The Mitzvos We Do for OurselvesYonoson Rosenblum
Paying ourselves back with interest
Wednesday, January 03, 2018
Acouple months ago, a good friend called to say that his daughter would be getting engaged that evening. I asked about the chassan and his family, and my friend responded with a story.
About a quarter of a century ago, he was the mashgiach in a chassidic yeshivah, and he decided to institute a number of new learning programs. One of those involved learning hilchos Shabbos outside regular sedorim and giving tests on them.
Most of the responsibility for running that program fell on an eager bochur, who undertook to recruit the students, collect tests, and pass out prizes. That bochur, my friend told me, was his new mechutan.
As he told me this story, my friend kept repeating, "We think we're doing mitzvos to help someone else, and it turns out that we're doing them for ourselves."
In the excitement of the moment, that theme was very much on his mind, and he proceeded to share a number of other stories in the same vein.
ONE EARLY MORNING before davening, a neighbor sat down beside my friend in the beis medrash and began to unburden himself. His wife — a well-known tzadeikes in the neighborhood, who was part of a group of women who go to the Kosel in the wee hours of the morning on a daily basis — had fallen and broken her hip. She could not do anything besides lie on the couch, and the family was suffering greatly by virtue of her forced layoff.
After davening, my friend went to visit her and assess the situation. He does not really remember much about what he and his wife did for the family, except that they raised money for the woman to have hip replacement surgery.
A few years passed. One day, my friend was in the driver's seat of his van waiting to drive his wife somewhere. He had already put the van into reverse gear, with his foot on the brake, as his wife, in the late stages of pregnancy, walked around the back of the van to take her seat next to him. Suddenly, their three-year-old daughter saw a favorite babysitter across the street, and darted off the sidewalk and into the path of an approaching truck in the oncoming lane.
My friend reached out the window to signal the truck to stop, and his foot slipped off the brake. The van rolled suddenly backwards over his wife, who was trapped underneath the van. Neither a group of neighbors who gathered quickly at the scene nor Hatzolah nor even the police were able to lift the heavy van.
At least the Hatzolah team had the presence of mind to summon the owner of a nearby fish store, who had a crane with hooks to hoist large fish on his truck. He rushed to the scene and, using the hooks, was able to lift my friend's van off his barely breathing wife.
It turned out that the fish store owner is the brother of the woman with the broken hip whom my friend had helped years before. And the truck with the crane is the vehicle that he uses to take her and some neighbors to the Kosel every night.
But it gets stranger. When the ambulance carrying my friend and his wife to Hadassah Ein Kerem hospital pulled up to the emergency entrance, who was there at the entrance? Yes, the woman with the broken hip. She took one look at my friend and his barely conscious wife on a stretcher and assured him that everything would be okay, with Hashem's help.
Seeing her there at precisely that moment left my friend feeling confident for the first time that his wife would survive. And she did, though the baby was lost. The payoff on the mitzvos done some years earlier to help a neighbor was inescapable in my friend's mind.
IT TURNED OUT that my friend was just warming to his theme. The next story involved an elderly Persian Jewish woman living in Jerusalem's Mekor Baruch neighborhood. As a student in the Bais Yaakov Hayashan, my friend's wife was part of a group of hundreds of Bais Yaakov girls who did various chesed projects under the aegis of Mrs. Gita Kiyan, the legendary head of the chesed program in the seminar.
And the old lady had been his wife's special project. She would shop for her, and take care of things like arranging her National Insurance payments. The old lady seemingly had no one in the world. Even after my friend and his wife married, they continued to visit her regularly.
On one of those visits, she mentioned that her solar heater had broken and she had no hot water. To make matters worse, she suffered from a medical condition that became very painful when exposed to cold water.
In the meantime, my friend's mother, an Auschwitz survivor, had fallen and broken her hand while on a visit to Israel. Repairing the hand required very complicated and delicate surgery, and afterward she was left with no feeling in her hand and unable to engage in the favorite activity of many Hungarian balabustas, cooking delicious meals for her family.
The doctors could give no assurances as to whether the feeling would return. The best they could offer was that if she felt a tingling in her fingers, full functioning would likely follow.
While worrying about his mother, my friend was also busy raising money to buy Mrs. Aluf a new solar heater. The day that the heater was installed, he and his wife went to visit her. She was beside herself with excitement at the prospect of a hot bath. But she decided to push off that first hot bath until Thursday night so that it could be part of her greeting of the Shabbos Queen.
At 2 a.m. Friday morning in New York — less than 12 hours after Mrs. Aluf's bath — my friend's mother was awakened by a strange tingling in the fingers on her surgically repaired hand. And, as the doctors predicted, that tingling proved to be the harbinger of her regaining full functioning of her hand.
When my friend received the excited call from his mother, he could almost taste the sweet blintzes, kokosh cake, and lecho and rice he knew his mother would soon be preparing. And he had one more proof that we often turn out to be the primary beneficiaries of the chesed we do for others.
Partisanship and Religion Don't Mix
Charles Cooke at National Review and Jennifer Rubin, the Washington Post's Right Turn blogger, were both firmly in the #NeverTrump camp prior to the 2016 election. Yet Cooke now accuses Rubin of having become everything she condemns about Trump supporters.
For his base, the president can do no wrong; they ignore, justify, or glorify his every foible or failure. And Rubin, writes Cooke, has become their mirror image: Know Trump's position on any issue, and you can predict that Rubin will attack it.
Possessed of an incisive intelligence, Rubin was once a must-read. Now, she has become the last thing that any columnist can afford to be: a predictable bore. She is a walking example of Trump's remarkable ability to corrupt supporters and detractors alike and to cause all judgment to flee.
Cooke demonstrates how Rubin has flipped positions on numerous issues — the Paris Accords on climate change, the Iran nuclear deal, and US recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel — all to align with her obsessive hatred of Trump. Once she dismissed the Paris Accords as "devoid of substance," but when Trump pulled out of the Accords, she accused him of playing to a "right-wing base that revels in scientific illiteracy."
Once she castigated President Obama as hostile to the Jewish state for his refusal to recognize Jerusalem as its capital. But when Trump did so, Rubin opined that it was "a foreign policy move without purpose." In 2015, Rubin pronounced herself "horrified" by the Iran nuclear deal and declared that it "has to go." Today she characterizes Trump's criticisms of the same deal as a "temper tantrum" of "an unhinged president."
In short, Rubin has become a partisan cheerleader for the #Never Trump camp.
The self-destruction of a fine mind is a sad thing. But when partisanship infects religious believers, the damage is even greater, for it undercuts the sincerity of religious belief and makes religious believers look like hypocrites.
A few days after the defeat of Republican Roy Moore Jr., the self-styled "good Christian" candidate, in a by-election for the Senate in Alabama, the Washington Post ran an article entitled "After Trump and Moore, Some Evangelicals Are Finding Their Own Label too Toxic to Use." The article begins with four preachers in training at Fuller Theological Seminary debating whether they wanted to be known any longer as evangelicals, or whether the association of the term with certain politicians has made it too toxic for the evangelical religious message.
What has tarnished the brand is the alacrity of so many evangelicals to make peace with candidates who boast of breaking of the seventh commandment on a regular basis. In Moore's case, there was his evasive denial of multiple accusations that he made a habit, while in his thirties, of dating underage girls.
Now, there are valid reasons for religious voters to support candidates of less than sterling character. Cold War liberal Reinhold Niebuhr, Obama's favorite theologian, made many of those arguments in The Children of Light, the Children of Darkness. Moore's victorious opponent, Doug Jones, is an ardent proabortion advocate. His election brings the Senate into near parity, and gives the Democrats the ability to block any judicial nominee who questions the jurisprudence of Roe v. Wade.
And, to be fair, a large number of evangelicals in Alabama found themselves unable to vote for Moore. In a state in which a generic Republican can count on 65% of the vote, he garnered only 48%.
Still, the too-close identification of religious voters with a particular candidate or party inevitably blurs their religious message to both their own children and the larger outside world. And it gives those who don't share those religious views grounds for questioning the sincerity with which they are held.
Those are concerns that apply no less to Orthodox Jews than to evangelical Christians.