From the desk of Rabbi Leonard (Yehuda) Blank MS, BCC
Director of Chaplaincy Commission and External Affairs
Rabbinical Alliance of America/Igud HaRabbonim
November 5th, 2020
I would like to share some personal experiences I had being Mekadeish H. Not so I could get a pat on the back, but a continuation of how grateful, I am to the Ribono Shel Olom for whatever opportunities He gives me and others as well. But, first, I would like to discuss Avraham Avinu, his kindness, his continuous determination to follow in the ways of H. In his later years, together with Sara Imainu, he traveled to many locations. Yet, we do not read of any of his difficulties in aging, nor in his desire and abilities to persevere. No matter how difficult they might be for any of us. It is amazing how he faced many challenges even at times being in a hostile environment, with a nephew Lot and those with him, when he was in Egypt with Paroh, in Gerar with King Avimelech, when he went to war, inviting guests to his tent, not knowing who they were, and of course the Akeidas Yitzchok to name some of the challenges he endured. Yet, he remained strong and steadfast in his love and emunah in H, always finding opportunities of doing and teaching chesed and H to others. There is no question of how sincere he was. For doing chasadim, one should have a full heart and to do so with kindness. Between a man and woman, between husband and wife, there are many facets of love. Physical love, emotional love, spiritual love, love can be meaningful and satisfying. To love with a full heart, to be caring for each other, to love and to cherish each other even when at times might be difficult. That love can last a lifetime. Oh, how nice it is to give flowers, many kinds of gifts. But the gift of kindness- that can and should be a special sign of love. For a husband and wife to know to sense what is each other’s heart is part of true love. The love we have for H can not be measured. The love Avraham had for H was immeasurable. It appeared whether it was the ten tests or how he lived his life, was filled with tremendous ahavas H and emunah shelaima. Most of all, he recognized and acknowledged the chesed of H. In this past week’s Yated Ne’eman October 30, 2020 featured “In the path of Avrohom Avinu Thoughts about Emunah, Hashgocha Protis and Recognizing the Chesed of H” I will share with you just one of the quotes. From the Steipler Gaon. “The Ramban at the end of Parshas Bo writes, “A person does not have a portion in the Torah of Moshe Rabbeinu unless he believes that every word and every happening in his life are complete miracles.” The Steipler Gaon explains the Ramban: When one experiences what the world calls a neis, a miraculous occurrence, he becomes animated and emotional, clearly recognizing that it is the hand of H that did this. Yet the things that happen in our daily lives, which look like teva, nature, and which we attribute to our own actions, don’t arouse the same emotions. In truth, however everything is in the hands of heaven. The Gemara (Beitzah 16a) tells us that on Rosh Hashanah, H decides on a person’s yearly livelihood. The Gemara (Chullin 7b) tells us that a person does not move his finger down in this world unless they declare that he should do so above. The midrash teaches us that every blade of grass has a malach commanding it to “grow”! (Midrash Rabbah Bereishis 10:6), Indeed, throughout Shas, we are taught that the world is run through total hashgocha protis. Ergo, teva is actually comprised of miracles. We should not be fooled by the fact that the world appears as if it is running in accordance with nature and we can attribute each event to a reason-this itself is a neis from H. Thus, it is clear that everything that happens in our lives – our successes, our challenges, our pleasure, our pain and our disappointments- is all the kindness of H- and it is all for our own good, whether it be material or spiritual. The truth is that even life itself is not “natural”. We are alive only because H decided that we should live. In our davening every day, we say “Ve atoh mechaye es kulam- And You give life to all of them.” Chazal learn from “Kol haneshomah tehallel koh- Every soul praises H,” that we must praise H with every breath and for every breath we are able to take. Perhaps more than everything a person should think about what he has undergone in his own life Everyone can point to experiences that cannot be attributed to nature, but rather are in the realm of miraculous though the yetzer hora does everything in his power to make a person quickly forget those things” ( Birchas Peretz, Parshas Eikev).
Often a person goes through life blaming him/herself for those things he/she has no control over. The Aibershta loves us. He wants us to be successful, giving us many opportunities to succeed. Yet, when we go though difficult times, many lose confidence in themselves, and a downward sense of failure, sadness, or guilt and other emotions can overcome a person to a point where he cannot even function adequately. In many cases, a mental health professional should be consulted. As a rabbi and chaplain, listening, caring giving appropriate chizuk, supportive feelings can go a long way. We sometimes feel we could or should, but it is not always in the best interest to try to fix a situation. The Aibershta gives us many wonderful opportunities, to overcome or to meet those challenging times, and with hishtadlis in the right direction can lift one’s spirits. Feeling depressed does not mean a person is clinically depressed. Having a challenging time with one’s spouse does not mean the relationship is on the rocks. One who is going through grief and bereavement does not mean a person’s sadness is harmful or depressing. Feeling less emunah because of a difficult time a person is going through does not mean his spiritual or religiosity is of concern. The Aibershta loves us and He knows how much we love Him. Sincerity is so important. For ourselves and those who mean so much to us. But sincerity also goes a long way in our relationships with others whether it be on a personal relationship or anyone in any kind of relationship – such as a professional, work or any type of meeting. My wife A”H and I, knew so well that everything was up to the Aibershta. Any treatment, any relationship with medical staff, any success no matter how minute it might be, fully understood His master plan for her whatever it might be. Part of all our goals were to be Mekadaish H and to keep our emunah strong as could be.
I would like to share some personal opportunities for being Mekadaish H. In my neighborhood, we have during public school days crossing guards. I make it my business to say hello and convey my appreciation for what each one does. I often would receive not only their welcoming each day I pass them, but their good wishes to me. Recently, I was walking with the Morah Dasrah of the Bialystoker Synagogue HaRav Zvi Romm and at the corner was a crossing guard supervisor in her vehicle speaking to one of the crossing guards. I respectfully asked if I could interrupt and mentioned to the supervisor how professional, courteous, and caring the local crossing guards are. Both the supervisor and crossing guard were taken by surprise and were grateful for my comments. Standing next to us was a pedestrian who overheard my comments. She smiled and commented what a nice thing that was said. Later, upon my return, passing the same crossing guard, she came over to me, stopped the cars and walked me across the street. She was so grateful she also gave me her blessings. Last week, I had a severely infected thumb. What must have begun as an exceedingly small irritation or so I thought, Friday morning my finger and my hand became swollen, red with lots of pain. My own physician was not available, and I decided to hold off until Motzei Shabbos, I went to shul Friday night and Shabbos morning. One of the mispallim is a nurse. She looked at my hand and finger and said to go to a local urgent care. Ok, I am sure one of my readers would say, sounds serious, why wait until after Shabbos is over. Well. I did and there were no urgent care centers open in my area. A cousin of mine who is a doctor requested I send him a picture. His immediate response, I must go to the closest hospital ER not to an urgent care, as I would probably need specialized medical care and he was correct. Since my own PCP is affiliated with New York University Medical Center, which is not too far from me, I took car service and went to their ER. From the pain and infection my pressure was higher than usual. I did not have to wait and after the usual admitting, which was quite quick, I was taken into the ER. After the examinations, x rays and attempt to drain was not successful. I had to be seen by a hand surgeon who also opened the wound. He felt strongly I should be admitted. I was given IV anti biotics to prevent sepsis and later Sunday morning another draining. I was to remain in the hospital for two days. The care I received was wonderful. In the ER before I went to a hospital room, I spoke to the supervisor sharing with her my sincere appreciation for the care I was receiving and how courteous and caring the staff was to me. She was so pleased with what I told her and said she will share them with the other ER staff. But, before being able to be taken upstairs to a room, I first had to take a COVID- 19 test. Any patient testing positive would have to be taken to a quarantine area. That took another few hours for the results of that test. Some time ago I was tested to see if I had anti bodies which I did not, and this evenings test showed I was negative. Was I glad to hear that. I guess wearing a mask and social distancing all along was meaningful. I was then brought to a hospital room where once again, I received wonderful care. My room mate overheard me speaking to someone on the phone and heard me say Boruch H and zeidt g zundt. He asked if I was Jewish and responded yes. He asked what my affiliation was, and I mentioned orthodox. After some light discussions he told me how comfortable he was talking to me, discussed his medical condition, about the surgery he was going to have and his orthodox upbringing. He shared how and why he changed through the years. Yet, he was still proud to be Jewish, but no longer affiliated. He shared his dislike for certain segments of orthodox Jewish people. He eventually asked if I was a rabbi and for my blessings. He felt comforted being able to speak to not just a rabbi, but an orthodox rabbi and not feel I was being judgmental, condescending, intrusive about his life history. He appreciated for taking the time listening to him even though I was a patient too. He was grateful for my respect for him, his accomplishments in life, his being proud to be Jewish and for his openness. With the exception for the reasons of his dislike for orthodoxy, was proud of his parents and family Jewish heritage. He shared with me which synagogue his parents belong to .He felt he could share with me in pretty firm words about anyone he disliked especially certain Jewish people he felt were not appropriate in what they did . I asked if he would be interested in meeting a colleague of mine who is a Jewish chaplain in this hospital. He told me if I were recommending this chaplain visit, he would gladly have him come. He told me I could share whatever I wanted about him to the chaplain before his visit. Though, I am not an employee of the hospital and don’t think I was obligated to observe HIPPA. Nevertheless, I have been devout through my professional career in observing the HIPPA and decided not to deviate from my standards of confidentiality. I therefore only gave the chaplain a brief introduction and mentioned to my room mate he could offer as much detail of his life and present medical condition as he felt comfortable in doing. Though he told me I could tell the chaplain everything he shared with me, he appreciated my respect for him which he felt was honorable. It appeared he found the visit meaningful as the visit with Rabbi Keehn lasted awhile. The patient gave me his Hebrew name to include in my own prayers. I did mention to some of the medical staff about my colleague who I have heard is very caring for the patients and staff and if they would like to meet him when he comes. The response was positive. My room mate when he overheard me speaking to Rabbi Keehn and about my articles I write, to include him too. He even told some individuals on the phone that his room mate would you believe is an orthodox rabbi who he liked speaking to. I did introduce Rabbi Keehn to some of the staff. Before my discharge, the Medical Director of that wing and the Nursing Supervisor came to visit me as I wanted to share with them my appreciation of the care I received, how courteous and professional the staff were, not just the medical staff, but all the non medical and supportive staff. I also shared my appreciation to Rabbi Keehn a wonderful colleague for his interest how my care was, but at the same time, came to spend time with my room mate. It was really a nice experience having many of the staff who I met briefly wanting to come and say hello telling me they heard I was a nice patient who was friendly and humorous. Yes, I practiced what I preached or share in my previous articles about being ambassadors of H and the Jewish faith. I cannot tell a fib – that I was not nervous, nor concerned just coming into the ER and what will be the treatments I will receive. Boruch H I have family who would have come with me, but I really did have emunah in the Aibershta, was relaxed, but there are always the hidden concerns that try to arise. It never dawned on me that, I will have to be admitted to the hospital, not for one day, but two days. I was in a lot of pain and I knew and wanted to be treated asap. I was a good patient. I did not scream when I had to have my hand numbed and not upset when not offered a lollypop. With appropriate pain medicine was made a comfortable as possible. Two days after my discharge from the hospital I went to the hand surgeon recommended by the hospital who had to once again open the wound to drain With continued antibiotics and further instructions my last visit to this doctor showed I was on the road to recovery. There were many reasons to thank the Ribono Shel Olom and many times of hashgachos protis. The mere fact of never being out of commission such as what happened with my hand during my wife’s illness so I could be with her. That it did not occur during Sukkos. I am grateful to my family, to Rabbi Romm and members of the Bialystoker shul who were concerned for me and offered whatever assistance I might need even when I came home. I did not publicize my saga, but I guess there were some who found out. Even though I have family and friends, being widower under these circumstances is I must say was unique. Self taught how to button my garments was satisfying when done and wearing Crocs instead of shoes as I was unable to tie my laces. I share this because unless someone has to assist another person or G forbid be in a situation where everyday activities can be difficult, one doesn’t think about such difficulties when speaking to someone and understanding what that person might be experiencing and going through. However, I can never say my experience was near what my wife endured. I had much to be thankful for to the Ribono Shel Olom and it did help to have emunah, faith and love in Him knowing I was never alone. It also means a lot to have good relations with the medical staff – all the staff. One has to look at all the staff being one team, whether it be the person taking the vitals’, the Host who takes the meal requests, the person who cleans and sanitizers the room , the various technicians, and of course the doctors and nursing staff. Most of all, it really is important to be sincere to be erlich. When I left, I forgot my cell phone wall charger. The wire was extra long given to me by one of my children so I could keep the phone near me while being charged. I called the unit and was told it was being kept for me at the unit station desk. I spoke to one of the head nurses who was truly kind to me and asked if it could be donated to the unit for anyone who could benefit from it. She was so nice in her response with appreciation for my thinking of them. What was my kavaneh, to make a Kiddush H. I always remember the story about the gas station attendant who was noticeably short and never forgot the kind and respectful way a certain Jewish person was to him. When taking care of any of the Jewish customers who would stop by he would ask how that person was. I mentioned this in one of my previous articles, I was sitting in the front passenger seat of my son’s minivan who stopped at a gas station on the Palisades Parkway going upstate. The gas station attendant washed the window and I thanked him and gave him a tip. He was so appreciative thanking me a few times and blessing me for being so nice to him. He had such a big smile on his face. My kavaneh, to be nice to others – all people and with sincerity. In doing so being Mekadaish H and a good ambassador of H and the Jewish people. After all these months, I still am receiving condolences from people of all backgrounds, wishing me well, and sharing their experiences and what they remembered so special about my wife Keila Lutza bas Shalom HaKohein. Last week, a social worker from the place my wife worked stopped me on Grand Street to tell me how sorry she and many of her co workers are. She mentioned how my wife never lost her cool, nor responded in any negative way to a client who was unruly or one of the supervisors who was not nice to the staff in general. Though not a social worker, she was often sought after by many including at her work for her respectful, thoughtful, and meaningful advice. She was loved by many Jewish, not affiliated Jewish, not Jewish, just plain human beings. Her co workers respected how she kept her Jewish customs, and Jewish way of life. Keila was not her legal name. She used her legal name whenever necessary but was proud to use her Yiddish name who most knew her as. May we all be zoche to follow in the ways of the righteous. We are living in challenging times, but must keep with our continued emunah our faith in the Ribono Shel Olom May we continue to strive for achdus, being kind to others, to each other, not looking to speak loshon harah because it is convenient to speak bad of others. May we be zoche to have shalom, peaceful coexisting. May we be zoche the geula shelaima.
Thank you. Sincerely, Yehuda Blank
The RAA is proud to present to you a live presentation for rabbonim from PUAH with HaRav Dovid Cohen this coming Sunday November 8th, 2020 from 7:45 PM – 9:00 PM .You must pre-register It will be on ZOOM Please read the informational flyer. Rabbi Elan Segelman, Rabbinic Director PUAH USA mentioned rabbonim may also call with any questions 718- 336-0603. Please call ASAP . Thank you.
I spoke to Rabbi Segelman so we could continue to participate in future presentations.
If you have any questions please feel free to contact me Rabbi Blank at 917 446 2126 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please read the important flyer from OHEL.