Monday, Jun 10, 2024

A Pure Heart and Doing Our Absolute Best

Rabbi Aryeh Leib Joseph of Bikur Cholim of Cleveland shared with me a short video that he received two weeks ago. In it, a fellow who lives in Beit Shemesh, named Nosson Dovid Simon, expresses his thanks to Bikur Cholim for providing food to his mother in Cleveland while she was terminally ill.

Something that Nosson Dovid said caught my attention, and I asked R’ Aryeh Leib for his phone number. I called Nosson Dovid and asked if he would elaborate more about his mother, who had just passed away last month. What he shared with me was a story that moved me deeply, and I would like to share it with you.

Nosson Dovid, now twenty-eight years old, told me that he grew up as Nate, in an irreligious family in Beachwood, Ohio. He went to public school, and while attending Beachwood Public High School, he was introduced to Rabbi Arieh Friedner of NCSY and began to learn about Yiddishkeit. Throughout his high school years, he spent many Shabbosos at the Friedner home, and eventually accepted upon himself shemiras Torah umitzvos in full form. After graduating high school, Nate went to learn in Ohr Somayach in Yerushalayim and stayed there for four years. Nosson Dovid is now married, has two children, works as an analyst for an energy company, and together with his wife is building a Torahdige family in Eretz Yisroel.

While Nate did not grow up in a frum family, they did do certain traditional things. Nate’s mother, Lori, would light Shabbos candles, and they would have a Friday night family dinner. The family always knew that in their kitchen, they had two sets of dishes, one for meat products and one for dairy. When, as a youngster, Nate asked his mother to explain why that was, she told him that there is an idea called kosher. She explained that while she always found meaning in it, their family was not prepared to fully keep kosher, but she feels that they are able to handle this amount of commitment and therefore do this small act of at least keeping two sets of dishes, one on which to eat meat and one on which to eat dairy. She told him that while the meat and chicken in their home isn’t kosher, they would nonetheless do as much as they feel they could and won’t mix meat and milk together.

Nate tells me that he once asked his mother a question. He had bought a cheeseburger, and upon bringing it home, he asked his mother if he should eat it on a meat plate or a dairy plate. She thought about the question for a minute and said, “I think you should eat it on a paper plate.”

Later on, when Nosson Dovid was becoming frum, not only was his mother not insulted by the fact that he was accepting upon himself a different way of life than he had been brought up with, but she very much encouraged him. When he started keeping kosher, she went so far as to help him build a kosher kitchen in their basement, which only he would use, so that he would have kosher food at home. When he was home for Shabbos, Nosson Dovid would cook in his basement kitchen for the whole family. In this sense, Nosson Dovid says that he had it much easier than other baalei teshuvah he knows, many of whom faced pushback from their parents.

Lori became ill eighteen months ago, and when her illness progressed to the point that she could no longer prepare meals for her and her husband, someone reached out to Bikur Cholim to request their assistance. Although she wasn’t part of the religious community and lived somewhat outside Bikur Cholim’s zone, they still delivered meals to Lori’s door six times a week during the last seven months of her life. Sunday through Thursday, three meals would be delivered to her door for her and her husband, who cared for her full-time during her illness. On Friday, Bikur Cholim delivered food for Friday and Shabbos. Nosson Dovid said that during the final period of her life, his mother was ecstatic about the experience of having only kosher food. She would call him before she started eating and ask him to help her say the correct brocha, expressing how happy she is to finally get to keep kosher. Fulfilling this mitzvah brought a tremendous amount of joy to her life.

This turn of events is what moved me so much. The posuk in last week’s parsha says, “Hanistaros laHashem Elokeinu vehaniglos lonu ulivoneinu ad olam la’asos es kol divrei haTorah hazos. The hidden things are for Hashem, our G-d, but the revealed things are for us and for our children forever, to carry out all the words of his Torah.”

It would certainly be quite delusional for me to claim to understand why anything happens in this world. The only thing we are certain about is what the Torah tells us to do.

But still, Hashem wants us to learn and be inspired from every experience we have.

Someone might ask: Separate dishes for meat and dairy while eating non-kosher food? What is that even worth? Someone might even argue that it is preferable to do nothing rather than a mitzvah halfway. They might even argue that having separate dishes for meat and dairy is worse than zero if you’re not actually keeping kosher, because it represents a corruption of the truth.

And perhaps, if Lori would have grown up in a frum home and known better, that someone might even be right. It might be true that it’s preferable for a person to know they are sinning rather than corrupting their thinking into imagining that they can set their own rules.

But Lori didn’t know better. She was never taught what the Torah is all about. And as a young mother, she decided that she would do the best she could and never mix meat and milk in her kitchen. And perhaps, at the end of her life, before her soul was going to return to her Creator, Hashem was communicating a message to her. Perhaps He was saying, “My dear daughter, no one ever educated you in the correct way to fulfill the Torah. No one ever showed you that living a Torah life is the most precious and fortunate way imaginable. And you had pure intentions. You wanted to do My will to the extent that you understood it. You didn’t do it in order to receive honor or recognition. You did it only because you thought that that is what I wanted of you. And now, I will show you that I have accepted your lifetime of avodah. I will send my agents, my angels from Bikur Cholim, to your doorstep to deliver the kosher food that you always thought was beyond your reach.”

The Bikur Cholim staff tell me that such a situation has never happened before. They usually help people through crises and don’t deliver daily meals to people for seven months straight. They can’t logically explain why this situation was different. But Hashem runs the world, and He decided that it should happen this way. Now, Lori’s only child has a growing family that is sending daily packages of zechuyos to her in the Olam Ha’emes.

What’s the lesson for us? The lesson is perhaps twofold. Firstly, a Jew has to do the best he can, even when he cannot do it all. In yeshiva, we were taught that teshuvah is not all-or-nothing, and teshuvah on one aveirah or even on part of an aveirah is still partial teshuvah. Secondly, when a person does worship Hashem to the best of his ability and he does so with pure intentions, he or she can bring great pleasure to Hashem.

There is a story told by Rav Moshe Chagiz in his Sefer Mishnas Chachomim (part 220), in a section where he speaks about the power of temimus. A Jew from Portugal, a converso or Marrano, knew very little about Yiddishkeit and eventually came to live in a small community not far from the city of Tzefas. He heard a rov speak of the lechem haponim that used to be brought in the Bais Hamikdosh every week. The rov said that Hashem derived great pleasure from those breads, and now that we no longer have the Bais Hamikdosh, we no longer have that great zechus to protect us. This simple Jew, with great purity in his heart, went home and asked his wife to prepare two special breads that he would place into the aron kodesh in shul in honor of Hashem, innocently thinking that perhaps Hashem would accept his offering.

He placed the two special breads in the aron kodesh and davened to Hashem with a river of sincere tears to accept them. The gabbai, while preparing the shul for Shabbos, found the bread, and knowing that it was inappropriate for bread to be in the aron kodesh, took it home. This happened week after week. One Friday, that same rov observed this ignorant man while he placed the bread in the aron kodesh and heard him davening for Him to accept his gift. The rov rebuked him for placing bread in the aron kodesh and imagining that Hashem “ate” his bread. Hashem has no body, and Hashem doesn’t eat, the rov told him, and he explained that it was probably the gabbai who took the bread every week. The gabbai then entered the shul and confirmed as such to them.

The fellow was crushed. He and his wife had had pure intentions. They did not know better and thought they were bringing great pleasure to Hashem by doing His will.

Shortly thereafter, a messenger from the Arizal came into the shul and approached the rov. In the name of his rebbi, he told the rov to go home, say goodbye to his family, and prepare himself, because by the time he was due to give his drosha the next morning, he will have died. It had thus been announced from Heaven.

The rov couldn’t believe what he had just heard, nor could the messenger explain it to him. So the rov went directly to the Arizal, who confirmed the message and told him: “I heard that it is because you halted Hashem’s pleasure, the likes of which He hadn’t enjoyed since the day the Bais Hamikdosh was destroyed. That is what He felt when this innocent converso would bring his two precious loaves to your shul each week, faithfully offering them to Hashem from the depths of his pure and innocent heart. For this, the decree was sealed against you, and there is no possibility to change it.”

The rov went home and told his family all that had transpired. By the time of the drosha the next morning, his soul had already departed to hear Torah in the Heavenly academy, exactly as the Arizal had said.

Hanistaros laHashem Elokeinu vehaniglos lonu ulivoneinu ad olam la’asos es kol divrei haTorah hazos.

We don’t know the hidden things. But we do have a Torah and have the ability to do a bit more every day. We can learn and we can ask, so that we find out what is right. And we must remember that it is impossible for us to do an unimportant mitzvah. Only Hashem Yisborach knows the value of each mitzvah.

May all of Klal Yisroel have a kesivah vachasimah tovah and a sweet new year.

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