empty Slice of Life

Hunger At My Door

I don’t recall exactly how old I was when “the man in the car” showed up on our street, but I was...

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Hashem runs the world.  He weaves the tapestry of our lives with perfect precision. We, as humans, don’t always perceive how each of the intricacies and connections of our existence fit together until much later, if at all.  Sometimes the recognition doesn’t even come in our lifetimes. But sometimes the interlocking pieces are wrapped up and packaged so beautifully that we clearly see how everything fits together perfectly.  The hand of Hashem in such events cannot be denied or overlooked.  My good friends recently had such an experience.

Megillas Esther, which we read on Purim, states: “Al kein haYehudim ha’prazim ha’yoshvim b’arei ha’prazos osim es yom arbaah asar l’chodesh Adar simchah u’mishteh v’yom tov u’mishloach manos ish l’rei’eihu. – Therefore, the rural Jews who live in the unwalled towns make the 14th day of the month of Adar one of joy and feasting and celebration and sending portions to each other.” It is from this pasuk that we learn the mitzvah of Mishloach Manos. On the day of Purim, we are required to send at least two ready-to-eat food items to at least one friend.

Despite all of the challenges of this past year, there have definitely been many positive developments that evolved as a result.  Zoom is one of them. The need for social distancing necessary to combat the devastating effects of corona has resulted in feelings of loneliness and isolation for many.  But in His overflowing generosity, Hashem gave man the necessary components to create Zoom.  That is not to say that Zoom provides the same level of connection as face-to-face interactions, but in so many situations, Zoom saved the day and enabled the formation and maintenance of relationships as well as opportunities for unique and memorable experiences that would have been otherwise impossible.

 When my neighbors Baruch and Yocheved Goldberg made aliyah to Ramat Beit Shemesh sixteen years ago from a small out of town community in the Midwest, they had never in their lives met a meshulach (tzedakah collector). With middle class people holding fundraising dinners and scraping together whatever they could in order to support their shuls and yeshivas, no sensible meshulach would have wasted his precious time collecting there.  It just wouldn’t have been worth his time and effort.  When the Goldbergs moved to Israel, things changed. While they were a bit surprised the first time they opened their door to find a meshulach with an outstretched hand asking for money, they quickly got with the program. Over time they realized that meshulachim come in many shapes and sizes.  It could be a man with a letter of endorsement asking for support for a local kollel.  It could be someone with a medical condition or someone making a wedding who needs help covering expenses.  It could be a woman collecting for food for Shabbos for her family. It could be young and eager children with toothless smiles lugging heavy bags filled with pasta, canned vegetables, and an assortment of groceries earmarked for the poor and needy.  And all of these people could show up at the door within just a few minutes of each other. During the weeks leading up to Purim, one may as well just sit by the door in order to receive the steady stream of yeshiva students collecting for their yeshivas.

I’ll be honest.  Growing up, connecting to Tu BiSh’vat was challenging for me.  I think it was the bokser (carob sticks).  I mean I loved making those trees in school.  There were the ones made out of cotton balls and the ones made out of newspaper that you could actually pull up so they would grow while we sang “Hashkeydia Porachat.”  I even enjoyed some of the fruit that filled the brown paper bags given out on Tu BiSh’vat.  But bokser?  Really now! In all my years at school, I don’t think I recall anyone actually eating the bokser.  And if they did, it was just a response to a dare. But year after year, that same bokser would show up in the bag.  And it really may have been the same bokser every time; nobody would have noticed if it was one week old or ten years old.  Either way, it held the same appeal. 

These are tough times.  While on one hand Israel is making great strides in terms of vaccinating its citizens and thus appears to have one foot out the door of the corona crisis, the number of sick, young and old, continues to climb sharply and speedily.  The hospital wards are bursting at the seams and medical personnel are being stretched in every possible direction. Articles have been written giving an insider’s view of how the current situation is taking a physical and emotional toll on hospital staff, particularly those who work inside the corona ward.  One article I read was about a particular nurse who was described as being unusually caring and giving by nature - the type who upon seeing a homeless man on the street, will go home only to return with warm food for him to eat and a blanket to cover him.  This nurse expressed feelings of helplessness and guilt that she feels due to the fact that she is unable to provide more than the most basic care to her patients when she normally she is happy to go the extra mile, serve them tea, and just sit and listen to them.  These days she doesn’t have an extra minute to provide the emotional support that her isolated and frightened patients so desperately need.  She leaves the hospital crying every day.  Dr. Ronni Gamzu, the CEO of Ichilov Hospital and previous coronavirus czar, choked up during a recent interview when discussing a tragedy that occurred in his hospital on Shabbos. Medical workers were handling a number of emergencies in the ICU and didn’t immediately notice when the ventilator of a 47-year-old patient disconnected.  Tragically, the patient died as a result.  Dr. Gamzu took responsibility for what happened.