Rabbi Yehuda (Leonard) Blank MS, BCC
Director of Programming, Chaplaincy Commission and External Affairs
Rabbinical Alliance of America/Igud HaRabbonim
***Thursday June 23rd ,2022, Sivan 24, 5782***
Despair or Happiness -Giving Up or Having Hope -Sadness or Joyfulness
Having trust in H
Don’t give up having and giving hope.
It is easy to suggest, to give chizuk to trust in H, to be happy to someone who is having challenges, difficulty in his or her life and maybe even share an uplifting story, but for someone whose luck seems to be down and under or down and out, not matter how spiritual or how religious a person might be, as I have often said (written) it won’t always work. Of course, we, the rabbis, the rebbetzins, the chaplains have to be filled with all the wisdom, the know how, what advice to give or not to give and what eitzas, recommendations or help can be uplifting, meaningful and appropriate.
One day this week while walking down Grand Street in my neighborhood, I heard a voice coming from behind me, “rabbi, rabbi, please wait I want to talk to you. Remember me, we have not seen each other for some time. My name is ______________.” I slowed down and he caught up with me. “Rabbi, it has been such a long time since we met, I think it was in the takeout store.” Before I had a chance to ask him how he was, he started to share with me one unhappy story after another about himself and his family. It took him a while to come up for air. He kept interrupting with “can you imagine that” with all kinds of phrases, such as “Everything I touch or do just never seem to work for me and then I quit. I didn’t have to ask how he was doing as I was met with many of his unfortunate circumstances. I just listened to him and acknowledged what he told me. I wished him well and success in finding the best resources for a healthy future. Believe it or not, he thanked me for listening to all what he had to say and for my good wishes and blessings for him, his family and for all my help. He was so relieved to have gotten so much off his chest. Though he had no idea when it would be possible, he asked if we could resume at another time and date helping him with his constant tzaris. Before I was able to respond, he said goodbye will be in touch! I walked slowly, not wanting to brush him off, but to sincerely listen to him. I remembered him from several years past and how he was so sad about himself and his predicaments with so much as he would say “what else could go wrong today.”
Cartoon Character from Charlie Brown
with a rain cloud above his head all the time.
There is someone who I know who continuously goes through difficult and challenging times financially and medically for himself and his sister he is very devoted to. Both in their senior years and neither married. I offer moral, spiritual support, helping with a Shabbos meal and even having raised funds for Pesach which they desperately needed. He insisted I reduce my purchases for them not wanting me to spend more than necessary. He appreciates my relationship with him and for all the prayers, my concerns and respect for them without ever being intrusive. There have never been any requests for having to do mitzvos. Whatever he might want to do or know about he knows I am here for them. Just showing care for both he and his sister. They feel great comfort and appreciation.
It is important to be understanding, empathetic and supportive. Anyone who does not know of his concerns might feel uncomfortable being in his presence listening to his complaints, his disappointments the daily challenges of caring for his sister and himself, understanding what he is going through, his worries, and difficulty being able to smile or laugh. Yet, with love, empathy and truly being sincere, I have been able to reach his heart. I have gained his trust and his appreciation for whatever I do or the words of inspiration I sprinkle in with some words of hope and a smile we share with each other. His most recent concerns are waiting for a report from his doctor about a certain test he took last week which might or might not confirm a serious diagnosis.
There are many stories of chizuk of individuals going through a difficult situation often with a happy ending. How can listening to such stories be helpful or appreciated when even with hope, there does not seem to be a happy ending when gloom and a “rain cloud is over the head “He does find meaningful listening to my own stories and other things I share with him without conveying that everything is rosy or perfect. I share my own beliefs of hope and trust things work out for the best or in a better way than anticipated. It is important to be as natural as possible – meaning, no hidden agendas no thoughts of how I can fix things, make things better. I have shared some of my own challenges sometimes with a heavy heart and tears from my eyes. Without being dramatic, I shared how my own personal bakashos my personal prayers, my own faith, hope and trust in G has been helpful to me. I mentioned that not everything turns out as I thought it would but learned how not to be disappointed and truly believe that G does what is best. I shared my own satisfaction with the mitzvos I do and my love of G which he agrees are meaningful. The importance not to despair and to find joy and happiness even in the small things in life. He appreciates my honesty and for being real with whatever I shared with him. Both he and his sister do appreciate by berachos, and my tefilos. He mentioned to me that he makes berachos on whatever I bring him for Shabbos on my behalf so I could get credit from G for whatever mitzva he does. He is grateful for the silver plated kiddush cup and plate, the challah board, knife and cover I gave him as a present with absolutely no strings attached. Those items were after we had discussed certain aspects of Shabbos. He uses the NCSY beracha book I gave and the beautiful book of brachos when lighting the Shabbos or Yom Tov candles. He shared with me that he says special blessings to G for himself and his sister when lighting the Shabbos candles for both himself and his sister. Due to poor eyesight his sister is unable to light the candles. He wanted me to know how much it means to both of them. He considers me more than just a friend who cares about him and his sister and he insist on addressing me as rabbi. He and his sister appreciate whatever I bring, cook, and bake for Shabbos including flowers for his sister and to do so with a smile of gratitude not with a sense of hardship. He does share with me the hope things will improve and that there will be days of sunshine.
One never can underestimate the influence, the impact and lasting impression we might have on others, no matter what their background is. Yesterday, as I was leaving Trader Joe, a man wearing his signature cap with the skull and bones, beard, and some tattoo’s, came over to me with a big smile, remembering me from various programs I worked on some years ago in the community. After wanting to know how I am he told me about his wife who was in a nursing home and how she was doing. He remembered his rabbi, and requested he take a picture of me to share with his wife. PS They are not Jewish.
From Wisdom Each Day by Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski, M.D. Artscroll Series. Mesorah Publications Ltd Page 33 (Nissan-Iyar March-May).” Receive every person with a pleasant countenance” (Ethics of the Fathers 1:15) Not only are we to smile and have a pleasant expression when greeting a friend, but the Talmud tells us to greet everyone with a smile, even someone we may not like.
If we really wish to know how the Torah expects us to live, we should observe our great Torah personages. We are fortunate in our own generation we had a tzaddik who exemplified Torah living at its best. There are many firsthand stories about R’ Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, whom I was privileged to know. There are many pictures of R’ Shlomo Zalman, He is smiling in virtually all of them.
It is said there was a little boy in R’ Shlomo Zalman’s neighborhood who used to follow him around. One day, the child’s father asked the rabbi to bless the child. He expected a berachah that the child should grow up to be a Torah scholar. Instead, R’ Shlomo Zalman said, “Teach him to smile”.
R ’Shlomo Zalman carried the worries and heartaches of countless people who unburdened themselves of their pain to him, and he felt their suffering very deeply. He fulfilled the teaching of Rabbeinu Bachya: The pious person carries his pain within, while his face radiates joy.”
A wise person can understand the importance of maintaining a cheerful attitude, keeping a smile on your face even when no one is around conductive to a cheerful attitude toward life.
“Speak to the entire congregation of Israel and say to them, “You shall be holy, because I, your G d am holy” (Leviticus 19:2). Rashi comments that Moses gathered all the Israelites to instruct them in this portion of the Torah.
Sfas Emes comments that Moses gathered all an Integral part of the congregation if he associates himself with all Israel. Anyone who isolates himself and withdraws from his brethren cannot be considered holy, regardless of how much he tries to sanctify himself.
All of Israel is one body. If part of the body is diseased, it can heal. If part of the body is amputated, even if it is completely healthy, it becomes lifeless, so it is with every Jew. As long as a person remains connected with his people, one’s Jewishness is alive, even if one is flawed. If one withdraws from his people, one’s Jewishness perishes. Nothing is vital to Judaism as unity among Jews.”
I requested Rebbetzin Malkie Machlis well known Menahelis (wife of Rav Moshe Machlis shlita) of the Lower East Side to share the following of her father Reb Avraham Tzvi ben Aharon Gewanter zt’l. He personified compassion, emunah, kindness, goodness, sincerity, a caring heart and a caring smile and trust in H.
“My father was someone who always wanted to make people smile. He was the Chazzan and Shamas (Ritual Director) in the Bialystoker Shul. He lived through the Holocaust and was sent to Siberia, yet he exuded joy and emunah in Hashem. His yartzeit was recently on Yud Bais Sivan and our family spent the day remembering his beautiful middos. He always wanted to help everyone and make others happy. While sitting Shiva for him someone told me the story of how he became religious. It seems his father had just passed away and he wanted to say Kaddish for him. At that point he said that he did not know how to read the Hebrew words. He said,” your father sat next to me and said the words with me so loudly that no one realized that I couldn’t say them. “I now go to shul every Shabbos because of your father.
When he was 86 years old, my father needed triple bypass surgery. The night before the surgery I told him that I was worried. His answer was, “There is never a reason to worry in life. It is all up to H. If H wants me to live, I will live. If He doesn’t want me to live, I won’t. It is all in His hands”. My father’s emunah was amazing. I wrote the words on his matzeiva/tombstone as a lasting memorial for the special person that he was, and I used the anagram of his name, Avrohom Tzvi
(Hebrew name transliterated)
Aleph- Ahav es Hashem (he loved Hashem).
Veis-Baal Tefillah L ‘yomim Noraim (Cantor for the High Holy days)
Reish-Rodeif Chesed (He loved to help people).
Hey- Haya mekabeil es kol odam beseiver panim yafos (he approached everyone with a smile)
Mem-Mesameiach es habriyos (He loved making others happy)
Tes-Tzaddik (a righteous person)
Veis-B’emunaso (with his emunah – belief in Hashem)
“Comforting the mourner, visiting the sick, and deeds of kindness bring good into the world.” Avos d’R. Noson 30
“H Alone does great wonders, for His kindness endures forever” (Tehillim 136:4). H’s kindness endures forever when He alone does wonders. Anything done by a human being is transitory in nature since it passes with time.”
In the Shemoneh Esrei “May they find favor the expressions of my mouth, and the thoughts of my heart, before You, H my Rock and my Redeemer.” Artscroll Siddur translation. Artscroll Siddur the Schottenstein Siddur.
Thank you, Sincerely Rabbi Yehuda Blank
917 446 2126 email@example.com