Rabbi Yehuda (Leonard) Blank MS, BCC
Director of Programming, Chaplaincy Commission and External Affairs
Rabbinical Alliance of America/Igud HaRabbonim
Thursday, June 16th,2022, Sivan 17, 5782
Two stories of Ahava
Be sincere with true empathy.
Sharing, conveying, and giving of love from oneself and with one’s heart is so important.
Giving care to a patient who feels alone in this world, especially at end of life.
Tendler loving care. Love to a grandchild who never felt the love from his own parents.
Two stories, one that will bring joy and one that will bring tears.
The first is a story by Rabbi Binyomin Pruzansky, Artscroll Inspired Mesorah Publications Ltd also shared in the FJJ Newspaper February 3, 2022 (Page 85) Where’s My Hug? “Rabbi Avi Fishoff related to me that he once brought a young man named Danny to visit the young man’s grandfather, a great tzaddik, for a beracha on Erev Rosh Hashanah. This young man had drifted so far from Yiddishkeit that he no longer kept Shabbos or kosher; he did not even fast on Yom Kippur. Somehow, however, Rabbi Fishoff convinced him to go to his grandfather for a berachah.
On the way, Danny mentioned that he was seldom hugged as a small child.” How come no one ever showed me that they love me?” he asked.
Rabbi Fishoff was startled by the words of this tall, muscular young man; underneath it all, there was a small child who just wanted to feel loved. When they arrived at the tzaddik’s home, Rabbi Fishoff excused himself, leaving Danny with his grandfather. He got into his car and called the house, where the tzaddik’s wife picked up the phone. “Please,” he said. “Tell your husband to give your grandson a hug, it is very important.”
Then he called Danny’s mother and asked her if the parent’s expressed their love of their children with hugs. “Not really,” she replied. “We’re just not that type.”
After a short conversation with the mother, Rabbi Fishoff went back into the house. The conversation between Danny and his grandfather had apparently ended, and they were walking together toward the door. As they neared the door, the elderly tzaddik raised his right hand to reach for his tall grandson’s shoulder. Danny wasn’t sure exactly what his grandfather was doing, but he stooped more accessible. At that moment, his grandfather gave him a hug and a kiss, and told him how much he loves him.
When Danny got back into the car with Rabbi Fishoff, he was in a daze. “I can’t believe it,” he said softly,” I can’t believe he hugged me.”
For the rest of the trip, Danny kept reminding himself of the miraculous event he had just experienced. “This year, I’m going to shul for Rosh Hashanah,” he told Rabbi Fishoff. “I think I’m going to fast on Yom Kippur too.” He kept to his work. His grandfather’s love had penetrated to his heart and opened it wide.
When we feel loved, we want to show love in return. That is why recognizing H’s love is so powerful a way to inspire our devotion to Him.”
When reading this story, it reminded me of my chaplain/ rabbi/ patient relationship with a young woman in her fifty’s, lonely, scared, worried, frightened, a life without love from family, void of G, fear of dying all alone and no one to remember her. This was one of my most challenging patients at the nursing and rehabilitation facility I worked at for many reasons as you will soon read about. Sara (not her real name) was admitted for rehabilitation due to a double mastectomy. She had one uncle, her father’s brother who she had not seen nor heard from for an exceedingly long time. During the course of several months, she felt the only one in the world that cared about her sincerely was me. My office was situated in the rear of the synagogue. Whenever I had to have a private conversation, I would make sure the door was unlocked or kept it slightly open.
To Sara, I was a person who was spiritual, and in whom she could confide in. I could not deny that to her, I was more than a chaplain, or a rabbi, but someone she could share her affections with. Someone who would find goodness and value as a human being. Someone she felt extremely comfortable sharing her inner most feelings. I had to gently with tremendous finesse share that as a chaplain and a rabbi, not permitted to have a personal relationship of love, but she could share her deepest appreciation and affection which I was honored to receive. In addition to her low self- esteem, nor any joy or happiness, she was no longer feeling being feminine and felt ugly because of her double mastectomy. She took my advice and permitted a woman whose specialty was her recommendation of clothing, wigs, cosmetics, and specific garments for women who are dealing with cancer. This woman discussed with her about wearing nice clothing during the day other than a night gown, special garments to give her the appearance of normalcy and various cosmetics that would help improve her appearance. The wig she chose really spruced her. I and others would compliment her on her how nice she looked. Of course, she wanted my opinion for so many different things which meant a lot to her. She shared with me her feelings of the lack of love from her family, her insecurities, her sadness of having to possibly spend the rest of her life in the nursing rehab without a future. Her diagnosis and prognosis were quite bleak. Sara was the youngest resident in the nursing facility and that too, brought her sadness. She felt she was too young to have been so ill and to end up of all places in a nursing home. Though she found someone namely me she felt a closeness with, her dream was to someday meet a handsome man on a white horse who would whisk her away and live happily ever after. Most of all, to have some type of future, though she was never sure what that might be. She did not believe she would ever leave the nursing facility and if she did, where would she end up? She did not have a family to speak of. Nor did she share any positive memories through the years. Her life till now seemed void being loved. Her only living relative was an uncle who we were unable to locate until she died some months later after her admission.
We also spent time discussing life and what it be like after death of which she often thought about and was concerned. She started to say prayers from the English siddur I gave her. We also spoke about doing mitzvos and how doing just one, will lead to doing other mitzvos even she could do, such as saying certain tefilos, making a beracha, putting even a few pennies in the pushka/tzedakah box, being kind and saying something nice to another person amongst other mitzvos she might have been doing all along. All of these mitzvos she will be able to do will bring happiness to H. This was the first time in her life according to Sara of feeling any type of relationship with G. She shared her fears of dying and did not want to die alone. She made me give her my word I would be with her, right next to her during her last hours, minutes, and moment before and up to her death. We also spoke of finding hope, including not having a painful death, not to die alone and not to be forgotten. She also wanted to hear the word love which to her was like a bouquet of flowers with a beautiful scent. With her permission, I introduced her to some very sincere community neighbors who she looked forward to spending time with whenever they came to visit. In my periodic sensitivity trainings for the staff, I included how to offer and be caring for the residents with sincerity, compassion and understanding.
No matter how many visitors would visit or being amongst other snf residents and staff who took a liking of her, she always felt so lonely until she could spend time talking or learning with me. I was successful in lifting some of her spirits, self- esteem, and the feeling of not being alone. She did not have much to speak about her departed parents or other family members. Speaking of, conveying to each other the feeling of love was never part of her discussion about family. Though there could not be any physical contact she asked if an air hug was permissible. She appreciated my sensitivity, being understanding, taking the time to listen to her and not telling her what to do, or any negative opinions, but being supportive . Most of all, she did not feel all alone and was able to share her tears and her fears. I shared with her diverse types of love such as the staff and myself loved her choice of clothing she chose and purchased from the vendor that came periodically to sell clothing, jewelry, and other items to the residents of the snf. Or the love we had for the kind words she shared with us, and the love G surely has for her. From various discussions we had about her family, appeared to be missing of that emotional bonding between parents, other family members and Sara.
After several months she started to experience certain symptoms which she became frightened of. She was in tears and could not stop crying of what it might mean. She asked me to speak to G that the cancer did not return. Unfortunately, after having seen the medical specialists and certain tests, confirmed the cancer spread to other parts of her body and very quickly. She asked if I could stay with her all the time but explained that I had to give time to the other patients but would come to her room as frequent as possible. I would not abandon her as she feared. My visits increased as did my prayers with her. She began to deteriorate very quickly. She no longer was able to come to my office nor the synagogue where she felt a spiritual awaking and connection to G. She was now confined to her bed with weakness setting in. There was no doubt, she was coming closer to her end of life. It would be a matter of hours or less. I recited the Vidui. Her eyes were closing more frequently, but she kept opening them making sure I would not leave her, I reassured that I would not. She asked me not to leave her no matter what. She whispered a few words of thanks to me as best as she could and said I kept my word. I told her I would not abandon her and would remember her for years to come. We often discussed what death would be like. I told her she would not be in pain and that the soul, the neshama journey to heaven will not be a painful one. Her belief in G will help her along in her journey and not to be afraid. She felt my words were comforting and reassuring. I also told her I will keep trying to contact her uncle which I finally did, but unfortunately not until after her death. She often mentioned how much she wanted someone to tell her she was loved. I and the staff that was next to her who did have a positive relationship repeated all together ‘she is loved.” She so much wanted to hear that word before she died. That meant a lot to her- to hear all our love for her and the love of G for her as a Jewish woman. She took her last breath and her soul left her. She was never in any distress or pain during the transition. All of us in the room were in tears, but she was not alone. I kept my word to her in her journey. Her uncle took care of the entire funeral and burial arrangements. I recited the kaddish and included her whenever Yizkor was recited. We had many discussions but to share them in this public forum of this article would not be respectful of her. Even after all these years, Sara is still remembered. She was a gentle and soft-spoken person. In the zchus of being a Jewish woman who was worthy of spending time in a synagogue, saying prayers from a siddur to G, and beginning on her journey with mitzvos she began to do, may her memory live on and be a melitza yeshara to her uncle and to Klal Yisrael.
Doing even one mitzva will bring enthusiasm of doing many more. The following is from Darash Moshe Rav Moshe Feinstein ztk” l Artscroll Mesorah Publishing Ltd. Page 243 “Speak to the Children of Israel…. And…. wine for a libation” (15:2-5) Why was the mitzva of libations juxtaposed to the episode of the spies rather than another Land-dependent mitzvah? We should have a reason for this. Perhaps the reason is as follows:
When a person brings a sacrifice of his own accord, the Torah obligates him to bring libations. The mitzva of the libations becomes obligatory even though the initial sacrifice is voluntary. The reason is that the obligation to perform mitzvos is a sign of sanctity, that H chose us and sanctified us, as is mentioned in all the blessings we recite from before performing mitzvos and learning Torah. Therefore, if one voluntarily takes upon himself a mitzvah, he becomes the chosen of H, and H confers upon him more mitzvos. For this reason, Joshua was given the mitzvah of administering the inheritance of the land, and Caleb was appointed the prince of the tribe of Judah. The mitzvah of libations is analogous to the mitzvos given to Joshua and Caleb, who resisted the pressure exerted upon them by their colleagues and spoke favorably of Eretz Yisrael. The lesson here is that if one performs one mitzvah, he will merit to perform many other mitzvos. This is the meaning of the statement of the Mishnah (Avos 4:2) Mitzvah goreres mitzvah, one mitzvah leads to another.”
Being sensitive, caring, sincere is so important. A person will never know when she/he can be an inspiration for someone and can bring meaning to another person’s life. Sharing love, hope, blessings and so much more. Helping to uplift the spirits of a person going through difficult and challenging times is such a chesed. Even under normal circumstances to be patient, understanding and a source of inspiration with empathy for anyone who has low self-esteem, low self-confidence, a boost of kindness can go a long way and helpful finding simchas hachaim. However, knowing what to say, when just to listen, just to be available and in the presence is no easy task. I have mentioned this often, saying something that is not appropriate can have a negative impact. It is important to be mindful and to process the concerns, the words, the body movement, and give support when and however is needed, but with the wisdom of Shlomo HaMelech. Lending a shoulder to lean on, giving appropriate support will go a long way. There are many scenarios of gemilus chasadim. So many ways of helping another person. Be empathetic and always sincere.
In the weekday Shemoneh Esrei we recite Ataw chonein leawdawm da as…….” You graciously endow man with wisdom and teach to a [frail] mortal insight. Endow us graciously from Yourself [with] wisdom, insight, and discernment. Blessed are You H, gracious Giver of wisdom. “You graciously endow man with wisdom. [ This blessing begins the middle section of the Shemoneh Esraei, in which man makes his request of G. The first plea is for wisdom and understanding- because man’s intelligence is his primary characteristic, the one that sets him apart from animals.] We ask for wisdom and for insight, so that we can draw proper conclusions and achieve intellectual discernment (Vilna Gaon) From the Artscroll Siddur, Mesorah Publications Ltd.
The following is from the Chofetz Chaim Heritage Foundation “The Arizal recommends reciting the following before the start of davening. (From Devarim 6:5) Hareini mekabeil awlai mitzvas asei shel veawhavtaw lerei achaw kawmochaw. When one accepts upon himself this mitzvah and focuses on loving every Jew, his prayers will then be included in the prayers of all of Klal Yisrael, and en masse will be capable of rising on High and producing results.” “For H loves one who loves the Jewish people, and the more a person loves his fellow Jew, the greater is the love H showers upon him.” From MesilasYesharim19
(Contact the CCHF for all of their quotes, catalogs etc. at 845-352-3505).
From the Gentle Weapon Prayers of Everyday and Not- So- Everyday Moments Timeless Wisdom from the Teachings of the Hasidic Master Rebbe Nachman of Breslov Jewish Light Publishing.
CLARITY AND ASSURANCE
“O G, grant me clarity and assurance in whatever I do. Teach me to trust in wise teachers-to learn from their insightful words. Teach me to trust in true friends-to treasure their care and concern. Teach me to trust myself-to judge my own course correctly, and so to live with conviction and hope.” Sincerely, Rabbi Yehuda Blank