Last week I came across a moving story shared by Rabbi L. Scheinbaum in his weekly publication, Penimim on the Torah.
In the aftermath of the 1973 Yom Kippur war, Rabbi Yisroel Lau, then the Chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv sought to alleviate the pain of wounded soldiers by visiting the local hospital which specialized in treating burn victims. There lay brave men who sustained horrific injuries due to explosions and fires etc. The pain these soldiers were experiencing was beyond description, with their screams in pain heard throughout the halls of the unit. The Rav went from room to room offering whatever hope and solace he could provide.
Toward the end of his rounds, he entered a room where he saw two doctors, a nurse, and a middle aged woman, the mother of the patient, standing in conversation around the bed of a soldier who was screaming uncontrollably.
Upon seeing the Rav, the doctor assessed him of the grave situation. “The patient’s entire body had been burned, and unfortunately there is nothing that we can do. We have been raising the morphine levels to give him some relief and we have been unsuccessful in our attempts to calm him down.”
The Rav drew close to the ear of the patient and whispered, “Try to sleep so that you will not feel the pain.” The soldier continued to scream. Seeing that there was nothing that he could do, the Rav left the room to see other patients.
While seeing the other patients, the Rav could still hear the heart-wrenching screams of the patient and felt bad about his inability to calm him down.
Ten minutes passed and the screams subsided. The Rav thought to himself that he had succumbed to his wounds.
Emotionally, the Rav entered the room expecting to pay final respects to the brave young man, but was surprised to find the soldier sleeping peacefully with his mother sitting next to his bed.
The Rav was incredulous and asked the mother, “What happened? How was there such a radical change in such a short time?”
“Rav Lau,” the mother began, “My son is burned from head to toe, and his skin is completely raw. During the entire time I was searching for a spot that was still intact. I finally found a small spot behind his knee about three inches in diameter where I could touch him with my finger. I began to caress this spot and gently whisper to him, ‘It’s okay, Mommy is here. Mommy will not leave you.’ I kept repeating this as I continued to sooth his patch of unburned skin. Before long, my son stopped crying and fell asleep.”
Rav Lau would share this story and observe that it took the sensitivity of a mother’s care and love to never give up until she found that one unburned spot for her to caress and give comfort to her child.
Possibly, this unique care, concern, hope and love of a mother to find the unblemished area of a child is not exclusive to when a child has physical injuries; it can apply to other matters and issues as well. A mother has the capacity to find an untarnished area of a wayward child’s essence and focus on it to nurture him back to be virtuous and upright.
The Torah commands us to honor and revere our parents. The Torah continues to warn us not to curse or injure a parent. We are expected to venerate our parents like we are commanded to venerate G-d. Our Sages explain that this is due to the partnership that parents have with G-d in the creation of a child. The parents contribute the physical parts while G-d infuses the breath of life into the child.
Just as G-d never gives up on His children who have strayed from the path He outlined in the Torah, so too, parents have the capacity to be there, no matter what.
Etched in my mind is a very special moment that underscores this idea. There was a woman that I met during my hospital visits who was terminally ill. During the course of my visits it became apparent that she and her husband had an estranged daughter who they hadn’t spoken to for years.
At one point I asked the woman if she was interested in reaching out to her daughter. She said yes. I located her number and dialed the number and left the room. I kept the door ajar to listen in to see if the call went through. It went into voicemail. Then I heard this mother begin to leave a heartfelt message in the most loving voice, “Hi Ann, it’s Mahmmy, I called to tell you that I love you……”
This was a display of true motherly passion despite all the waters that had run under the bridge.
The Torah instructs one to help out a fellow whose load has overturned, even if he is at odds with him. The Talmud tells us that if you run into a predicament where a friend and a foe need assistance with their load at the same time, you are instructed to help the foe first. Why?
The answer offered is that the Torah wants us to overcome our evil inclination and to work out our differences. When such a situation presents itself, helping the foe has the potential to repair the relationship by being the recipient of the other’s kindness. This teaches us that nothing between two Jews is too far gone!
When Reb Menachem Mendel of Kosovo was asked why he went beyond his means to help a vociferous opponent who had sought his assistance, he responded, “I afford love and care to those who oppose me and in due time they turn around and become my friends and allies!”