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August 4, 2015 / 19 Av, 5775
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The Smart Schlimazels And Cunning Shlemiels

We all know them – the sad sacks who seemingly were born under a bad constellation. Nothing goes right for them, they insist, and they are always being tripped up by circumstances beyond their control. The hapless, blameless victims of ill-blowing winds – they come running to you, insisting you drop what you are doing and come to their aid…

I am not talking of someone who on occasion faces some kind of unforeseen setback and reaches out for help. We all have a Murphy’s Law kind of day from time to time when things go wrong and events go from bad to worse. What I am talking about those so-called schlimazels who make a career of being parasites – living off of other people’s good will and competence. Habitually needy and clingy once they latch on to you, these human leeches sabotage and undermine themselves in order to perpetuate their dependency on others. (Whether they do so consciously or subconsciously is something only a mental health specialist can determine.)

Common scenarios that bring out these pests: The car service never showed up and they must catch a flight to a family wedding/funeral/interview – could you drive them to the airport, their flight is leaving in an hour! (of course they called the car service five minutes earlier and there were no cars available).

She is constantly running out of staples such as sugar/flour/milk/bread/eggs and could you help her out? The in-laws are coming/she has to bake/brownies for the school bake sale/she promised her husband a cake for his birthday.

Another favorite calamity – s/he meant to put gas in the car but didn’t because the phone rang and s/he was on for hours/it was dark/ s/he fell asleep, and now he/she is late for an exam/a medical appointment/a date/jury duty. You must drive them. Or they have to go somewhere but it’s too cold/too hot/they are too tired/nervous to schlep by train, bus, or walk – it’s just a five minute drive.

And of course, he forgot their wallet at home/her credit card just expired/the bank closed just as he got there/she took the wrong purse. Could you help them out just this once… Just a few dollars, for sure they will pay you back within a week … But when you chase after them they tell you that … they had to go to the shul dinner/ replace the freezer that suddenly went on the blink/had to pay for their son’s date – he has to make a nice impression. You end up resigning yourself to accepting the fact that your money has become a “donation.”

It is not unusual for these relatives/acquaintances/ neighbors to drop in unannounced, not wanting to bother you, they know you’re busy it’s – erev Pesach – but …. could they have a coffee/something to eat – a cheese omelet on toast would be a lifesaver… they hate to impose but… they forgot the house keys and can’t get in the house/they had a stressful day and can’t think straight/ they forgot to take their medication and have no strength… and so on and so on and so on.

The dance never changes. These operators subtly send out the message that they are the ill fated victims of a malicious mazel, born under an evil star, and as they journey down the highway of life, they are cruelly beset and undermined and hamstrung by a never-ending series of potholes, bumps and dead ends.

Nebbich, you think, as you put your soup on low/end the phone call with your daughter in Israel/postpone the shower/forgo the lecture/the exercise class… and grab the car keys and run out the door, hoping you’ll be back in time for the kids’ bus as you drive to the grocery store to take her shopping, loading the groceries full of liquid laundry detergent and bottles of soda into the car and hoping you didn’t wrench your back.

Of course, she would love to help but her doctor told her no heavy lifting for another three months. But you have plenty of time to think about her poor plight as you wait for her to come out of the post office/the bank/the crystal store… it will only be a minute and you’ll be on your way…

How sad, your Yiddische heartz (your Jewish heart) cries, as you roll up your sleeves and prepare to cook all over again for that unfortunate neshama whose stove broke in the middle of cooking the roast/whose out of town Shabbat plans fell through the last minute/whose invitation was canceled – and whose family’s stomachs are too delicate for take-out.

In the meantime, these self-absorbed beings, with no thought or care to the inconveniences, sacrifices, and mesirat nefesh strain they put on the unsuspecting, naive and kind-hearted people – have no sense of appreciation, gratitude or reciprocity. After all, the world was created to serve their needs. Many have managed to cultivate an army of people willing to give rides when a bus goes that route, lend money for “necessities” – such as digital cameras or plane tickets and a myriad of other things that they absolutely need in order to survive.

While the “helpers” think they are doing a chesed going out of their way – often bending over backwards, aiding those who claim they cannot help themselves, the “shlemiels” are the ones who are in control and calling the shots. And laughing all the way to the bank.

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