Wow! I have had quite a crazy week, and I just keep being reminded of why chesed (acts of kindness) is said to be one of the pillars of the world.
Chesed, Part One: The Kosher Kitchen (and other adventures)
I have a friend who is becoming more observant, and, having moved into a new place with her husband, two small children, and dog, immediately started to figure out how to make her kitchen kosher. Moving day and the several days thereafter were just one big adventure that included a rabbinical-student-turned-pizza-delivery-boy, a trip to the dish mikvah (mentioned in a previous post) with our local kashrut expert (who also happens to be my summer hostess), a husband who means well but is not so handy, late-night shopping trips to pick up baby gates, me keeping the kids out of the way until said baby gates were up, and a bottle of wine and container of rugelach to celebrate at the end! And now the kids (ages 2 yrs. and 9 months) absolutely love me (the 2-year-old fell asleep in my lap the other night), and the parents and I are quickly coming to like each other more and more, and I’m really glad they gave me the opportunity to be a part of this (fun) insanity! They would probably call what I’ve been doing chesed, but honestly, they’re doing me just as much of a favor by getting me out of the house and involved in something.
Chesed, Part Two: My Hosts are Awesome
So, I went to Manhattan on Friday to see about getting a visa for studying in Israel. Because I’ve been staying with the friend mentioned above in order to help them out with the kids, life at my hosts’ house had gotten disorganized. When I realized that not only had I forgotten to do laundry (a must, as I can’t do laundry for nine days once the month of Av starts), but I’d left half of my important documents at home, I was quite frazzled. Then they told me at the Israeli Consulate that I couldn’t bring my suitcase in (I had a suitcase because I was going straight to the Bronx to spend Shabbos with some friends) but I couldn’t leave it anywhere safe either. Summer hosts to the rescue! She offered to do a load of laundry and to email my documents to the consulate, he immediately got on the phone to talk to some NYC-area friends and figure out where I could leave my bag, and all was right with the world again!
Chesed, Part Three: We Love Chabad
When my host called people to see if I could leave my bag with them for the little while I’d be in the Consulate, one of the people he thought to contact was the local Chabad. The thing with Chabad is that there is one in practically any place that has Jews, and they are always eager to help you out. So my host texted me the number of the nearest Chabad, I got on the phone and explained the situation, and they gladly offered to keep my bag for me. One several-block schlep later, I was in the fanciest Chabad house I’ve ever seen–the elevator landed me right in the synagogue (and when I came back to get the bag later, I showed up in the middle of the afternoon prayer service!), and a receptionist showed me a storage room down the hall where I could put the suitcase down. Needless to say, despite the rabbi’s protests over the phone that they could not be held responsible for anything going missing, I retrieved my bag several hours later and found it untouched. Chabad to the rescue!
Chesed, Part Four: Shabbos Kodesh!
I finally made it into the Bronx (sans visa, so I’ll have to go back to Manhattan next week, but that’s okay) about 3 hours before Shabbos was due to start. Well, between getting up early all week to babysit, and then Friday to catch a train, and schlepping all over Manhattan, I was pretty spent. I informed my Shabbos host that I really wanted to fit in a nap before Shabbos started–and then proceeded to help out in the kitchen and talk about our lives since we’d last seen each other. This host and I are distant cousins, you see, and we share interests in such things as history, family genealogy, and Judaism, so we had a lot to talk about! Just before Shabbos started, his wife presented me with a gift box, saying “Mazel Tov!” referring to my having graduated college a month ago. I opened it to find a set of Shabbos candlesticks–colorful, porcelain, beautiful candlesticks, the likes of which I’ve never seen. You know, they say you should bring a gift to your Shabbos hosts–and here they were surprising me with a gift!
We proceeded to have a spiritual, entertaining, restful, and delicious Shabbos dinner and lunch. One of the lunch guests included an elderly man whose accent indicated Eastern European origins. Upon being questioned by our hosts, he informed us that he was from Poland, and that he’d come to America in 1950–after the war. We all grew quiet as we realized that we were in the presence of a Holocaust survivor. He explained that he was 14 when the Nazis took over Poland, that he was moved from one ghetto to another and finally to Auschwitz, where he spent six months. He rolled up his left sleeve and showed us the numbers that they had tattooed on him. I…don’t even know how to describe it. I had never spoken so personally with a survivor before (though I’ve read books and attended speeches). Just…wow.
Chesed, Part Five: Bikur Cholim
One of the mitzvos for which we are said to get rewarded for both in this world and in the world to come is chesed. Another is bikur cholim–visiting the sick. I gave my hosts this opportunity on Shabbos afternoon by getting the worst migraine I’d ever had. I get migraines occasionally, but this was the first time I’ve been in so much pain I was vomiting.
“I’m a doctor, you know,” my hostess reminded me, “so you’re in good hands.” Between her care and her husband’s willingness to run out after Shabbos and get me some Excedrin, I was soon on the mend–and woke up this morning feeling as good as new.
And then I immediately sat down to write this blog post. What a crazy week! And thus ends my account of chesed, or why people are awesome.