Musings Of A Shliach From Montana
A Jew must be grounded in Torah. Not in politics, sports, the economy, Hollywood, the Grammys, the Emmys, not in Taylor Swift or Elon Musk, not in anything but our holy Torah. It’s impossible to survive as a Yid, devoted to HaKadosh Baruch Hu, without a footing in the Torah.
One morning last week as I was heading out of shul to grab something from my car, I was suddenly filled with real concern. Someone was walking toward me who was clearly Muslim. Since our shul is located in a public space with other businesses around, I wasn’t in full panic mode, but ever since October 7, I’ve been super vigilant since antisemitism has been coming out of the woodwork from people of a certain demographic, so I was understandably alarmed.
I asked him, “Can I help you? Are you looking for someone?” He looked at his phone and said, “Chabad.” Now I was even more concerned.
I told him I was the rabbi and wondered what he needed. He said that Rabbi Sonja, the reform rabbi in town, told him that we could help him purchase kosher meat and poultry since he observes Halal, and we are the only place that has what he needs. I welcomed Muhammad, an MSU student from Bangladesh, into our center, and we spoke for about thirty minutes. He got his meat, and we also spoke about modesty, marriage, food, history, his family, my family, and all the commonalities between Jews and Muslims in how we observe our faith. I told him that I doubt we would agree on Israel, but let’s agree on kosher frankfurters. It was delightful and meaningful. It felt good.
I’m not naive, not even a little. I know that our society has major divides and Jew-hatred is rampant. I know that too many in his faith want me dead. Yet, as a student of the Rebbe, zt’l, who trained me to respect and love humanity, I was elated that Muhammad and I could still converse respectfully and find ways to support each other. We don’t get to ignore being Torah Jews just because right now we are dealing with real challenges and are concerned about our safety. We must be safe, we must be smart, we must do everything possible to secure our shuls, schools, and homes, but we must also not lose our loving hearts and our compassionate interactions with all of Hashem’s children as the Torah instructs us. In this week’s Torah portion, Terumah, we talk about the materials donated to the building of the Mishkan (Tabernacle) in the desert. There were three major contributions: 1) the donation of a half-shekel coin, donated equally by every Jew for the “Adanim,” the sockets that upheld the beams of the Mishkan; 2) the donation for the “Mizbeach,” the altar on which the Korbanos, the offerings, were sacrificed, which was also an equal half-shekel coin for every member of Klal Yisrael; and 3) a discretionary donation given by everyone for the Mishkan itself, with every person giving what they could.
In a beautiful farbrengen, the Rebbe explained that each of these three donations represents one of the pillars on which the world is upheld. Torah is represented with the socket donation. Just as the sockets uphold the entire Mishkan, so too the Torah is the foundation of all things Jewish, all things spiritual. Tefillah, prayer, is represented by the altar donation. Just as the altar was a place to offer sacrifices to Hashem, davening is the substitute for that experience, where we connect and offer ourselves up to G-d in service. Lastly, the discretionary donation to the Mishkan fund represents Gemilus Chassadim, acts of kindness. Just as the Mishkan is a place for the fusion of physicality and holiness, so too practical acts of mitzvos in the physical world are all about interacting with the mundane (money) aspects of life.
The Rebbe explained that while the discussion about the socket and the altar donations are short-lived in the parashah, the discussion about the general Mishkan donation is deliberated at great length. The reason is because Torah study and prayer are vital components of Jewish life, it’s our actions that speak loudest and make the greatest impact in transforming our world. Yes, the Torah is the foundation of the world, but if it doesn’t affect how we live, then what’s the point?
On Tuesday evening, at 6:30 p.m. I took the last flight out of Bozeman to Salt Lake City, and then waited almost four hours to take the red-eye flight to JFK. I landed at 5:30 a.m., then took an Uber to the Rebbe’s Ohel in Cambria Heights, just a short drive from the Five Towns, immersed in the Mikvah, learned some Chassidus, davened Shacharis, and then entered the Rebbe’s holy Ohel to daven for my family, my community, my friends, my loved ones, and my soul.
It was refreshing, empowering, connecting, and soulful.
Though I was in New York for a Wednesday night wedding in Crown Heights and had a quick meeting in Manhattan while in town, I still made it a point to visit some friends in the Five Towns. So, I hopped over to my friend Daniel’s house in Lawrence. Though I’ve only known him for about seven months, we’ve become dear friends and I feel like a ben bayis, a member of the family, when I come to his house. We farbrenged a bit, discussed some of our current projects for Jewish life in Montana, and then I headed over to the Red Shul in Cedarhurst where my morning chavrusah, Chaim (who I study with every morning, together with his son Avi at 5:30 a.m. MST [7:30 a.m. EST]) was attending his Chumash Chaburah. It was 10:00 a.m., and when I walked into the shul, I was floored. There were probably forty different guys sitting in different parts of the shul learning Torah in individual groups on different topics.
I walked over to one corner and saw my friend Chaskel sitting with two others, sweating over basar b’chalav, the kosher laws of milk and meat. I don’t know what every group was learning, but I was blown away. These are all busy professionals, many of whom are running successful businesses. They don’t sit around twiddling their thumbs, yet before they head out into the challenging, burdensome workplace, they sit and diligently connect with their Creator through His infinite wisdom of Torah. There is no greater bedrock or spiritual infusion for protection against life on the “outside,” than through the protection of pure Torah study. Later, when I was in the city, I was visiting someone in Midtown whose office was more than twenty stories high. I snapped a picture of the view, just to remember why we love Montana’s open spaces, but also to recognize that for buildings to stand tall and strong, their foundation must be solid bedrock, just as our foundation is the bedrock of Torah.
Back to the Red Shul, Chaim brought me over to his Chumash Chaburah. Five or six guys were sitting learning the parashah with commentary. Yossi, Moshe, and a few others sitting together, seeking to understand every word, every letter of each pasuk in the Torah. I had the zechus of sharing two teachings from the Rebbe, zt’l, on the parashah, one about human dignity with regard to the lamb thief, and another on the spiritual lessons of the borrower and the halachos derived from it. Both insights were well received and one of the guys immediately grabbed a Chumash and showed me how part of what I quoted from the Rebbe is expressed in the commentary of the Holy Ohr Hachaim. It was so beautiful. The love for Torah is so real, so palpable, it practically shouts: “Ashreinu Mah Tov Chelkeinu”.
As I rode to the city, I couldn’t stop thinking about what I had seen. A lot of these guys are big ba’alai tzedakah, giving large sums of money to tzedakah, upholding institutions, schools, shuls, mikvehs, vital programs for Jewish life, and so much more. Yet, they haven’t forgotten the sockets, the foundation that keeps their Mishkan—our Mishkan—strong, solid, stable, and consistent, and that is the Torah itself. Yes, they follow the market and invest in real estate, but they never lose focus on the important barometer of earnings, which is our Torah connection to Hashem.
When I got back to Bozeman, I had thirty-six hours to get ready for another beautiful Shabbos in Big Sky Country. We were planning to host eighteen Jews for Shabbos dinner at our home and the normal size crowd for Shabbos day in shul, but what I was not expecting was a Friday night minyan. We always daven with the guests before dinner, but a minyan is super rare. Yet, without any planning, ten of our guests were men, so we had a Friday night minyan and Shabbos morning minyan at shul. Fascinatingly, besides for one fellow, there was no overlap between the two minyanim. Two different crowds of Jews joined to celebrate Shabbos, each in their own way, and both groups got to spend time delving into beautiful Torah insights.
Torah is the gem we can offer that they can’t get elsewhere. There’s plenty of wisdom and insight in the world, podcasts heard by the millions, self-help books sold by the billions, but Torah is something unique, a special offering, the sockets that keep our people aflame, let’s never forget to share our Torah wisdom clearly, proudly, and authentically.
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.