You can always come home!
Rabbi Chaim Shaul Brook, Chabad Shliach to Bozeman Montana
We are in the midst of the High Holy Days, a time of reflection and new beginnings. Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur bring to life judgment and sincerity, Sukkot and Shemini-Atzeret/Simchat-Torah represent joy and service, but all in all, it’s a time for uplifting ourselves above the fray, as we say in Yiddish “a Tefach Hecher”, climbing out of the grime of politics and news obsession, removing ourselves from 24/7 opining on masking and vaccines, quitting the anxiety over Israel and Iran, and simply stepping up, literally, to a plain of G-dliness that is soulful and good for us.
Growing up as a child in Crown Heights, the heart of Brooklyn, I live with my Tishrei memories all the time. Before Rosh Hashana I’d join my father to give the Lubavitcher Rebbe of blessed memory a P”an, a heartfelt note from a Chossid to a Rebbe, asking that he pray on our behalf for a Shana Tova. We heard the Rebbe blow the Shofar, we received honey cake “Lekach” from his holy hand, I danced the nights away on my father’s shoulders at Simchat Beit Hashoeva during Chol Hamoed, we celebrated Hakafot in 770, and we enjoyed so much amazing family time. It was three plus weeks of spiritual bliss that shaped how I see this holiday packed month. I don’t see it as a burden but rather as a fountain of spirituality, soul nourishment, that filled me for the year. Though the Rebbe has passed, I do my very best to share that same energy, or at least close to the same spirit, with my children and community, who never met the Rebbe personally, out in Big Sky Country.
The Talmud in the Tractate of Beitzah discusses the laws of Yom Tov whether it’s permitted to take a baby bird out of the nest on the holiday, if it wasn’t set aside before the holiday for this purpose, as this is a classic case of “Muktzah”. At the end of the “Sugya”, this particular discussion, it refers to a case where the bird may have gone from nest to nest unbeknown to the owner, and where the second nest is around the corner and the home-nest isn’t visible from there. The Talmud addresses this case and says, “the Mishna therefore teaches us that anywhere that a fledgling hops and turns and sees its nest, it will continue to hop. But if it can no longer see its original nest, it will not hop any farther.”
When learning this a few weeks back during my daily study of Talmud, I couldn’t help and think about this month of holidays and the Jews who come through our Bozeman doors to experience a dose of G-d. The Rebbe taught this but I see it in real-life every day: souls are always on fire and always connected. They may run, run even far away, but they can’t hide, not only can’t they hide from their Chabad Rabbi and Rebbetzin but they can’t hide from themselves, from their G-dly core. When they reach a point in life where they can’t see their nest anymore, they too know that it’s time to quench their spiritual thirst with something real, something that talks the language of the Jewish soul, something essential.
There’s a song I heard as a Yeshiva student that brings this idea to life. Back in the time when the “enlightenment” Haskala movement was rampant in eastern Europe, especially in the 19th century, many young religious Jews were swept into this poisoned ideology and sadly distanced themselves from their Father in Heaven and the Torah He gifted us. During that time there was “authentic” enlightened Jews and, as it turns out, “inauthentic” newcomer enlightened Jews who were trying it out, but hadn’t yet bought into it hook, line and sinker. In the song that I ingested at a late-night Chassidic Farbrengen, the lyrics describe a child singing about his experience at the “new” Cheder, his new enlightened school, how the teachers seemed real at first, but something isn’t right, at the gut level something is severely off, and he doesn’t feel at home. He missed the warmth and tradition at his old Cheder as he is constantly told by the enlightened classmates “go back to your old Cheder”, you don’t fit in here.
I yearn for my Cheder. Tishrei is a time to come back to the Cheder.
A Jew, whether with Buddhists in Dharamsala or with Yogis in Costa Rica, whether with Sufi dancers in Santa Fe or Scientologists on Venice Beach, will always want to come home. A Jew will never allow themselves to run so far to the point where they can’t see their birthplace nest anymore. The Rebbe inspired me to take the Shofar to Bozeman’s Main Street, take the Lulav and Esrog to the Montana State University Campus, take the joy of Simchas Torah to the unaffiliated and uninitiated souls of the Wild West. Don’t question the power of the Neshama, the holy Jewish soul, offer it illuminated spirit and depth and the soul will gravitate towards the offering and will grab it. It’s the role each of us plays in these final dark moments of Galut, of exile, to brighten our world, make the home nest visible and welcoming and ensure that the holidays of coronation, atonement, joy and oneness aren’t kept to the few who know but is shared by all those who belong.
There is a Chabad oldie that ends with these words “He discusses Yiddishkeit All through the night, But he cries, I don’t belong, I am too far gone. The Shliach (Rabbi) says, not true, Hagam shechoto Yisroel hu (you’re always a Jew even if you sinned), No matter where you may roam, You can always come back home.”
You can always come back home!
From Bozeman to Los Angeles, I wish you a Good Yom Tov, Chag Sameach!
Rabbi Chaim Bruk is co-CEO, along with his wife Chavie, of Chabad Lubavitch of Montana