As I write these words, I am, Baruch Hashem, on the road to recovery and returning to my normal schedule of teaching and speaking. My experience during these past six weeks, however, has left me with memories that “speak” and that I believe have meaning for all of us.
B’ezrat Hashem I will continue to share with you my challenging days spent at Scripps Memorial Hospital in San Diego. Whenever difficult days befell me, my revered father would always say “Hashem sends us tests so that we might know how to help others when they have to confront their trials.” It is with that lesson in mind that I decided to write this series of articles regarding my hospital and recovery stay.
Our Sages ask, “Who is wise? He who can learn from every person.” But can we really learn from every person? Is that realistic? Jew, gentile, young, old, nasty, nice – can we really learn from everyone?
“Ya, mein kind,” my father would say – “Yes, you can learn from everyone.” From a nasty person you can learn never to be mean and from a good person you can always collect some gems. I try never to forget that lesson and at all times attempt to absorb something positive from each of my encounters, good or bad.
My father imparted to me an additional teaching: “Bear in mind that when you encounter people they will also learn from you.” Finding myself in an unexpected and strange environment a few weeks ago this teaching spoke to me. I heard my father’s voice: “You are an observant Jew in this 99-percent gentile hospital. No matter how ill you feel, no matter what your pain may be, remember you are teaching others through your example and words.”
Additionally, I realized that as a Jew in a non-Jewish environment, whatever I would say, whatever I would do, would not only be a reflection of and on me personally but of and on my people as well. These were the thoughts that went through my mind and became the compass that guided and directed me.
Jeanette was the physical therapist assigned to teach me to walk again. “Rebbetzin,” she would ask, “from one to ten, how is your pain?”
“Baruch Hashem – thank G-d,” I would say and choose a number. She was fascinated with the words “Baruch Hashem” and asked me to explain the deeper significance of this phrase.
When we say “Baruch Hashem,” I told her, we proclaim our gratitude to G-d. That gratitude is one of the pillars of our faith. It is constant. It is ever-present. So whether we find ourselves in a hospital or enjoying the sunshine in a resort, we proclaim “Baruch Hashem.”
There is an additional teaching to “Baruch Hashem,” I explained. Life is such that sometimes we think we are on a smooth journey – but complications arise. We drive our cars without a care and then the bumps start – the car shakes from left to right and we might even fall into a pothole. Suddenly our cell phone rings. “How’s it going?” a friend asks. We don’t want to share that we’re in a pothole but we don’t want to lie either. So what do we say without compromising our integrity? It’s simple. “Baruch Hashem.” And if you think about it, there’s always a huge “Baruch Hashem” in all of our lives.
I further explained that when we wake up in the morning the very first words to come to our lips are “Modeh Ani” – “I thank You.” I Thank You for restoring my soul, for renewing my lease and granting me yet another day to see the sunshine and to pray – even if for nothing else than to say “Amen.”
I told her about my husband of blessed memory, HaRav Meshulem HaLevi Jungreis, zt”l, who in his last days at Sloan Kettering Memorial Hospital made an amazing request. He wanted to be taken outside to breathe the fresh air. I asked permission from the doctors and they agreed, provided it was only for a few minutes. My two sons lovingly carried him and my daughters and I went with them. I’ll never forget that day. It was a cold winter morning. Earlier it had snowed. We told my husband he could not stay outdoors too long. He assured us he just wanted a few minutes and then he raised his voice and with tears in his eyes said, “Baruch Hashem; Baruch Hashem for the life You gave me.”
Mind you, my husband was a survivor of Hitler’s hell who came to this country an orphan. His entire family had been annihilated and yet in his last days he desired nothing more than to thank G-d for every moment of his existence – for the spring, for the cold of winter, for the storms, for the sun, for the suffering and sorrow, for the kindness and joy. It was all “Baruch Hashem.”