There’s not a lot of cheery news at the moment. Many of us are stuck at home.
Still, if you are elderly and in the “vulnerable” category, there will be lots of younger Jews volunteering to stand in very, very long lines to get into supermarkets to bring you what you need. Jews are really good at chesed!
I have to admit that I could really get used to this. Maybe it’s because I grew up in the UK where almost everyone lives in homes like Downton Abbey (ours was soooo much bigger) and have servants springing forward to fulfill our every wish.
Actually, my wife and I are doing very well not going out. We like each other you see and, anyway, I’m very busy finishing writing a new book and teaching via Zoom a degree course in Medieval Jewish history (if only I’d bought shares in Zoom!).
No, it’s my children I feel sorry for. They are all married and have kept me supplied with a respectably large number of grandchildren whom I adore. Of course I do – I’m the grandparent.
You know the old saying about grandparents getting all the best bits of their children’s children. You get to cuddle them when they are tiny, and if you start to detect that they have become a trifle moist, or less than fragrant, you simply hand them back to their mother or father with a sympathetic smile. If you are visiting them and they become too wild, noisy, or start to fight, you simply remember there is something you have to do and leave the conflict zone behind for the parents to sort out.
Before Pesach, after some kind young couple from our shul had finished schlepping groceries to our front door, I was pondering how I really could get used to being pampered like this all the time, and then a thought struck me. My kids in England and Israel are probably busy pulling their hair out at this very moment, trying to keep their kids from pulling each other’s hair out. It was then that I had an epiphany. There was something I could do to help.
Before I explain what it was, I need to share something. You see, I have always seen myself as a rosh yeshiva. The fact that no one else on the planet shared my assessment is irrelevant. I have also always seen myself as having my own girls seminary too. No one agreed with me on that one either.
This then was my moment! I called all of my children and told them I was opening a yeshiva. It would be very exclusive and only accept the most elite candidates who possessed the essential qualifications. They had to be one of my grandsons.
At the same time, I was opening a seminary for girls too. Once more, only a very few could join. Classes were to take place in the mornings for the boys and in the afternoons for the girls. Of course, I fully expected the parents to plead that they could not afford the fees. I resolved to be sympathetic on that front.
And so, for three weeks before the chag, via video conferencing, I had the enormous pleasure of teaching the Haggadah to three grandsons aged around 10 and three granddaughters aged around 15.
Naturally their older or younger siblings were jealous and wanted to join in, so I got to see them and their parents every day while taking some pressure off the families and giving tired moms and dads a badly-needed break (classes restart soon!).
Chesed flows across the generations in both directions. If young couples can send it in my direction, people of my generation can send it back to them.
The Thursday before Pesach I received a phone call from a lady in Yerushalayim. I had put a video on my YouTube channel for those who could not leave their homes to join their children for the Seder and who would be spending it completely alone.
She had a similar idea. She wanted to put together a Haggadah specifically for those who would be telling the story of leaving Mitzrayim to themselves. She asked if I would write one of the many essays for the publication. There was a catch. She needed it by the next morning if it would be ready for Pesach. I was so moved and excited by her idea that I had the piece ready and e-mailed two hours later.
I recall the Holy Manchester Rosh Yeshiva, Rabbi Yehudah Zev Segal, zt”l, saying, “Have you any idea how much chesed you can do just by picking up a telephone?” It was an idea he practiced every day, calling talmidim all over the world who needed encouragement or were facing crises of one sort or the other.
The current crisis really isn’t producing too much good news at the moment, so perhaps we just have to make our own.
I have heard scores of really brilliant and inspiring ideas that people have come up with to reach out and take some stress off young families or help those who need encouragement in other ways. These are all waiting to be stolen and copied! I am quite sure that their inventors will not mind in the slightest if their “copyright” is infringed. Jews, after all, are really good at chesed.