Serving as a shliach, living with the knowledge that the Lubavitcher Rebbe zt’l, entrusted you to represent him, is a really big deal with great responsibility. It also comes with stress. It’s in our makeup, in our education: we are taught to do, do, and do more. We are inspired to keep going, to never stop, to ensure our home is open to our beloved Jewish community 24/7 and to give it our all for Klal Yisrael.
The idea of total devotion is accurate. The zest we must have to be matzil nefesh achas mi’Yisrael, to save one Jewish neshamah from assimilation, intermarriage, “conversion” to other faiths, should be flowing through every vein in our body. Yet, we have spouses, children, personal-growth goals, the need for alone time, that also need our attention, which is vital for the collective Jewish organism, the health of Am Yisrael.
One of the hardest parts of the job is convincing our Jewish brothers and sisters that a particular yom tov is important and that they should join the experience. I spent two weeks before Purim texting and e-mailing, Facebook messaging and calling, Tweeting and WhatsApping, with the objective that every Jew in Montana would know about the holiday and be invited to fulfill the mitzvos of Purim. And just a day or two after Purim, I started with the Pesach invites. It can be really frustrating.
Last year, Pesach was on a Friday night and most of our locals were in town, so we had 90 signups soon after opening reservations. This year the Seder is on a weeknight, and at least 20 of our locals will be out of town, so reservations are coming in slower than I’d like. As of writing this article I still have 200 Jews to contact with a Seder/Pesach meal invite. It’s time-consuming and we are human beings who like to see results, but it doesn’t necessarily happen on our schedule.
We have two yeshiva bachurim in town, including Mullie Fishbein of the Five Towns, who are out, in waist-deep snow, delivering shemurah matzah and the holiday spirit to close to 500 families. I instructed the yeshiva students to invite every Jew they meet to the Seder, but how many will show? Who knows? My point is not just to kvetch but to share a personal reality of what frustrates me on the job. My dear Chavie reminds me that I must trust in Hashem that everything will play out as it’s meant to, and we just have to make the keili, the vessel, put in our hishtadlus, effort, and He does the rest. So despite my internal turmoil I sit at my desk and smile with satisfaction.
I smile because on Friday, Mullie and Shmuly lay tefillin with an 82-year-old Jew who moved to Montana from Chicago about 25 years ago and lives 30 miles off a beaten road, including eight miles of dirt road. They schlepped to bring him gluten-free matzah, and then—in what shocked me, as he’s always claimed to be super-irreligious—Lee put on tefillin 69 years after coming of age.
I smile because last Monday I was at Bozeman Health’s CCU and wrapped Andrew in tefillin. In the background he had Native American music playing to uplift his comatose wife. He said Shema with tears as he stood by his 29-year-old wife who had attempted suicide by hanging herself on a tree outside their home and is now on life support with a grim prognosis. Despite his dabbling in many other cultures, Andrew’s neshamah was still alive with passion for His Creator.
I smile because on Shabbos morning of Parashas Vayikra we had seven Jews in shul. Why the smile? On Friday night Bozeman received over two feet of snow in one dump. Despite the extreme conditions, we trekked to shul and three men, two women, and two children showed up. We davened, we learned all about the obligatory and voluntary korbanos, and we spoke about Hashem’s love for the pauper’s offering, His demand for salt on everything, the sin of denying a monetary item from its rightful owner, and so much more. We then enjoyed a lovely Shabbos lunch and discussion with true familial love.
I smile because unlike any prior year, young people, including many college students from Montana State University, are not only saying they want to come to the Seder but are signing up and paying the $18 fee to join. We have our problems, but you know Judaism has a bright future when young people really care about their heritage and are putting their latte money where their mouth is.
I smile because a young Jewish woman who is a Farm Bureau lobbyist up in Helena during this legislative season ordered a box of kosher-for-Passover food to ensure she has enough food items to sustain her during chol ha’moed when she is at work and not at our yom tov table.
I smile because I see pictures from the three other Chabad couples in Billings, Missoula, and Kalispell, and it’s heartwarming. Looking at hundreds and hundreds of Jews from Eureka to Hamilton, Roundup to Red Lodge, getting matzos, putting on tefillin, and receiving yom tov literature brings to mind the prophecy of Yeshaya: “You will be gathered up one by one, O children of Israel.”
So despite my inner turmoil and my sore thumb from all the texting, I know without a shadow of doubt that this is G-d’s work on steroids and I should be focused on my gratitude that I can spend my life, every minute of every day, taking care of Hashem’s beloved kinderlach. It’s not an easy task, but it’s certainly rewarding.
In Parashas Tzav, we read about the inauguration of Aharon and his sons into the service of kehunah, priesthood. Being a kohen has incredible blessings and merits, but also insane responsibilities. Serving the Klal is always a hard, overwhelming job. The Gemara relates in Horayos (10a) “This is like that incident where Rabban Gamliel and Rabbi Yehoshua were traveling together on a ship. Rabban Gamliel had sufficient bread for the journey. Rabbi Yehoshua also had sufficient bread, and additionally he had flour. The journey lasted longer than expected, and Rabban Gamliel’s bread was finished. He relied on Rabbi Yehoshua’s flour for nourishment. Rabban Gamliel said to Rabbi Yehoshua: Did you know from the outset that we would have so substantial a delay? Is that the reason that you brought flour with you? Rabbi Yehoshua said to Rabban Gamliel: There is one star that rises once in 70 years and misleads sailors at sea, causing their journeys to be extended. And I said: Perhaps that star will rise during our journey and mislead us. Rabban Gamliel said to him: So much wisdom is at your disposal, and you board a ship to earn your livelihood? Rabbi Yehoshua said to him: Before you wonder about me, wonder about two students that you have on dry land, Rabbi Elazar Ḥisma and Rabbi Yoḥanan ben Gudgeda, who are so wise that they know how to calculate how many drops of water there are in the sea, and yet they have neither bread to eat nor a garment to wear. Rabban Gamliel made up his mind to seat them at the head of the academy. When Rabban Gamliel ascended to dry land, he sent a messenger to them to tell them to come so that he could appoint them, and they did not come. He again sent a messenger to them, and they came. Rabban Gamliel said to them: Do you imagine that I am granting you authority, and since you did not want to accept the honor you did not come when I sent for you? I am granting you servitude, as it is stated: ‘And they spoke to him saying: If you will be a servant to this people today’ (Kings I 12:7).”
May we all merit to do our part to serve our people, bringing our Jewish family together as one, especially in a year of Hakhel, until we merit the ultimate unity with the coming of Mashaich Tzidkeinu.
In the meantime, please take to heart my favorite quote attributed to Dr. Seuss: “Life is too short to wake up in the morning with regrets. So, love the people who treat you right, forgive the ones who don’t, and believe that everything happens for a reason. If you get a chance, take it. If it changes your life, let it. Nobody said it’d be easy, they just promised it would be worth it.”
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 email@example.com or visit JewishMontana.com/Donate.