From the desk of Rabbi Leonard (Yehuda) Blank, MS, BCC
Director of Programming, Chaplaincy Commission and External Affairs
Rabbinical Alliance of America/Igud Harabbonim
917- 446-2126 firstname.lastname@example.org
Having true love and faith in H and yes, in oneself is important. We know the importance of doing ones heshtadlis. H helps those who help themselves. The first move not in chess, but in real life is taking the first step. Sometimes that could be nerve racking, lots of fears, doubts, emotions, but having confidence in doing what is best especially in the eyes of H, is what really counts. Not the façade, not what is called face value, but deep down what does really count in life. Believing in oneself, having confidence, self value, self esteem is so important. Being supportive of another person and helping him /her to see, to feel his value is so important. It is important not to judge a person’s importance based on his/her persona, nor attributes based on some people’s norms. It is worthy to see a person’s greatness as a human being, strong beliefs in humanity, beliefs in religion, and most of all in the Ribono Shel Olam. Never judge a book by its cover. Do not be a judge of others, but truly observe, learn, and gain from the goodness, the kindness, and from those attributes which makes a person a role model. If a person will realize his or her value in life will truly be a happy person. One of Rabbi Dr. Abraham Twerski quotes. “If we took the effort to realize, what we really are, the strength and the capacity that we have, and develop them to the fullest, then we will be happy.”
On the Lower East Side lived a magnificent unassuming, humble, tzadik Mr. David Tropper, Teivel Dovid ben Yosef Aryeh A”H, who was recently nifter. I knew him from my neighborhood. He was also one of my mispallim at a shul where I was a rabbi for 10 years. He was also in charge of the mikveh with tremendous finesse, respect, and good-natured tolerance on Erev Rosh Hashanah Erev Yom Kippur when there would be long lines waiting for a mikveh. His mantra was everything is up to H. His family shared with me in WWII he knew he would be drafted, so he enlisted in the US Navy which he felt would be easier for him to retain kashruth and other mitzvos. One of the positions in the Pacific war zone was to oversee prisoners of war. One of the stories he shared with his family some years ago was how and why he felt it was proper being humane to the prisoners. One example was helping a wounded prisoner unable to walk on his own when he had to take care of personal needs. Though fellow Naval officers questioned why and how he could help a prisoner of war. He was adamant for humane reasons to care for a fellow human being, even a prisoner of war. At some point during the war efforts, he was transferred and eventually became a gunnery officer whose responsibilities were making sure the large guns on the ship he was stationed on were operational at all times. When the ship was torpedoed, he tied himself to something from the ship which helped him keep afloat. Most of the men who could not find something to hold on to eventually drowned. When he enlisted, he knew he was unable to swim, a prerequisite for being in the Navy. He received an honorable discharge for his injuries. His response to why he was able to survive, was everything is up to H. When asked in his older years how he lived to be in his 90’s or any type of success or good things that happened to him and his family, his response was always it is because of H. His faith in H no matter what the circumstances might be, he always had that response and believed in it sincerely. He felt there was never a reason to give up hope. He was always grateful to H for giving him a wonderful family, neighbors and so many people he was happy to know. He did not seek any type of honors for his kindness and ehrlichkeit, nor a thank you from anyone he might have done something good for. His family who shared some of the above with me, said it wasn’t just that he was sincere, he had a good and caring heart in his belief of H. He only found goodness in others. It bothered him when another person was not sincere. He would also encourage others to have the same faith and regard for H as he did. Regarding the mikveh, he always made sure to give kavod to any of the rabbonim by ensuring they be given respect and whatever needs they may have. When I entered the mikveh building, I tried to look and be very discreet so as not to be the recipient like he treated the rabbonim, but to no use. As soon as he noticed me, he insisted that since I was the rabbi of his shul and years later the rabbi of the Bialysoker Home and its shul, had to be treated with special respect. He really was amazing and was respectful to everyone especially the rabbonim and the elderly. His children felt he had a heart of gold and was so humble and modest. He was not a “pashidika Yid. He was held in high esteem by those who knew him. Mr. Tropper was an unassuming, modest, humble person who appreciated his religion, his davening, his relationship to his Jewish community and all the mitzvos he was able to fulfill to the best of his abilities. When he worked for the USPS, he also did everything possible to be mekadeish H and keeping mitzvos as he did in the Navy and through the years. He always had and showed much love for his wife, family, his fellow Jew, love for his Yiddishkeit and most of all, love for the Aibershta. May he be a meilitz Yashar for his family and Klal Yisrael. He had self confidence, valued what he believed in and shared many of these beliefs and thoughts with others. Some were surprised thinking he was a simple Jewish man, but they were in for a surprise and found out he was a powerhouse, not willing to step back, but willing and able to say and do what was necessary.
Often it was heartbreaking to see patients in pain, family members not knowing what the future holds for their loved ones. Family members and caregivers struggle to keep their spirits up and find self esteem wavering with feeling helpless as their loved ones withers away, loses weight, sometimes in pain. Very often when a family member or caregiver notices more labored breathing, they run to the nurse for help., to please increase the amount of oxygen the patient might have been receiving. The medical staff will try to increase the oxygen flow, but what more can the family or caregiver do? A chaplain even with his or her feelings must remain strong and steadfast for that patient and family. Another one of my stories about an elderly patient in Washington Heights, who desperately wanted to keep all the laws of Pesach even though he knew it was impossible to do but would try one way or another. His wife cried to me asking my advice about what to tell her husband regarding what he could, should or should not have for this Pesach, He only wanted to eat the full amount of matza or drink the wine or grape juice or anything he could. In fact, he wanted to partake of everything that was possible. His feelings, better to die even to choke on anything edible, just so long that he could still do these mitzvos. Unfortunately, he had serious swallowing issues and he and his wife knew that. I therefore discussed his concerns and desires with the specialist of my team who knew this patient. I mentioned some thoughts which the team thought was a reasonable suggestion, and I went with it. At my next home visit, I mentioned I had some suggestions which would enhance his devoted relationship with H. We spoke and deliberated and finally came to a mutual agreement even his elderly wife was pleased. When I arrived, he was already sitting in his favorite chair looking so regal. We came to an agreement that his relationship with G not only has not changed, but even became stronger with his desire to continue to fulfill mitzvos to the best of his ability. He agreed G surely appreciates his dedication and his devotion especially how difficult it might be and how much effort it takes to daven, put on a talis, and many other mitzvos. Though not happy, he accepted not being able to swallow nor eat everything but still makes brachos on what he can. I suggested he and his wife recite from the Haggadah and sing those songs that brings them joy and good memories from the past. For the four cups of wine to have four sucking from a cotton swab he will wet with grape juice. For the matza to at least lick and get the taste the same with the maror, salt water and other items. He could absorb the taste and maybe some of its liquid in his mouth. In his heart and with words from his mouth to ask H to accept all that he is able to do for the Pesach Seder. Such tears in their eyes, not knowing how long they have with each other. Yet so glad they could have at least one more Pesach together. We discussed how important it is to feel self confident with self value, they will fulfill all the mitzvos of the Pesach Seder to the best of their abilities as a husband and wife as they have done the past seventy or so years together. Before I would leave the wife would walk with me to the door of her apartment seeking my blessings, and confiding in me her fears for her husband and not wanting to be alone after he dies, but she will never give up having faith in H. They had a close niece who was in close contact with them always making sure they had whatever they needed now and for the future. Even in their present elderly state, they had much self esteem and pride which kept them going in life. They had such love for each other. Watching them hold hands, humming songs and prayers they knew was so emotional for me to watch and to listen. They wanted me to participate in the holy moments in the presence of H and join them with some of the songs and prayers.
A female patient who was admitted to hospice and was still a patient in the hospital shared with me personal life history from her youth to the present time. She was slowly deteriorating, and quite sad she will be alone the last days of her life and maybe not even have a funeral. All her life she was a proud and well to do person, had various professions and said look at me now. I had no relationship with being Jewish and what will G say of me now after I die. The team rallied together each giving her respect and acknowledging her as a worthy human being. We discussed her many accomplishments in life which reminded her of the good times in life. She wanted to know from me if I would still feel the same way at this point in time that she was truly a worthy person. Most of all, how could she come before the angels without any religion. We explored all the meaningful accomplishments in her life, anything that would be considered doing chesed, being charitable, a prayer even occasionally and the prayers or recent with the knowledge of the team, I spent as much time with her. She appreciated my interest in her, my kind, caring words she felt were soothing. I sang some songs with her, and she told me she would find solace in one of John Lennon’s songs which I played for her on my Android and with one of the music therapists. She told me I was her only friend at this time and did not feel so lonely. What she also mentioned was feeling more self worth, a boost in her self esteem. I arranged with Chesed Shel Emes for a burial and plot with a minyan at the burial. I collaborated through the years with both Chesed Shel Emes and Hebrew Free Burial. She did not die alone, and was given respect from myself, the hospice team and hospital staff. Whenever this patient was alert, she wanted a blessing, but a blessing filled with love- a spiritual love- the love one Jew should have for another and the kindness we should have for each other.
The following is from “A Vort from Rav Pam by Rabbi Sholom Smith Artscroll series, Published by Mesorah Publications Ltd (pages 194-195). “With Two Hands (Nasso, 5759/1999) H said to Moshe, “Take to yourself Yehoshua son of Nun, a man in whom there is spirit, and lean your hand upon him” (27:18) In this parsha, Moshe asks H to appoint his successor who would bring the people into Eretz Yisrael. Moshe was told to place his hand on Yehoshua’s head to signify this transfer of leadership. When Moshe did so, he placed both hands on Yehoshua’s head, as the pasuk (27:23) says, He leaned his hands upon him. Rashi explains that Moshe did so with a generous eye, much more than he was commanded to do. He made Yehoshua like a vessel which is full and brimming over; he generously filled him with wisdom to become the next leader. When we bless someone by placing both hands on his head it shows that it is not done as an obligation or burden, but is done Beahavaw, with love. The person wishes to fully transmit the berachos he is about to impart. This concept is seen in the way Aharon HaKohen fulfilled the mitzva of Bircas Kohanim. In Parshas Shemini (Vayikra 9:22) the pasuk says, Vayisaw Aharon es yawdawv el Hawawm vayiuvawrcheim. Aharon raised his arms towards the people and blessed them. The word yawdav is spelled defectively, as if it were written Yawdo one hand. Yet the word is read as if it were spelled Yawdawv, two hands, because when Aharon blessed the people, he did so beahavaw, with love. It may have been enough with one, as alluded to in the defectively spelled yawdawv. Nevertheless, in his overwhelming feelings of love for the people, Aharon used both hands, and this has become the required way to perform this mitzva (see Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 128:12). The beracha that the Kohanim recite when performing Bircas Kohanim ends with the word Beahavaw, with love. In fact, the Mishnah Berurah (128:37) says that a kohen who is hated by the congregation or who has a hatred toward them should not bless them because Bicas Kohanim must be performed with great love for the Jewish people. This can be learned from Aharon himself who was the very embodiment of peace: he was oihev shalom v’rodeif shalom, a lover of peace and a pursuer of peace. Parshas Pinchas is usually the first Shabbos of the tragic period of the Three Weeks. (In some years it is the Shabbos before the Seventeenth of Tammuz). It is the time of year that commemorates the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash, primarily because of sinas chinam, unwarranted hatred between Jews. In order to rectify that sin, a Jew must go out of his way to display boundless love for his fellow Jew, symbolically expressed by bestowing upon him two handfuls of blessings. Then we can hope for the rebuilding of the Beis Hamikdash, may it happen speedily and, in our days,”.
We have seen the tremendous achdus at the tragic site in Florida not only with dedication for possible rescue, but how everyone has been helping each other and the support from around the world. There have been many instances of being mekadeish H. Men, women, professionals of all kinds and ordinary citizens rallying together from diverse backgrounds. There are so many wonderful things we can do for each other. All we need is sincerity. Love can mean many things to each other and in many ways. If we care for others, each other and yes, ourselves with true love from the heart, from devotion and sincerity, our world would be a world of peace. BUT we must begin someplace and that is with each other and most of all, between ourselves and the Ribono Shel Olam. Thank you. Sincerely, Rabbi Yehuda Blank