I write this column during Parshas Yisro – the portion that focuses on Matan Torah -The Giving of the Torah. Paradoxically, the parshah is not entitled Matan Torah or Aseret HaDibrot – The Ten Commandments, or even Moshe Rabbeinu, who brought the commandments down from Sinai. Amazingly, the parshah is named for Yisro, the heathen priest. What did Yisro do to merit such distinction?
The first words of the parshah reveal the secret: “Vayishma Yisro – And Yisro heard.” However, what Yisro heard was audible throughout the world, so why was only he given credit for hearing the message?
The events that befell our fathers were open miracles. Only a blind man could have failed to see them; only a deaf man could have failed to hear them, and yet no one reacted. Only Yisro paid heed, came to Sinai and sought to become part of Hashem’s Covenant. There is a frightening message herein that should give us pause. If people can be blind and deaf in face of such world-shaking phenomena, how much more so can they be impervious to the daily events in their lives, laden with messages from G-d?
If they would only attune their ears, and open their eyes, they could connect the dots and elevate their lives. And when I say “people” – “they,” I mean you and me – all of us.
In past columns, I have shared stories with you that have showed Hashem’s guiding Hand in our lives. I now continue in this same vein, but this time, I focus on ordinary encounters that might easily be ignored, but nevertheless, are also messages.
For the past two weeks, my Shabbasos have been spent in Boro Park and Flatbush. I visited these two vibrant Torah communities in celebration of my granddaughter, Nechamie Gertzulin’s wedding to her very special chassan, Aryeh Botknecht. Following the joyous, beautiful aufruf in Boro Park, I walked back from shul with my family.
Walking in Boro Park on Shabbos is an exhilarating experience. Just to behold the beautiful families – fathers and mothers, zeides and bubbies dressed in their Shabbos best walking with children and grandchildren, wishing “Good Shabbos” to everyone, is nachas.
As we made our way, someone invariably greeted me with, “Good Shabbos, Rebbetzin. How nice to see you. What brings you to Boro Park? Are you giving a shiur?”
Happily, I explained that I was there for a great simcha. As we continued, we met a gracious lady who my daughter Chaya Sora introduced as one of the kind hostesses of our many guests that Shabbos.
“Rebbetzin, I owe you a debt of gratitude,” the lady now volunteered. “Some years ago, you published a letter from an almanah (widow), who wrote of her painful loneliness, and the apathy of so many people who just don’t stop to consider the feelings of a widow, living by herself, and the many challenges her situation presents. For an almanah, even attending a simcha can be complicated. How will she get there? How will she come home, etc.?
“Among the many suggestions you made, Rebbetzin, was that when sending invitations to widows, a card should be included saying, ‘We will be delighted to supply transportation to and from the chasunah. Please indicate if you need a lift.’
“I never forgot that, and I made a silent commitment that when Hashem helps me take my children under the chuppah, I will do just that. We recently had the zechus of marrying off our daughter. We printed the cards, and you can’t imagine how gratefully they were received.”
Hearing her words, it occurred to me that I should once again bring this message to our readers’ attention. Sadly, the plight of widows has not eased. Admittedly, such a gesture does not eradicate the pain of a widow who feels abandoned and alone. Nevertheless, it does tell her that people care and that very realization is comforting.
We have to appreciate that this is not only a matter of transportation, but much more. The word for widow in Hebrew is almanah, from the root “ileim,” which means “deaf and dumb” – teaching us that, very often, a widow can feel so lonely, so insecure, that she is incapable of expressing her needs for fear of being burdensome.
The following week, I was in Flatbush, celebrating sheva berachos. Again, the same pattern was repeated, “Good Shabbos, Rebbetzin, How nice to see you in Flatbush. Are you giving a shiur?”
When I explained that I was there for a great simcha – the sheva brachos of my grandchildren, one lady recalled a column I had written regarding invitations to semachos. At that time, I published a letter from someone who complained about lack of derech eretz – respect and common courtesy – with which some people treat wedding invitations.
The letter writer stated that, after she and her husband spent many weeks deliberating whom they would invite to their daughter’s wedding, they sent out their invitations. But many people did not bother to respond, or if they did send back the card, it was with just a cold “no.”
Daily, she would search her mail, but still some failed to acknowledge the invitation. As the date of the wedding approached, she called them, but even that turned out to be frustrating. More often than not, she encountered answering machines. Finally, when she did make contact, she would be given a glib response: “Oh yeah, I meant to send back the response card.”
The same letter writer complained that some responded in the affirmative, and she made costly reservations for them, but they never showed. Still others came only for the chuppah and never thought of informing the host that they weren’t staying for the seudah. They gave no thought to the expense incurred by the host or the unpleasant sight of half-empty tables.
“Since that article,” the woman confided, “I always make a point of responding promptly, indicating my intentions, and add a personal message expressing my good wishes and appreciation.”
Having these two random encounters regarding semachos, I connected the dots and decided that it was once again time to bring this matter to the attention of our readers. To be sure, there are so many problems in our tumultuous, chaotic world…. so much hurt and suffering that too often are beyond our control. But these are small gestures of derech eretz – chesed, consideration…. gestures in which we can all participate.
It requires no financial output, no great effort – just some thoughtfulness and kindness, and for a nation that has been nurtured in chesed, such consideration should come naturally.