and a world infected by “TikTok,” but it’s our job, and we need to be able to say that “we’ve done our part, and now Hashem will do the rest.”
This Shabbos, Chavie and the kids and I, along with my four siblings and their families, will be at an undisclosed location in the state of New York celebrating my father’s 70th birthday. Though his birthday was on Lag B’Omer, we were able to get together over Memorial Day Weekend and I am looking forward to this special time. I think it’s pretty impressive that my father’s five children all adore him, consult with him, spend time with him, speak to him each day, and admire his character. That doesn’t happen in a vacuum, especially as he’s a tough cookie; it happens to fathers who give their children the time of day, and they know he’s there for them 24/7. No, my father isn’t perfect; he doesn’t always know what to say and certainly doesn’t always know what not to say, but he’s caring, loving, genuine, and available, and for that we are eternally grateful.
I once read that “Regret of neglected opportunity is the worst hell that a living soul can inhabit.” As a shliach I see that too often while visiting those who are on the verge of passing on. Let’s resolve to be parents for our children and grandchildren. It’s the best thing you can do for them, and you won’t have to suffer with regret.
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, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or visit JewishMontana.com/Donate.