In this column, I will make no attempt to identify which particular things we did wrong that caused Hakadosh Boruch Hu to send us Sandy followed by Athena. That should be left to every individual and perhaps to each rov for his own community. I would like to discuss a different aspect of the relief efforts.
Everyone has their favorite anecdote of “Mi ke’amcha Yisroel.” Klal Yisroel, as we tend to do, responded to Yidden facing trouble with a remarkable outpouring of chessed. Whether it was cleaning basements, providing others with generators or hot meals, or contributing millions of dollars of aid, our community responded in typically outstanding fashion.
It leads me to think that whatever Hakodosh Boruch Hu had in mind, He certainly also wanted to give us the opportunity to gain the zechuyos that such acts of chessed provide.
When Rav Aharon Leib Shteinman was asked what one should do to be saved from evil gezeiros, he responded that there are no guarantees, but, generally speaking, the most effective zechus is chessed. He cited the Gemara in Maseches Avodah Zara (17b), where Rav Chananya ben Teradyon tells Rav Elazar ben Prata, “I wasn’t spared because I only learned Torah, whereas you were spared because you learned Torah and did gemillus chassodim.” Rav Chananya ben Teradyon is considered the paradigmatic gabbai tzedakah and yet the Gemara felt that he did not do enough chessed to warrant salvation.
One of Rav Aharon Leib’s students asked him, “But isn’t Torah the greatest of mitzvos, equal to all the rest of the Torah? Doesn’t the world exist solely in the zechus of limud haTorah? Shouldn’t a person spend all his waking hours only learning Torah?”
Reb Aharon Leib responded with a moshol:
Meat is certainly more choshuv, nourishing and valuable than water. If you want to cook meat though, you must have water. Adding more meat won’t do the trick. The water is necessary.
So is it with Torah. Everything in the Torah has its role and cannot be replaced even by things that might be more choshuv. Chessed has been given the role of bringing out Hakadosh Boruch Hu’srachamim in times of need. As it states in the name of the Vilna Gaon in the Siddur Ishei Yisroel on the bracha of Hashiveinu, “Hakadosh Boruch Hu created two doors, one in shomayim and one in the heart of man. When one opens his heart for the needs of his fellow man, the corresponding door in shomayim is opened to hear his cry.”
I don’t think anyone would disagree with the following statement:Hakadosh Boruch Hu gave our community an opportunity to have the zechus of performing chessed on a major scale and proportion. This will certainly go a long way in bringing us yeshuos and nechamos.
I was reminded this week that it is not just the nature and magnitude of chessed we perform that is important, but how exactly we do that chessed.
As I pulled up from the airport to my apartment in Har Nof, the levaya of my neighbor, Reb Chaim Nosson Glick, was taking place. Mr. Glick, who I got to meet only in his later years, still exhibited that special aristocracy that he carried as one of the special baalei batim of Shaarei Chesed of the times of Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach zt”l. At the shivah, the sons related a story that served as an example of the chessed of their father and grandfather, Reb Yitzchok Glick z”l.
In 1936, a friend of Mr. Glick, a contractor by trade, came to him with a problem and business proposition. Because of the problems with the Arabs, all construction had come to a halt and he had no source of income. He did, though, have a piece of property near Kever Shmuel Hanovi. He asked Mr. Yitzchok Glick if he would purchase that property from him.
Mr. Glick asked for a day to consider the proposition. The next day, he informed his friend that he had decided to make the purchase. They agreed upon a suitable price. Mr. Glick then gave him the cash and his friend gave him the deed.
In 1948, the area became a part of Jordan and lost nearly all its value. However, in 1967, things changed. This land once again became a part of Israel. The value skyrocketed.
Mr. Glick informed the children of his friend, who by then had passed away, that their father had a piece of property near Kever Shmuel Hanovi. “As we remember it,” they responded, “you purchased that property from him many years ago.”
“No,” responded Mr. Glick, “I never intended to purchase the land. If you check in the land record office, you’ll see that I never recorded the deed. It is still in your father’s name. Your father was a respected businessman who had always earned his own living. There was no way that he would accept charity. This was my way of getting him the money that he needed.”
The children would not accept it and a compromise was finally agreed upon. The children would return the original amount that Mr. Glick had paid and the increase in value would go to them. When they brought the agreed upon money to Mr. Glick, he asked them to please give it to one of their family members who was in need.
When Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach heard this story, he had the following comment: “In his lifetime, I knew many gaonim. I now know many gaonim. But such a gaon in chessed I never knew.”
Hakadosh Boruch Hu has given us an opportunity for chessed. Let us continue to perform it and perform it with the gaonus that we are capable of. May it be a zechus for all of us, especially in this very difficult time.
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The author can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.