A young girl, pregnant and alone. Abortion was not in her mental vocabulary but neither was the concept of raising a child at this stage of her life. And then she gives birth to a baby boy early – at 25 weeks! She bestows upon him the name Shai (gift); an “unusual” name considering she didn’t want him to begin with and yet she decided he was a gift.
The baby was left in the hospital in an incubator – after being resuscitated and having low apgars. He developed hydrocephalus (water on the brain that causes the head to enlarge disproportionately to the body) but as he was abandoned at the hospital nothing can be done. And yet he survived against the odds of death.
A family, the Cohens, in another city has been dreaming (not just any dream as a hope, but a real dream in the mother’s sleep around the time this baby was born); hoping and wishing; davening of becoming a foster family to a Special Needs child. They were inspired by the Ben-Baruchs of Tzfat (who raise children experiencing Down syndrome) of whom their story has been written about in many magazine articles.
The Cohen family already has several children, all healthy, B”H. They approach the proper authorities in pursuit of becoming foster parents for a child with Down’s. A year passes, yet their dream stays alive in their hearts; and then a phone call about this baby boy.
They jump at the chance and rush to welcome him into their home. Now, finally, his hydrocephalus can be treated. A Pediatric Neurosurgeon is consulted and surgery to insert his shunt is performed. A shunt is a special drain and tubing from the head that usually goes down into the abdomen. Depending on certain medical and health symptoms, development and normal growth patterns, another surgery to change the shunt or parts of it might become necessary.
The Cohens embrace Shai wholeheartedly with all their love as each family member fights for their turn to hold and cuddle this baby who was left with no one from the second he was born. The love and cuddles and hugs that every baby deserves and thrives on.
They arrange for Shai’s brit mila and add a name to his name.
Shai was premature, with hydrocephalus and enough medical problems that his hospital release papers were nine pages long! And yet he, at five months lives and breathes. He does not appear to be five months but neither does he look like a baby born prematurely. He appears to be a robust three month old who slowly but surely is catching up in his developmental milestones of babyhood. He lifts his head and makes baby coos and gurgles. He smiles. And he eats heartily.
And this is after a minor/major setback as he developed an infection just days after his shunt surgery that necessitated hospitalization with IV antibiotics for three weeks. Do you know how difficult it is to find a vein in the body of an infant? At times almost impossible! The veins are tiny and prone to collapse. And Shai’s did. A “minor” surgery (with anesthesia) was advised to insert an IV into the chest that would be more permanent. The Cohens agreed. But the chest IV lasted just over a week. Another poke and yet another and another as poor Shai screams and screams as only a baby in pain can do. The 4th poke is a success. And then the removal of the stitches and the IV in the chest. Shai gives a repeat performance. How much “pain and torture” can one baby take? Understandably, after his evening bottle he slept real well!
Unfortunately that IV didn’t last long and another procedure was advised to insert the IV. Reluctantly the Cohens agreed, however the doctors were unsuccessful. A specialist, the Pediatric Neurosurgeon was called and it was decided to release Shai to his home, to his family and there he would continue antibiotic treatment by mouth.
I know all this as I was asked if I could help with babysitting while he was in the hospital to” relieve” the parents so they could both be with the other children on Shabbat. They were promised a “budget” from Social Services for certain situations. I don’t mind hospitals and I know some of the nursing staff from when my daughter was in hospital years ago. And besides in this freezing cold weather, at least I know that in the hospital I would be warm!
While babysitting this very special gift from HaShem, people were amazed at me that I was with Shai and his parents were at home. I remember all too well the exhaustion and frustration of being alone in the hospital to care for an infant that can’t seem to stop crying. I may have done a mitzvah and a chessed but I was in it for the heat (and anyone who has ever visited my home on the top floor apartment knows how freezing cold it is)!
The real chessed is taking in another’s child as your own to love and care for, and all the more so in a child with Special Needs. The Cohens do this not for the money they may get from Social Services but rather from the realization that they have what to contribute to help someone else – a baby seemingly forsaken. A baby in need of a family. And a family desirous of a child to love and care for when others might not.
This is the gift that Shai has given all of us; the gift of giving of ourselves and of love.
And Shai, to me, is an inspiration.
Showing gratitude is a trait our parents and teachers attempt to teach us and sometimes it even gets integrated into who we are as human beings and as creations of Hashem. Often we get so caught up in the every day grind of living we forget to truly appreciate what we have. I’m not just talking about a home and food and clothes. I mean that we actually can wake up in the morning and be able to say the Modeh Ani each and every morning. We are alive!
Often it is hard to feel grateful for being alive when things in life seem to go wrong. An illness or untimely death (especially, Chas Veshalom, a child), a tragedy (pigua or accident), or a person getting fired from a job. All of these situations can be looked at as the end of the world. Yet life goes on – in good times and bad times. That is why we say a bracha when a child is born and when someone passes away. And Hashem foresees all. We have the Torah and Halacha to guide us in our lives as Jews. The famous song “to every season, turn, turn, turn” actually came from Kohelet – a clear example of proof that Hashem knew exactly what He was doing in creating Man.
We take it for granted that we are alive – with a roof over our heads and food and clothing. Until Chas Veshalom something happens and we don’t have theses amenities of life. Should a tsunami, hurricane, tornado, flood, fire or katyusha strike our home or selves we would have an entirely different perspective on what Hashem gives us on a daily – even hourly and minute-by minute basis in that we are alive. We need to be grateful for every moment that we breathe.
Last year’s War in Israel affected so many people that never realized how precious our country and its people are. Katyushas zoomed through the air without a care in the world as Nasserela took aim on every spot he thought he would find a largely populated area of Jews -without regard if they were old or young; man, woman or child. We lived in fear. Yet we forgot Hashem was and is always near.
Sometimes a mishap can turn into a blessing – a “blessing in disguise”. A katyusha hits your home and the government pays for repairs. A routine check-up at the doctor reveals a growth that might otherwise have gone unnoticed. A plate or glass shatters but it was empty of food – and no one got cut. The emotional pain of a disaster or tragedy still exists. But we have to be grateful for the small things in life that happen to us. We run for the bus and the bus-driver sees you and waits for you. We go for a blood test and the nurse find a vein with only one needle stick. We need an operation and we are first on the list to go into the operating room. We are carrying groceries or food to the table, and stumble yet nothing breaks. The toilet overflows (or the sink) and the plumber is able to come right away.
It is the little things in life that really matter that we should be on the lookout. I live alone, and as such I find it difficult at times to cook for one. Every now and then I am privileged to receive from friends their “leftovers”. You know the amount of food left over after a Shabbat meal and you serve it for Sunday lunch, and there is still a little left but not enough to serve the family members at home? That is just enough for a single person to reap the benefits and have one or two portions. I have a friend who thought of these leftovers as “rejects”. Not I. What a bracha! Or, how about the occasion when someone can’t use a “specialty” card (bus, pool, treatment) and the person thinks especially of you. I recently had this happen to me with several “discount” bus cards that a friend of mine couldn’t use anymore. I even offered to compensate her but she wouldn’t hear of it. What a bracha! Be grateful for the small things in life.
These may all seem inconsequential, yet if we train ourselves to look for the good in everything – instead of what is wrong around us – we have the power to change the world! To change our own perspective and perception on ourselves and our surroundings is an awesome realization for we can change only ourselves – not others.
We can dream and aspire for bigger and better things in life, but to always remember that everything is from Hashem. And to always be happy and thankful for what we have at this moment. This is our Avoda (service).
I live alone. And from time to time I get lonely. Yet I find myself every now and then actually cherishing my alone-time. The solitude of being alone is not loneliness. I didn’t always like to be alone because I am a people-person and like the interaction.
I have a daughter who is now an adult. She does not live with me. She actually left home in her teens to attend a boarding school. Then we had an irrevocable argument (my fault) and she refused to return home for quite an extended period of time. Then I was alone and utterly lonely.
I was depressed and devastated at how my life had changed from being a mother to no-one. I felt like a nothing. I couldn’t function as a person if I was not my daughter’s mother.
And yet I was a person of value no matter what my “title”. This concept took me a long time to incorporate into my emotional make-up. But I did ,with the chessed of my many friends who invited me to their homes as one of the family no matter what my status or description. First and foremost, I am a creation of Hashem. I am just as deserving of the chessed of loving kindness and caring as any one of the children of my many friends.
Even more so, is this chessed that began as only a friendship has blossomed over the years into an atmosphere of one-of-the-family. Not out of pity but rather as genuine caring and love.
In my mind (and in my heart), certain families in my hometown are at the head of this list. I jest at the reality that I eat “leftovers” but the truth be told, I do a chessed for my friends by taking some of their “leftovers” from Shabbat. I don’t have to always cook – a saving on my limited budget and the potchkie in the kitchen. But even more so is the fact that a family of eight can eat their” leftovers” from Shabbat on Sunday evening nevertheless there is the question to be answered, “what about what is left over after that meal that has maybe only two portions, if at all?” Mikimi to the rescue. Usually it is just enough for me for 2-3 meals. And the little pekelas of Shabbat desserts or from birthday cakes that some of these families put aside just for me.
These incidents are not every week so as not to feel overwhelmed or burden on either side but they are frequent enough that I feel the good fortune in being alive and accepted as apart of someone’s life. Both parties benefit. Additionally I thrive on the interaction and camaraderie with their children.
One family I visit regularly for a coffee- or more lately, a Chico drink, shares with me peanut butter cookies they know I so enjoy. A while back I decided to buy them a present I knew they could use – a “sandwich maker”, primarily for grilled cheese. The model I bought also included metal grates make waffles. Now we have another “family pastime”. Waffles with maple syrup.
A different family I have been privileged to be the metapelet for their youngest child and two of their grandchildren (of different married children). I joke about “the metapelet who stays in the family”. And even though I am not the metapelet for them any more, they and I continue to get-together every few weeks.
And although I may live alone, I am never totally alone for Hashem; the Father of all Chessed is always with me.
(First printed in “Yated Neeman” newspaper — revised version)
Did you ever look at the face of a child as they open a gift? I have. And let me tell you that the sheer anticipation, curiosity, and excitement, that can be seen as they remove the wrapping paper – is a sight to behold.
I think of how I often want gifts. Gifts make us feel special. Gifts make us feel wanted. Gifts make us feel important. And all the more so when a gift is wrapped!
However I know that as much as I want to receive gifts and wished that I received more (hey, I’m only human; with attributes of jealousy and desire that I need to curb – and I want to feel important, special, and valued as a human-being), that when I do in fact receive a gift, I open it with apprehension and a bit of trepidation. Why, you may ask. The answer is actually quite simple. You see, I am afraid I won’t like or appreciate that which has been given to me. I know one should always open a gift with a smile and say “thank you”. I also know that all too often it has happened that I did not like what I was given.
Sometimes I think the best thing is just give me chocolate (please, no coconut) or a voucher to buy books at the Jewish Book Store.
On the other hand, I absolutely enjoy giving gifts to friends. Gifts can be a symbolic way of showing gratitude and hakarat hatov, recognition and “thank you” for kindnesses and chessed done to and for me.
My gifts are practical and useful with a lot of thought and consideration put into the choosing. The items I choose are usually inexpensive. For the most part they are well appreciated. Only one friend requested that I refrain from giving gifts.
My “trademark” on gifts is that it has be practical or useful. Gifts are not only for birthdays or for a wedding or Bar-Mitzvah, or some other event in the life-cycle. At times a gift is given when a person is ill (especially if a person is laid up for a long time). Or a gift might be given in celebration of a job well done.
Not all gifts are tangible. Some gifts are the actual gift of friendship – acceptance and trust between two individuals. In life we have to learn to accept all types. I have to learn the art of receiving gifts from my friends.
Life is a give and take situation on an almost daily basis. In order to live life fully, one has to have a sense of emotional balance and timing on giving and taking. There is always a compromise to be made in everything that we do so as not to over-do any impulsive giving.
By nature, some people are “givers” while others are “takers”.
“Givers” devote themselves to others in helping and nurturing. They give of themselves in advice, possessions and time.
“Takers” are those who at times seem to “drain“ you of your vitality by squeezing your emotional energy and stamina dry until you feel yourself on “empty”.
Some people only know how to “give” but not “take”. But in this case the intent to “take” is to “receive”. On this too, there has to be a balance otherwise feelings of frustration can erupt at the lack of reciprocity.
One cannot only give. One has to know also how to take – to receive. One must accept with gratitude and love that which has been given and understand the incentive behind the giving.
Individuals who only “take” are missing out on the inner joy that is attained through giving of oneself. And one cannot only give to oneself!
Everyone has something to give – even just listening is giving of oneself and an amazing chessed.
Correspondingly, one who gives to others without accepting what others give to them – or tries to give to them – are missing out on receiving love for themselves. In reality allowing others to give to you is also a form of giving!
The act of “taking” for a “giver” is a form of harmony and inner balance in their emotional well-being. When you allow yourself to take from others, you are, in essence giving to yourself. And giving to yourself is to love yourself and value who you are as creation of Hashem.
Coincidentally it is a necessary art in-the-learning on the way we accept gifts. No matter how big or how small – from the wrapped-up gift to the smile on a friend’s face as you walk in their door to visit them – all take a certain amount of effort on our part. An effort to show gratitude to all gifts but even more importantly to the One Above for all that He does for us.
I was born on December 21st. And then there is Chanuka. And the Goyish holiday with lights and a tree. And songs they call caroling. In other words, I grew up in the Galut of the States.
Most of the individuals I had contact with knew that on Chanuka we light a chanukiya that was called a menorah with the famous little blue box of candles. However, not many people realized that those candles barely last the proper amount of time.
Of course I’m writing about the time period of the 1980’s as I was becoming religious, in Atlanta, at the age of fourteen. I was then learning in Yeshiva High School yet at home, my family was not observant of the mitzvot. Nevertheless, Chanuka was a holiday that we celebrated.
Growing up in the States in a partially assimilated life-style amongst goyim, one is all too aware of the festivities surrounding the winter holiday in the month of December. The TV and newspapers (back in the 1980’s) were full of constant advertisements of toys and games, are truly overwhelming for a young child and even for an adolescent.
Fantasies of birthday presents intermingled with the desires of everything splashed at me from the media. When I was ten years old, my parents decided to give me a “gift” for each night of Chanuka. I was overjoyed. As my father worked two jobs, all I really wanted was for him to spend more time with me. Their “gift” idea was great because some of these gifts were not just wrapped. Sometimes it was a promise (which was later kept) of attending a baseball game together with my father or some other such outing. Although I must admit that to this day, I still have a game given to me by my parents when I was a youth. It is a magnetic board game called Shogun.
Through my learning in Yeshiva High School, I learned about the reasons for what we do in Yiddishkeit and how to perform many mitzvot. This included the concept of a two-day Yom Tov outside of Eretz Yisroel and that Chanuka is celebrated for eight days as the olive oil in The Temple lasted for eight days and not the one that was expected.
I also found out that each of us has a Jewish birthday based on the lunar calendar in addition to the birthday based on the Gregorian calendar. My Jewish birth date (and the one I celebrate) is the 24th of Kislev – the night before Chanuka.
I have since grown up from those adolescent years of my youth in Atlanta. I made Aliya in 1979 and for many years now I have been living in Tzfat. I celebrate my birthday only on the 24th of Kislev – usually several of my friends get together with me for a special cake. And then there is Chanuka. My first year in Israel I naively thought that Chanuka was only seven days, until I realized that Chanuka does not fall in the same category as the Yomim Tovim. I also light my own candles; in my case, I choose to light the teeny metal cups known as tea lights. A package of fifty more than suffices for the entire eight nights and certainly lasts long enough to fulfill the Halachic requirements.
So anyone on a visit up to the northern part of Israel to the Holy city of Tzfat (Safed) is welcome to join me as I light my candles on my porch and sing the beautiful Zemirot of this holiday.
Over the past few months that I have been home after the katyusha invaded my home during last year’s war on Israel, I have been alone a lot. I have been unable to work outside my home as I had ankle fusion surgery last August 28, 2007. Instead I read, watch TV, and write. When I am bored, I search the Net. I type in TV shows or movies; medical predicaments; and names of people I know to see if they are in the computer cyberspace. You’d be surprised at who is. Just a few short months ago when typing in my name, Mikimi, the computer blared at me the name of the famous song known from Reb Shlomo Carlebach’s singing. There was also another spelling for my name, Mekimi. I clicked on the link and was “introduced” to a chessed organization in New York via a blog written by a young girl who had Hodgkin’s when she was sixteen and is now in remission and married with a baby boy. Her blog is a compilation of her diary/journal entries of the time period shortly before she became ill, throughout her diagnoses and treatments, as well as her experiences with the idiocy of human nature. I have been in email correspondence with her since August . I have asked her permission to “copy” her last entry for the purposes of this chessed blog as I felt it was applicable and necessary for people to realize that Bikkur Cholim is an important mitzvah, but even more so when done “correctly” with the patient in mind, and not just the chessed of proclaiming that one has “visited the sick”. Below is what she wrote:
Monday, October, 15, 2007 An Ocean Away
I have a friend who was just recently diagnosed with Hodgkin’s, just like what I had. We were talking and she was venting as I was reminiscing and we ended up talking about our friends and how they reacted to our illness. Both myself and my friend are into chessed and we totally appreciate those people who want to be there for others and do all they can to help out. The problem is that most people don’t know how to help out.The desire is there, but the methods are completely wrong.To go into what people would need to do to shape up is pretty much a repeat of what I’ve been posting my entire blog--Don’t pretend you’re best friends with the person if you didn’t know her name before last week-Don’t come over uninvited or push offers on the people you never had anything to do with before-Don’t call and leave a zillion messages for the choleh– chances are she heard the first one and will either call you back when she feels like it or never…-Don’t become best friends with their sisters just to say that you have a CLOSE relationship to the family…
There are so many Don’ts running through my head right now but the more I write the more ridiculous they all sound. But the problem is that these Don’ts happen all the time.
Why is it that my friend is so glad that her friends are all married and live in Lakewood or Israel or really far away, and that they can’t come over and bug her even if they wanted to?
My friend knows that these girls who call 100 times a night only want to do chessed, but yet, the way they go about it is enough to make her glad that some of them are an ocean away.
We both feel that it’s so sad.
There are people out there who really do want to do good- they just don’t know how.
My friend was saying that she would love to tell them how, but some people just don’t want to listen. I think that’s worse than anything.
Being mevaker choleh is to do what’s good for the patient. If she’s trying to tell you what’s good for her, but you decide you know better, what good is that?
I hated to tell her that she’d probably come out of this illness thinking very differently about some people she’d never had an opinion about before. Instead of leaving well enough alone, I find that some people insist on putting themselves out there and making things so annoying and bothersome for the patient.
A simple card would say so much without all the bother.
I’m not trying to be negative. Not at all. I have friends and students who are always telling me that they want to volunteer for chessed programs and things, and I think that is so beautiful. I just wish more people would know what it’s like from the other point of view, from the side receiving the chessed.
I have to commend the people I’ve met who really took the time to understand and listen to what the patent’s needs really were, they were able to read between the lines and weren’t the girls that my mother had to lie to and say that I was sleeping, or on the other line, or overnight in the hospital, or that I was in Florida for the month… in order for them to stop calling.
It’s really hard for one to know the rules of the game and where to toe the line, but I think that with a little more sensitivity and a little less excitement to do what THEY feel is the RIGHT thing, we’d all be much better off.
And for the girl that I was supposed to “break up the night with” -This post is for you!J.A.P.
The chessed of the mitzvah of Bikkur Cholim is to know when one’s presence is wanted and appreciated and understanding when the patient just wants peace and quiet. Not to misunderstand, Bikkur Cholim, in my opinion, can also be fulfilled by a phone call, letter or email.
I sincerely hope this piece will enlighten others. May all chessed be done with a giving heart and a heart that understands.
Recently a friend of mine related to me an unusual and interesting situation that her husband experienced of performing acts of chessed and of how many mitzvot constitute chessed.
They had traveled to a wedding out of town to be Mesameach choton vekalla (to make a bride and groom happy). Earlier that day they were informed that the husband’s eldest brother was in hospital after having a heart attack. And the wife of their Mesader Kiddushin (the Rav who officiated at his own wedding) had passed away. Aside from the wedding, which was scheduled, the other “events” were not planned and as such “unexpected”.
This man’s evening of chessed “between man and man” reminded me of the paragraph in the Morning Prayers Eilu Devorim (These are the things…). In it are mentioned different “services” a person might do for another: honoring one’s parents; acts of kindness; learning in the morning and in the evening; having guests; visiting the sick; helping a bride; “escorting” the dead to the grave; delving into prayer; and making peace between man and his fellow. And Talmud Torah equals them all. (Hirsch Siddur) Each of these mitzvot individually are not every day occurrences as each one relates to a specific circumstance at a given time. Yet as far as I understand, all are also considered acts of chessed for which there are rewards in this World by the personal satisfaction derived in the actual doing of the chessed.
It was fascinating to me in that this man’s parents are not alive anymore. In Halacha one’s eldest siblings are likened to one’s parents with regard to Kibbud Horim (Honoring Parents). He visited his brother and did Bikkur Cholim (visiting the sick) and Kibbud “Av”(father). He made a Shiva call (comforting the mourner) which connects to burying the niftar (one who has passed away). He and his wife attended a wedding which connects to giving happiness to a bride and assisting her into marriage. In addition, this man traveled by taxi to the hospital to visit his brother and then yet another taxi to comfort the mourner so as to complete all his “chessed errands” in time to also attend the wedding. In so doing, he paid the taxi driver for services right away – thus fulfilling the mitzvah of paying one’s wages on time – a mitzvah and a chessed.
It is truly remarkable to be able to fulfill such “opposite” experiential mitzvot and acts of kindness all in one night. Not everyone is emotionally capable at the time to go from joy and happiness to care, concern and worry; to empathy and sympathy – all with compassion and love for another human being. Yet this man accomplished his “duties”.