From the desk of Rabbi Leonard (Yehuda) Blank MS, BCC
Director of Programming, Chaplaincy Commission and External Affairs
Rabbinical Alliance of America/Igud HaRabbonim
April 8, 21 ***
For those who have or planning to register for the forthcoming seminar April 26th,21“Halachic Challenges for the Orthodox Jewish Healthcare Chaplain” please send in your questions to Rabbi Blank which will be forwarded to both Rabbi Hershel Welcher and Rabbi Dr. Aaron Glatt. They will present their responses at this seminar.
Rabbis and chaplains will find interesting questions posed to them about Pesach from patients who want to know what to do while out of commission. At the Bialystoker Center snf where I was their director of pastoral care and rabbi of the facility, amongst the various questions from family members, care givers and congregants of the snf synagogue, which was also attended by community residents, were two interesting concerns. One, a community resident who had recently married and moved to another area called to apologize for not coming to say goodbye to me, staff, and residents of the snf he knew. He had another reason calling me. He was sorry for not having sold his chametz which he has done in the past and asked if he could do it on the phone. The only concern was he was calling on Chol Hamoed with all the various chametz gamor items he had in his closets and refrigerator. Another care giver wanted on Erev Pesach to share how beautiful his car looked and felt all ready for the holiday. He was so proud to show off his car. I asked how was the inside of his car? He related how clean everything was. I asked if he checked between the seats. He asked why was that important since he cleaned the seats. I suggested he put his hand between the seat and the back of the seat. He contacted me and shared how amazing it was that he found missing keys, lots of money and lots of cookies (and sticky candy) from his children. I asked if he checked his car trunk. He said no as there were lots of things in the trunk and so what the purpose was. He did check the trunk and amongst all the clutter he found a box of shalach manos he put away for the children but forgot about it. He quickly had his seats vacuumed and did another bekidas chametz making sure no more chametz inside the car and the trunk. Of course, there were other Pesach concerns and responsibilities related to the snf. Much praise and credit must be given to all chaplains, director of spiritual/pastoral care at the many diverse facilities regarding the multitudes of shailos regarding Pesach and many other halachic challenges Orthodox Jewish Healthcare Chaplains have to deal with-not just with patient’s, but also family, care givers, staff visitors and facility related issues.
“Maw awshiv la H How can I replay H?” Rabbi Paysach Krohn writes “Of Pleasure and Real Happiness from At the Maggid’s Seder by Rabbi Paysach J. Krohn Artscroll Series Mesorah Publications Ltd (pages 251-252) When Rabbi Elya Lopian (1876-1970) spoke at a family simcha such as a bar mitzva, wedding, or sheva berachos, he often began by citing the words of David HaMelech, Maw ashiv la H kawl tagmulohi awlai, How can I repay H for all His kindness to me? (Tehillim 116:12). He was expressing the infinite joy and happiness he was experiencing, though he felt he did not have the adequate words to do so. My children know that at our family simchos, I have adopted this custom myself, as these words, to me, simultaneously express humility, and gratitude. By the spring of 2019, my grandson, Rabbi Moshe Dov Herber, along with other rabbeim in the Junior High School of the Yeshiva K’tana of Waterbury, took their talmidim to Lakewood, New Jersey, to meet the Roshei Yeshivah of Beth Medrash Govoha and to visit some of the batei midrashim in the area. When the Rosh Yeshiva, Rabbi Malkiel Kotler, addressed the boys that afternoon, he related the following incident. A very wealthy man had come to one of the summer boys’ camps in the Catskill Mountains and addressed the campers about the importance of giving tzedakah. When he concluded he took some questions. A young camper asked, “Does it make you happy that you are a rich man?” Some of the counselors were embarrassed at the brazenness of the question, but the man handled it with aplomb.” There are quite a few things I can do because I have money,” he replied,” and those things certainly give me pleasure, but they don’t bring me happiness. “Two things bring me happiness, “he said. “The first is that I have the opportunity to learn every day for an hour with a very great talmid chacham. If we cannot meet personally, we learn by phone, and, if possible, we Skype so we can see each other while we are discussing Torah. We never miss a day. “The second thing that brings me happiness is on Friday night, when my children are sitting around the Shabbos table with me and are singing zemiros or reciting divrei Torah. That brings me happiness. Pleasure is secondary to happiness.” David HaMelech, Rav Elya Lopian, and Rav Malkiel Kotler surely share those values. And so should we.”
Another beautiful story conveyed by Rabbi Krohn was about mitzvos “With Passion, Zeal and Swiftness. Shelo hispik betzeikawm shel avaoseinu lehachamitz, Because the dough of our fathers did not have time to become leavened. Chazal teach that the matzah, which must be baked quickly, before the dough leavens and becomes chometz, is a message for alacrity and enthusiasm in all mitzvos. The Torah teaches, Ushmartzem es hamatzos, You should guard the matzos (Shemos 12:17). Rashi cites the Mechilta stating, Do not read the word [only] as matzos, but rather [also] as mitzvos [matzos and mitzvos are spelled with the same letters but are vowelized differently]; just as people do not allow the matzos to become leavened, so they should not allow the mitzvos to be become leavened [ by bypassing opportunities for their performance]. Rather, if the opportunity to fulfill a mitzva comes to you, to do it immediately. Rav Hutner (Pachad Yitzchok, Mamar 1, Pesach) writes that from this Mechillta we learn a remarkable new insight regarding the performance of mitzvos: The lack of passion in serving H during the performance of a mitzva is not merely the absence of enthusiasm; rather, there is inherent corruption, which damages the entire performance of the mitzvah. A mitzvah performed without excitement and enthusiasm is flawed and blemished. Therefore, the Torah taught us about enthusiasm with the words mitzvos/matzos, to reveal the necessity of enthusiasm in every mitzva. Several years ago, while driving home from New Jersey late in the afternoon, I got a frantic call from a father whose son’s bris had been scheduled for the next morning in Woodmere, New York. He said, “We scheduled the bris for tomorrow, one day after the eighth day, because my son was yellow, and the doctor felt it was safer to wait one more day. However, my wife took the child to the doctor this afternoon, and he says now that all the jaundice is gone, and he can still have his bris today!” “I am on the Verrazano Bridge in Staten Island, “I told the father,” There is no way I can get to Woodmere in time to do the bris before sunset.” ‘However,” I added, “I’ll give you the name and number of a mohel who lives near you. Call him and maybe he can come and do the bris before sunset.” “Rabbi, “he pleaded with me, “you make the arrangements with him and my wife. I am in Manhattan; I am nowhere near home.” “How can you possibly get there before sundown?” I asked incredulously. “They will not be able to wait for you.” He then said the words I will never forget.” Rabbi Krohn, it’s more important to me that my son should know, for the rest of his life, that he had his bris on time, rather than to know that his bris was delayed a day just so that his father should be there.” I was awed by his incredible enthusiasm to have the bris performed on time. And indeed, that is what happened, I called a local mohel and the bris was performed ten minutes before sunset, without the father and without the originally chosen mohel. I am sure, though, that Eliyahu HaNavi was there at the bris, proud of his people who perform H’s mitzvos with enthusiasm. Enthusiasm, zeal, commitment: These are character traits of great people.”
The holy work, the Avodas H all our rabbonim our rebbitzens, our chaplains, do and convey to Klal Yisrael despite the many challenges we might encounter is truly meaningful. However, the message conveyed should be about doing the mitzvos with enthusiasm, with excitement because of our love for H. All of us can share many stories we encounter daily to be proud of. I remember learning in CPE how important it is not to visit anyone when feeling too tired or might have some personal challenges that might not have an appropriate environment conducive for a meaningful visit. Of course, it can be difficult and challenging, but our love, our commitment, our enthusiasm and yes, excitement for caring must not be tainted with personal and challenging emotions. When doing a visit, having a meeting with a patient, a congregant, or for that matter anyone seeking our advice, our comfort, a listening ear not to do so when too tired with possible drooping eyelids. Seeking new opportunities, of doing mitzvos can and should be exciting. Gemilus chasadim, being a mentor, sharing kind words, giving chizuk to those in their time of need. Everyday is a new horizon. To awaken everyday, with vigor and a spirit of how to walk in the ways of H, are just some of the many ways we can inspire others, each other and ourselves. How we can and should seek achdus, to be inviting and caring of all Jewish men and women no matter what their background might be and to be mekadeish H. Just this past Monday, I was walking down Grand Street and at the corner of Columbia Street there was an older woman with a walker, her dress was a little disheveled and not very tznius, waiting for the MTA bus. There was a car parked near the bus stop and because the asphalt of the streets was removed and not yet repaved, it was too difficult for this woman to even try to flag down the bus as the driver could easily have missed seeing her. As the bus was coming near, I ran out to the street and waved down the bus driver who stopped the bus, The bus was unable to come closer to the curb as there was that parked car by the bus stop. The bus driver acknowledged me and opened the door. I explained my intentions and he was patient and waited. I asked the woman if I could help her which I did. I helped her slowly down to the street level, held on to her walker and walked with her slowly to the bus. The driver put down the ramp. I helped her up the ramp and thanked the driver for the good deed he did. He shook his head and gave me a big smile. Did I think twice about what anyone would say or think? I just did what I felt was the right thing to do caring for another. Hopefully, I was mekadeish H. That is why I miss my wife Keila Lutza bas Shalom HaKohen A”H as we shared the same feelings of doing mitzvos, of caring for others, to be mekadeish H, to love the Ribono Shel Olam with enthusiasm, with sincerity, with meaning and excitement of Avodas H. She wanted me to continue that life. As I have mentioned in many of my previous articles how her enthusiasm, her devotion, her faith, her love of the Ribono Shel Olam, with any of her challenges in life, especially in the waning weeks and days or her life remained strong and steadfast for me, for all the children, grandchildren and everyone she knew. She continued to impart her kindness, her friendship, her care and most of all even until the last week of her life, her radiant smile. I, her family, and all those who knew her have such deep appreciation and gratitude for all that she inspired us. Yes, the days are coming closer to her yartzeit and remembering how important it was for her to recite the Omer every single night with me meant so much to her. I recognized as she did her condition was not getting better and I saw various symptoms that were signs her cancer was spreading to her liver. Two weeks before she died, she asked the medical team what symptoms she will be experiencing and how much more time does she have. They were so reluctant to tell her because of how much life she gave them and how much feelings of life and the joy of life they felt we both shared, and they experienced. Here too, we were mekadeish H. She was told should her symptoms continue to progress, then she might have about three months. She only had two more weeks. As devasted as she was, as I mentioned in prior articles, her faith was remarkable and bounced back with her usual glow wanting to make the best of the time she had left. The counting of Sefiras Haomer which is counted upwards was like the count down of the remaining days of her life. She made every moment count with myself, children, grandchildren, and others she was close with. With the loss of my wife and COVID 19 made life sadder. Though she did not die from COVID, she joined the ranks of all who died during this period. With all that she went through, there is much to be grateful for the Ribono Shel Olom’s kindness in many ways. The love we all had for her and her love for all of us remained strong until the end. Yet, finally being able to go to shul, shopping, meeting others in my community and keeping busy involved in the various things I am doing professionally and personally with the strict instructions from Rav Dovid ztkl and my wife A”H has made these past months more meaningful. Especially having been able to celebrate at family simchos. I am fortunate to have wonderful family, neighbors and friends who add to the sweetness of life with their care and concerns. I am grateful for technology having been able to meet with family and others, continue to attend shiurim, seminars, and programs via zoom. That is why I feel it is important whoever can reach out and connect with those who do not have family, or family nearby, many who are unable to use zoom or don’t have the technology to do so. Also, to those who are or feel isolated and or lonely. There are many who are “chalashing” to really speak to someone and I mean just to talk. Did you ever hear of the “lonely hearts club?” Of course, for some, there is a need for companionship. This is especially crucial for those who would attend programs where there was socialization, but there are no longer such programs available. There are many programs, but not with congregating under the same roof with other people all together. For the men and women who can attend synagogue services even wearing masks and social distancing, there is still socialization. What a tremendous impact of care felt by congregants who have not attended any services due to their caution and maybe not even going out for a stroll when there is outreach by the rabbi, rebbitzen or other members from their synagogue. Eventually, with more people getting the vaccination, there will be more opportunities to meet, to socialize, to attend classes and to meet others whether it be for companionship, friendship, or just to meet others at various gatherings. Until then, with all our tefilos, we are mispallel to the Holy One to lead us in the right path, a righteous path, enabling us to fulfill mitzvos, share good tidings, be with simcha, joy and happiness in our lives. To be able to live our lives with peace, kindness, and goodness. To enhance the quality of our lives. To be free of loshon hararh, sinas chinan and seek ways for achdus. Everything is possible, we know it is all up to Hakadosh Boruch Hu, but we too must do our hishtadlis .H helps those who help themselves. Please remember my wife’s quote “When things look blue it helps to remember that tomorrow is another day and will be a brighter day. That is how she lived her life for as long as she could. There is an underlying message in that quote- to have emunah, hope and faith in the Ribono Shel Olam for the days ahead, as she sincerely believed in. So, you may ask, how can I think of the future? How can I not be in tears as I write about her (especially late in the evening when it can be lonely)? The journey of grief and bereavement has had it’s up and its downs, but knowing she is with all the holy neshamos in Gan Eiden in Hawolom Habaw, is helpful. Looking forward to meaningful days ahead, and really believing the Heilika Tatte, the Aibershta, the Ribono Shel Olam knows what is best, not just for me, but for everyone, is so important, comforting, and meaningful. What the future lies ahead, no one really knows. Well maybe for those with ruach hakodesh, but for most of us, whether it be a shidduch, a job, we do our hishtadlis. The rest is up to whatever He wants best for us. Most of all, maw ashiv laH. How can I repay H? There are so many things to be thankful. How, by continuing to dedicate our lives doing gemilus chasadim, to offer and do good deeds of kindness and goodness no matter what one’s background might be. Chavairim kol Yisrael. Recently, I purchased a gift of a lightweight shopping cart for a fellow Yid who I know from shul to make his shopping lighter on the way back to his apartment. He asked, how could he repay me. My response was his friendship, his smile and his accepting my gift to lighten his load and with our tefilos, to have a refuah sheleimah. I am fortunate to have gotten to know him. Whenever we can, we walk together from shul chat on his way to the bus stop or shopping. He is truly a sweet, humble person who brightens my weekdays. He has a gentle demeanor, and he is such a pleasant person to speak to. He inspires me with his own faith in H and his dedication to attending synagogue services also saying the kaddish for a brother. How else can I repay H, by looking at the future in a positive light, rather than feeling sorry for myself and whenever possible, to find opportunities of bringing a smile to others in their time of need. . My wife was never seen without a bright smile. Everyone and anyone who knew her or met her, she always’ had a positive, caring, bright disposition, bringing much kindness and good feelings to others Jewish and non-Jewish. She always seemed to have her finger on the pulse of how someone was feeling and whatever help she could offer or give. She always seemed to know what kind of chizuk to give and no one whose Jewish observance was different felt uncomfortable in her presence. Whether I was the rabbi in one of the neighborhood synagogues, or rabbi at the snf, my wife who did not seek the title Rebbetzin, was embraced by the women who came to daven and participate in our functions. She shared and participated in many of my activities and programs. I considered her as an equal. She was so good at what she did, what she advised and how much she cared for. She brought success to whatever I did and was so well liked and respected for who she was and for whatever she did. She truly brought much simcha to whatever she did and everyone she knew or anyone whoever met her. How can I repay H, by also being proud of how all the children their spouses, from our Brady Bunch plus one and all the grandchildren continue to give her nachas and continue to be inspired by her midos tovos, faith and love for the Ribono Shel Olam.
I would like to share with you one more story from Rabbi Paysach Krohn, also from the same “At the Maggids Seder, (pages 189-190) “Yehi Sheim H Mevorach Blessed is the name of H. A light for Generations. After the passing of Rebbetzin Sheila Feinstein, the wife of the Rosh Yeshiva Rav Reuven, Shlita, I was Menachem avel the Feinstein family in Staten Island, New York. There I heard the following remarkable story from her daughter. A rebbi in a yeshiva elementary school in Staten Island was late one morning and driving a bit faster than usual to get to school on time. In his haste, at a red light, he hit the car that had stopped in front of him. He was very embarrassed but got out of his car to meet the woman who was driving the expensive car he had hit. He apologized immediately, gave the woman his name and phone number, and said “Ma’am, I am so sorry! I am a teacher, and I was rushing to get to my school on time. I know it is my fault; just take your car to a body shop, let me know what it will cost, and I will pay you.” After a brief discussion, she agreed. Two days later, when she called him with the body shop’s estimate, he felt the amount was a bit exorbitant. The rebbi told her that his friend, Sam Rodman (name changed), had a body shop nearby, and he felt that Sam could do the same job at a more reasonable price. He asked her if she would be willing to take the car there for an estimate, but he would not insist that the work be done there unless she was convinced that Sam could do the same fine job as the shop she had already visited. She agreed. Indeed, she did go to Sam’s place, arranged to have it fixed there, and called the rebbi to inform him. The rebbi thanked her for her consideration and then mustard the courage to ask for her this question. “I know, he began, that Sam will finish the job in a week and that he has to be paid when the job is done. I don’t have the money to pay now. I am a teacher, and I don’t make much. Would you be willing to pay the entire amount and we can make a payment schedule? I’ll pay you over the next year and send you a check every month.” To the rebbi’s astonishment, she agreed pleasantly” It’s no problem, “she said,” I understand teachers’ salaries.” The car was fixed and the rebbi sent her a check every month per the schedule as they had agreed. Frankly, he was amazed at how she trusted him and valued his word. When the last payment for the final check was due, he called and asked if he could pay it in person. When he came to her home and gave the final check, he asked reverently,” Why did you trust me the way you did? From the beginning, you were willing to lay out the money to go to my friend’s body shop, you were willing to lay out the money for me, even though you did not know me. Honestly, I’m mystified at your kindness. What she said shocked the rebbi and shocked all of us who heard the story at the shivah. “I teach in the public school system and my principal is Sheila Feinstein. When I realized that you are from her tribe, I knew without a doubt that I could trust you.” What a zchus to have known a person like that! And what a walking, talking Kiddush H she was throughout her daily life, fulfilling the credo of David HaMelech that H’s Name be blessed. May her memory be a blessing.” May Rebbetzin Sheila Feinstein A”H and my wife A”H be a Melitza Yeshara for all Klal Yisrael. May we all be zoche the geula sheleima.
It is a tradition when Pesach concludes to wish each other a good summer or ah gutten zummer. May we all have many good things to look forward to Bezras H. Thank you. Sincerely, Rabbi Yehuda Blank