May 13

What Happened!

A few weeks ago I received a very disturbing call from Stephen, an old family friend. His voice was faint and he was breathing heavily. He told me he was at home dying from corona and he wanted to tell me how much I, my family and my extended family meant to him. He also asked that I please convey his feelings to them. Understandably I was stunned and moved.

I immediately shifted to my clergy mode and told him that if he feels this way he should use this opportunity to wipe his slate clean by speaking to the Creator and asking for forgiveness.

Then I recalled that my brother-in-law Akiva, after he recovered from corona said. “At times I thought I was going to die – but thank G-d I pulled through.” I told Stephen, “Don’t give up! Give your utmost to beat it! You can do it – your family needs you!” He then began to cough and hung up.

Disturbed is an understatement. I began to pray for him. In the ensuing days I tried calling his cell phone and house phone and I got no answer. This was going on for a week – I was expecting the worst. Then a week later – his name popped up on the screen of my phone! I answered and it was Stephen! He was very weak and told me he got over the worst of it and he is in a better spot – Boruch Hashem – a good ending.

Since then Stephen has been calling often to inquire about my father’s health. Boruch Hashem my father is making continual progress.

I got to know Stephen over forty years ago. He had been introduced to my uncle and aunt, Mr. Israel and Shoshana Lefkowitz o.b.m., and he became a regular Shabbos guest at their Shabbos table. He became part of the family and became our guest as well. His memories of those years are very dear to him, and he loves to reminisce about those times and fond memories of all the family members.

This week he reminded me of the following: Twenty years ago, Yanky, a dear and exceptional cousin of ours became ill. Yanky, in his early 20’s had a sterling character, and was smart and devout. He once engaged an attending nurse in conversation concerning a Higher Power. He asked the nurse if he believed in the will of G-d. The nurse’s response gave the impression that he was not so sure. Yanky then pointed to his frail body that was wracked with disease and said, “This is the will of G-d!”

The nurse related that those six words accompanied with his demonstration was the most powerful and persuasive influence that he had ever had concerning belief in an all powerful G-d.

Talking about belief in G-d’s power and control, in this week’s portion the Torah commands us that in the land of Israel, every seventh year is a Sabbatical year – which means that there is a prohibition to do any productive work in the fields and in addition, all the crops that begin their growth in the Seventh year are ownerless – for the entire year. This is pretty challenging to say the least. Yet, one who has a firm belief in G-d and His word in the Torah, trusts in the Almighty and His guarantee that He will command bountiful blessings to hold the field owners over. This gets him through the challenge.

In truth, this idea is very relevant today. Look at the stats, 30 million people who are unemployed due to the restrictions of the virus. Mall parking lots and airports are empty. Businesses are closed and the stock market is struggling. In a certain sense it is a quasi Shemitta for all of us during this time. But the same rule applies – when we view our situation as it was willed by G-d and we trust in G-d –such an outlook brings a blessing of peace of mind – for G-d is with us!

The second portion we read contains a stern admonishment and warning from G-d what could happen if we do not follow the His ways.

Rabbi Moshe Sternbuch points out that immediately following this serious rebuke – when one may feel overwhelmed by the responsibilities and possible inadequacy to fulfill G-d’s will, the Torah presents a law of Airechen – valuation. A person can donate his soul’s worth to the Temple treasury – either his actual worth based on if he would be placed on the slave market, or the set amount that the Torah sets for age groups and genders.

The money donated through the valuation of one’s soul becomes sanctified and has to be used exclusively for Temple purposes. This concept communicates that each of us maintains an intrinsic and unique level of holiness and closeness to the Almighty, and all that G-d requires of us is doable, achievable and attainable!