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.
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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 and gentile, young and old, nasty and 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.”
Back in 2012 I spent a number of challenging days at Scripps Memorial Hospital in San Diego. Throughout my stay 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 and 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,” 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” – literally “bless G-d” but in that context we mean “praise G-d.”
There is an additional teaching to Baruch Hashem, I explained. Life is such that sometimes we think we are on a smooth journey but then complications arise. We drive our cars without a care and then the bumps start – the car shakes from left to right and we may 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.”
And I told her a “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; teaching and speaking were 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. “Rabbi Jungreis,” she said. “He was a holy man; even when he had no voice and was consumed by pain, he 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?