While paying a Shiva visit to my nephew, Rabbi Elchonon Schecter, upon the loss of his mother Miriam, he relayed the following story which captured her creativity in performing her numerous acts of chesed. In the early 1990’s when home computers were rare, the Schecters had a computer and printer in their home giving them the ability to print without going to a printing press.
One day, Mrs. Schecter came home and told her kids she had a project for them. She asked them to use the computer to design a single raffle ticket.
Her kids began asking. For which organization? What was the prize, and why just one ticket?
Mrs. Schechter told them they can make up any name for the organization, to make the price for the ticket one dollar, and that the winner will receive major kitchen appliances.
The Schechter kids got busy and they designed a raffle ticket and showed it to their mother. She was very impressed with it. It looked very official, it had a raffle number, drawing date, plus a stub to record the name of the purchaser.
They then asked their mother what it was for?
She told them the following, “A girl in our neighborhood recently got engaged and I heard that they have very limited income and are overwhelmed with the expenses related to the wedding and setting up the couple’s apartment.” Mrs. Schecter continued, “We are in the financial position to help them but I was told they are refusing any outside help. So, I came up with the following solution. We’ll print up a raffle ticket and one of you will go to their house, knock on the door and ask the father if he would buy a raffle ticket for a dollar. I’m sure he will purchase it.”
Sure enough, one of the Schecter girls went on a Sunday afternoon to the house and showed the raffle to the father, and sure enough he pulled out a dollar bill, and the Schecter girl recorded the name and phone number on the stub and gave the man the ticket.”
Excitingly, she came running home telling her mother she successfully completed the task. The kids now asked their mother, “How are you going to notify them that they won?” Mrs. Schecter had it all figured out. She told them that she had contacted a local appliance store and explained her plan to them and asked them to notify the family in a week’s time that the ‘organization’ which they purchased the raffle from had notified the store that they are winners and they should schedule a time to pick out a list of major appliances that they won!”
Needless to say, the family was elated when they received the phone call from the appliance store informing them of their winnings. They set up an appointment and picked out what they “were entitled to” and the Schecters paid the bill – thus they got the job done in a most dignified way.
This what you call doing Chesed by thinking out of the box.
In this week’s Parsha, the Torah relates an incident where Balak, the king of Moav, wished to bring down the Jewish nation by hiring the non-Jewish prophet Billam of Midyan to curse the Jews.
For Balak to use a curse against the Jews rather than conventional warfare, was also thinking out of the box.
The Non-Jewish leaders of the nations were quite aware of the origins of the Jews – their strengths and shortcomings. Balak knew that our forefather Yitzchok told his son Yaacov, “The voice is the voice of Yaacov, and the hands are the hands of Aisav.” Balak understood that it meant that the power of Yaacov and his descendants rests in their voice, the voice of Torah and Prayer, while the power of Aisav, his hateful brother, is with his hands – with the sword of warfare.
Balak had seen that any nation that attacked the Jews was defeated, for G-d was on their side.
So he came up with the following unconventional plan. He’ll hire the non-Jewish prophet Bilaam to use his powers to curse the Jews, and the uttered curse will counteract the power of the voice of the Jews and will bring them down.
Balak was possessed with his plan and desperately tried to manipulate Bilaam in any way to curse the Jews. Yet each time Bilaam tried to tap into the occult to enable him to curse the Jews, G-d interceded and instructed him not to curse the Jews, and he had to obey.
The Torah relates that when Bilaam finally saw the Jews and their exalted and holy encampment, he had no choice but to bless them! Bilaam went on to prophesize the future of the Jews as well as the future of select nations. Bilaam’s parting suggestion to Balak was to use his influence to get the Moavite women to entice the Jews to sin.
One of the statements that Bilaam made is that it was his hope that he dies a righteous death similar to the death of the forefathers of the Jews.
Commentators point out that Bilaam was a prophet and was impressed with the elevated way of living of the Jews, knowing right from wrong. Nevertheless, he wasn’t interested in restraining his drives and decadent passions – he wished to live life without restraints and moral limitations. Still, he wanted to die a righteous person. He was hoping that right before the end of his life he would repent and die righteously. He wanted the easy way out. It didn’t work out the way he wished, for the Torah relates that Bilaam was killed abruptly by the sword. He remained boxed in to his depraved lifestyle.
The Mishna in Ethics of our Fathers teaches us that one should repent a moment before he dies. Obviously, no one knows that very moment. However, it is meant to motivate us to bear in mind to maximize our lives by living in the most meaningful and spiritual way!