Editor’s Note: Rebbetzin Jungreis, a”h, is no longer with us in a physical sense, but her message is eternal and The Jewish Press will continue to present the columns that for more than half a century have inspired countless readers around the world.
* * * * *
I related last week how, back in 2012, I made every effort while spending several days at Scripps Memorial Hospital in San Diego to leave a positive impression. The hospital had a negligible Jewish clientele and I was determined that the other patients and the medical staff would come away from their interactions with me possessing a positive view of Torah and Torah-observant Jews.
When I made Kiddush, some of the nurses came into the room and wondered what our table and the ceremonies were all about. I explained that to Jews, our past, present, and future merge. They are all one, intertwined.
I told them the two little challah rolls on the table are reminders of the double portion of the sweet manna with which G-d blessed us as we made our long trek of forty years in the desert on our way to the Promised Land. While we gathered manna every day to sustain us for just that day, on Fridays we were given a double portion in honor of Shabbos so that we might forever know that on Shabbos, when we are commanded to refrain from labor, we need not worry because G-d will provide for all our needs.
And, I noted, the white tablecloth and the cloth that covered the challahs were reminders of the Divine Dew that sandwiched the manna and preserved its freshness.
So you see, I continued, our past is not just a memory. It speaks to us today with the same urgency it did yesterday, reminding us that we need not fear, but only place our trust in Him, the One and only One. The world is not just a random happening; G-d created it all with a higher purpose. For six days He labored and on the seventh day He rested so that we too might rest, discover our essence, and draw close to Him.
To illustrate it all I related an allegory:
Once there was a very wealthy man who had a sack of precious jewels. A beggar came along and beseeched him, “Could you possibly spare just one of your jewels?”
“My dear son,” the rich man responded, “it is my pleasure to give you all that you need. As a matter of fact, you can take as many jewels as you wish, but just make sure to leave one for me.”
Delighted, the beggar filled his pockets and went on his way. After he departed, the rich man opened his sack and, to his dismay, found it empty. The beggar had taken it all!
The rich man, I told the nurses, is symbolic of Almighty G-d who created the world and gave mankind six days to labor and pursue his needs; the seventh day He reserved for Himself so that we might hear the silent voice of our souls. But mankind took all seven days for his own selfish use. We, however, sanctify the Sabbath – symbolized by the one coin the rich man had requested the beggar leave for him – by singing songs of praise, by blessing Him and expressing our gratitude.
On the seventh day we not only refrain from active labor, we divorce ourselves from all reminders of this material world – the computer is silenced and the phone, the car, and the TV all become non-existent as our souls soar and are recharged by the magic energy that flows from the Heavens above.
The eyes of the nurses became moist. “How beautiful” they said. Their response invigorated me. I started to feel like myself again – able to give, to teach, and do my little share in sanctifying His holy Name. More than ever before, the words of our sages resonated in my heart and mind: “When you give, you become enriched, and the more you give, the more you will have.”
I witnessed a living example of this when my own beloved parents and husband were visited by devastating illness. No matter when I came to the hospital, day or night, my father and husband were always involved in helping others. You might wonder what they possibly could have done from their hospital beds, but when your heart is filled with chesed there is no illness, no bed, that can restrain you. My father would ask the nurses to take him to visit other patients. When he could no longer get out of his bed, he would send me to impart his berachah – some kind words, some encouragement, some strength.
I remember vividly a nurse who attended to my father’s needs. My father saw pain in her eyes. He felt her burden; he reached out to her. So even as this non-Jewish nurse tended to my father’s physical needs, my father soothed her and placed balm on her spiritual wounds.
After my beloved husband underwent two surgeries at Sloan Kettering, I was informed by his surgeon that he didn’t have too much time left. “You can go into the recovery room,” he said, “but stay for only a few minutes. He’s in a lot of pain.”
Fighting back my tears, I made my way to his bedside. I took his hand and whispered, “I spoke to the doctor. Baruch Hashem, everything will be okay.”
My husband looked at me and said, “Let’s talk emes. You see that young man,” he said, pointing to a resident. “He’s a good Jewish boy. Find him a shidduch.”
I felt like crying and laughing at the same time. My husband knew his days on earth were numbered, so he searched for one more mitzvah in that recovery room – one more mitzvah he could perform before Hashem called him.
Baruch Hashem, my situation in San Diego was totally different. I was not suffering from a devastating disease or illness. I broke my hip. My pain was excruciating but my condition was not life threatening. However, the lessons my saintly father and husband had imparted never left me. Their voices spoke loud and clear:
“No matter where life takes you, no matter what befalls you, always remember you are a Jew, charged with a mission to reach out, to do your part and help others. And in whatever small way, always try to sanctify the Name of G-d and bring honor to His Name.”