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September 19, 2014 / 24 Elul, 5774
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‘Never Forget Your Mission’


Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis

Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis

For the time being, at least, this will be my closing column on my experiences in the hospital in San Diego. Today, Baruch Hashem, I am on my way. I had the zechus to be at our Hineni Fortieth Anniversary Dinner, to greet the overflow crowd and impart my heartfelt love to them. True, I am walking with a cane, sometimes a walker, but I am walking, speaking, teaching and writing, and for as long as Hashem will allow me, I shall continue to try to serve Him.

I have been sharing with readers some highlights of my hospital stay; I do so in honor of my saintly father’s teachings that forever remain etched on my heart. “Whenever life’s tests are visited upon you, my dear child,” he would say, “remember that you must focus on its lessons and share them with others so that they too may learn from them and apply them to their own tests of life.”

* * * * *

I was out of surgery just in time for Shabbos. But how do you usher in Shabbos lying in bed in a hospital? My daughter placed a white cloth over the tray table and two bulkelech supplied by the local Chabad along with a seudah they kindly provided on a daily basis. We kindled the Shabbos lights over electric bulbs, but somehow it didn’t feel right. The splendid atmosphere of Shabbos was painfully missing – my family sitting around the table, their eyes sparkling with the joy and sanctity of the day, singing the timeless melody of Shalom Aleichem.

Since the day my husband, HaRav Meshulem HaLevi Jungreis, zt”l, embarked on his final journey, I have always spent my Shabbosim with my children and grandchildren, blessing each and every one of them. And now I yearned so to place my hands on their heads and give them berachahs and hugs and kisses as I do every Shabbos. I saw them in my mind’s eye and whispered my blessings to them. As I did so, I knew they heard them and blessed me in return. I expressed my gratitude to the One who allowed me to emerge from surgery without mishap and made a silent commitment to serve Him more than ever before.

As I have related in the past few columns, the hospital I found myself in does not have a significant Jewish clientele. 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 40 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 – 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 and he had a sack of precious jewels. A beggar came along and beseeched him, ‘Could you 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, selfishly, mankind took all seven days. We, however, sanctify the Sabbath 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, the phone, the car, 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, be it day or night, my father and husband were always involved in helping others. You might wonder what they could possibly 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 and strength.

I remember 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 the nurse tended to my father’s physical needs, my father soothed her spiritual wounds.

After my beloved husband underwent two surgeries at Sloan Kettering, I was told 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 couldn’t believe what I heard. I felt like crying and laughing at the same time, but then I understood. My husband, who was a tzaddik, 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 was totally different. I was not suffering from a devastating disease or illness. I broke my hip. My pain was excruciating, but it 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, 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.”

I would like to express my total love and indebtedness to all of my dear, precious readers. Your letters, calls, e-mails and above all your prayers have sustained me and opened the gates of mercy for a refuah sheleimah. Every day is a new challenge. For me, someone used to running, walking with a cane is not easy, but it cannot and shall not inhibit me. As long as the Almighty allows me, I will continue to serve Him and reach out to our people so that we might all bear in mind that awesome day at Mount Sinai when G-d proclaimed those electrifying, eternal words that forever shook the world and is engraved on all our hearts: I AM THE L-RD THY G-D.

Finally, please forgive me if I have not responded personally to your many expressions of kindness, but know that they infuse me with energy, hope and spirit. For all this and much more, I thank you and bless you with all my heart.

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