Latest update: May 21st, 2013
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.”
“So you, see Jeanette,” I said, “ ‘Baruch Hashem’ goes a long, long way. There are no incidents in life that cannot be embraced, as painful as some of them may be, if you remember ‘Baruch Hashem.’ If you remember that, you will always find a little light even in the darkest clouds. ‘Baruch Hashem’ is our credo that has enabled us to survive the centuries.”
I also told Jeanette about a cousin I had – a great Rebbe who lost his wife and all his children in the Holocaust. He came to this country and tried to rebuild a new life. He remarried and had children, but then his Rebbetzin had a breakdown and had to be placed in a home.
I would call him up and say to him, “Voss machat dee, Rebbe?” – “How is the Rebbe feeling?”
“Ich vell dich zogen, mein kind” – “I will tell you, my child” – ‘Baruch Hashem.’ ” His “Baruch Hashem” spoke volumes.
And then I told her one more “Baruch Hashem” story about my father. In his last years a trach was placed in his throat and he could no longer speak. My father was a tzaddik and teaching, speaking, was his life. He never discussed his pain but I knew it must have been agonizing for him, yet when someone would approach his bedside and inquire about his health he would mouth, “Baruch Hashem.”
Some years after his passing a member of our congregation, Mr. Herman Harris, was visiting a nursing home in honor of Chanukah. He distributed packages of goodies and wished everyone a good Yom Tov. After seeing all the patients, he had one package left. He looked around for a nurse whose actions reflected kindness and compassion. After seeing one such person he approached her and said, “Please accept this little token for the holidays.” She looked up and smiled and without any hesitation responded, “Baruch Hashem.”
Herman was taken aback because the nurse was not Jewish. He asked her, “How do you know that phrase?” She replied, “I had a patient, a saintly rabbi, who taught it to me.” Herman asked the nurse who that patient was. She said, “Rabbi Jungreis; he was a holy man who even when he had no voice and was consumed by pain mouthed the words ‘Baruch Hashem.’ ”
Jeanette’s eyes filled with tears and she said to me, “I like that phrase ‘Baruch Hashem.’ It’s going to be part of my daily vocabulary and I will try to teach it to others.”
This is why we must always ask ourselves, in every situation: What is the message I am imparting? What is the calling card I am leaving behind?
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