13 Tishrei 5781 / Thursday, October 01, 2020 | Torah Reading: Sukkot
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Still Alive

I dedicate most of my time to elderly people with no one left to liven up their day, to give them the feeling that they're still worth something...


The 49 days between Pesach and Shavuot is a propitious time for working on our character traits. The word "character trait" in Hebrew is "midah." The numerical equivalent of "midah" is 49, the number of days of the counting of the Omer.  The Bnei Yissacher writes that the full gematria (numerical equivalent) of the word Omer adds up to 720, which is exactly 10 times 72, the value of .Chesed (as cited by David Gurwitz).  Thus, this time of the year is a good time to work on the character trait of Chesed - doing kind acts for others.  The following amazing story illustrates the power of Chesed:
Yaakov Braunstein (a pseudonym) resides in Brooklyn, New York. One day, Yaakov’s brother brought his attention to a “help-wanted” ad in a local paper.  An elderly gentleman, we'll call him Mr. Roth, was looking for an attendant.  Yaakov went for an interview and landed the job.
The following is the amazing account, retold in Yaakov’s own words about his experience working for Mr. Roth:

"It wasn't long until I realized that life in Mr. Roth's house was no easy street. He was just under eighty, a difficult and stern person — easily angered, nervous, convinced that the entire world was against him.

"During my first few months on the job, I got to know all of Mr. Roth's employees. And there were quite a few of them: a private attorney, a gardener, a cleaner, a cook. All contributed information.  I learned that Mr. Roth was very, very wealthy; he had owned factories across the globe.

"Ten years previously, he'd handed over his business to his sons.  Mr. Roth remained a multimillionaire, with enough money to line his grave with diamonds. 'They say he used to be a nice person,' the gardener told me, 'but you can see those days are gone.'
"And gone they were.  Mr. Roth was a strict, angry, and very suspicious person.  During my first day on the job, I realized that even though I did not have much to do, I had a major task: to be constantly at Mr. Roth's beck and call. Mr. Roth could call me at any given moment and ask for something. He didn't have much to ask for, because the household followed a very strict routine, and every worker knew that the smallest mistake could cost him his job. 

"Although the pay was excellent, the turnover was astounding. When I arrived, there was not a single employee who'd been on the job more than half a year. During my first two months on the job, two of them had to leave.  Mr. Roth could not tolerate errors.

"Mr. Roth tested me many times during my first six months. He often asked me to stay overtime; he asked me to arrive early even though it would destroy my entire morning routine and I had to search for a different Shacharit minyanim, and believe me, those extra hours gained him nothing. I didn't do much then, just as I didn't do much during my other hours. He left money in strange places, as if it had been forgotten. I found a hundred-dollar bill in the bathroom, and one day I found a package of dollar bills wrapped in aluminum foil in the refrigerator, as if someone had hidden it there. Documents were scattered in places where any curious person would have been happy to find them. Of course, I brought the money directly to Mr. Roth. And I didn't glance at the documents, for the simple reason that it was forbidden to do so. 
"At first, I thought that he was really a bit tired and forgetful, but I quickly realized that he was sharp as an eagle. He was simply testing me. I smiled to myself and tried to keep up with all his demands, even though he complained about every single thing I did.

"It was a conversation with my father that clued me in as to what was really happening. My father was approximately the same age as Mr. Roth and once remarked that he himself was fortunate that he had was learning in a kollel after retirement. Otherwise, he explained, he would have felt that no one needed him, and his days would have been long and boring. My father, at his advanced age, still worked two hours every day, went to visit patients in the hospital, learned in a kollel, and received visits from grandchildren every day. All this in addition to going to shul three times a day. He was a very busy man. Once, when I visited him, he told me all about a friend who had grown depressed because his life was so boring and he felt that no one needed him. It was then that I suddenly understood Mr. Roth.

"Mr. Roth was a man who had once been active almost twenty-four hours daily, who'd been consumed by international business ventures, who'd been consulted every moment, had suddenly fallen into a paradise of silence and serenity, which essentially served as a prison. No one asked his advice; no one needed him. His four sons were very busy. True, they did phone every day to ask how he was feeling, but how much time did the conversation take? Each one took no longer than five minutes, totaling twenty minutes of the long day of Mr. Roth.
"The moment I understood that Mr. Roth was lonely, a lot of things became clear. I decided to implement a different method in my work. Until that moment, I had never initiated any conversation with Mr. Roth.  If he didn't ask for anything, I never volunteered.  That's how I had done my job until this point. But from the moment I understood how difficult life was for Mr. Roth, who felt as if the entire world had forgotten him and that his life had no meaning, I changed my perspective and behavior. Of course, I did it slowly and subtly, because I wasn't sure how he'd react.

"It began when I brought up the morning paper. I said, "Mr. Roth, would you be able to explain the mess that happened on Wall Street today? I don't understand what they're so upset about." Mr. Roth, who could discuss shares, stocks, trends, and the like with ease, and who hadn't had such an opportunity in ten years, began a long, detailed explanation.

"I learned more in that hour than a student studying for his MBA.  The information didn't interest me at all.  I never dreamed that I'd ever have enough money to invest in stocks.  But the fact that Mr. Roth was lecturing with such gusto told me something. Of course, I thanked him profusely for the explanation, and he asked me whether I planned on investing.  I laughed and told him that for now, I was investing in diapers, baby food, and a bit of bread and milk.
"Later, when my daughter Miri had a sore throat, I told Mr. Roth that I was worried about her. To be honest, I wasn't really worried. Any father of several small children doesn't get excited about a sore throat. But it was the most interesting thing I could share with Mr. Roth. 

"Later, he looked at me in shock when I asked him if he had any good solutions for my underweight daughter, whose sore throat was preventing her from eating. "You understand," I said, "anyone can get a sore throat, but Miri isn't gaining properly, so it's a real problem."
"'My mother,' he seemed to come alive, 'used to treat most of these simple illnesses on her own. Believe me, it helped more than all the antibiotics they use today.'
"But Mr. Roth now knew that I had a daughter named Miri, and for the next week, he asked how she was feeling. Then he asked me the names and ages of my other children. After that, I started telling him about all their antics.
"Now every morning we began our conversation talking about our families, well usually my family, because, sadly, his family members didn't really include him in their lives. During those conversations, Mr. Roth was no longer the stern master. He became a wise, experienced, and intuitive human being. Even his wrinkles looked as if they'd been ironed out. I very much enjoyed his insightful comments. Perhaps the greatest benefit was that he didn't get angry for the hour after our conversation, and didn't summon any of the workers needlessly. And when two months passed, we discovered that no one had been fired. I guess you can say that I had discovered a patent of sorts.
"At a certain stage Mr. Roth fired his driver. It was so normal that I thought it amazing I was still employed. Then he asked me to drive him. That wasn't so extraordinary; he had asked me to drive him around before even when the driver was in service. But now we had new, interesting topics of conversation. He would tell me about places I didn't know or explain how the neighborhoods had changed during the last fifty years. I told him everything I knew about the Jewish aspects of the streets of New York.
"One day, we got stuck in an area where a Chassidic Rebbe's son was getting married. The entire area was closed off, and Mr. Roth grumbled that they were ruining his schedule just for a wedding. But then I suggested that we get out of the car and try to see what was going on. And that's how Mr. Roth saw for the first time in his life that Rebbes do have more than twenty-three Chassidim, which is what he'd always thought. He was astounded by the sight of thousands of people filling the streets. After we managed to enter the area, he simply forgot how to close his mouth, because he was in awe. Of course, we couldn't actually see anything. We were too far away...  Little did I know that Mr. Roth's life would be changed forever after going to that Rebbe's son's chatunah (wedding).
"That week, after Shabbats, I brought him all the weeklies that had devoted full-color spreads to the wedding. 

"Mr. Roth said that he wanted to see a Rebbe's wedding from up close. I told him that it was a big problem, because the closer areas were reserved for family members, as well as major contributors. Then he said, 'I'm not a family member or a friend, but I can be a donor.' 
"I explained that we weren't talking about a hundred- or thousand-dollar donation. Then he sighed and said, 'I don't have the best of health, or the best of family, but I have lots of money, too much of it in fact. Let's get a spot. Find out how to do it.'
"It took me less than two days to find out how to get a spot for the final sheva brachot. And so, almost imperceptibly, Mr. Roth had a new, exciting interest added to his life. He wasn't religious. I never asked him how Shabbat was observed in his house. But I didn't have to guess. 

"I arranged him a place at a wedding of a different rebbe. This was also large and impressive. He spent many long hours there, as well as at the events preceding and following it. Something inside him seemed to have changed. He asked me if he could see how we observe Shabbat.
"It wasn't a problem for me. Since there was no room in our house for a guest, I arranged for him to sleep at my parents' home. They had a spacious house, with room for both Mr. Roth and my little family, who would entertain the guest so my parents wouldn't have to.  Mr. Roth experienced a genuine Shabbat for the first time in his life. Needless to say, he was moved to tears. That Shabbat, he became my father's friend. They found many mutual topics of conversations, and I gained even more: my father now had a new friend, and Mr. Roth had enjoyed many hours of stimulating conversation with someone who could really understand him. Those conversations became steady affairs.
"I spent just a year and half working for Mr. Roth. By the time the first year was finished, he had become a member of the family. He often spent Shabbat with my parents, and there were many weeks that my wife, children, and I spent Shabbat in his home, bringing all the food and trimmings.
"Mr. Roth learned how to daven (pray) and recite blessings, he covered his head some of the time, he learned about the mitzvah of tithing, and he managed to donate sizable sums and form relationships with prominent rebbes and rabbis.
"During the last half year, he was busier than he'd been during the previous decade. He seemed to have come to life, and became a different person, no longer the bored, grumbling Mr. Roth, but a person filled with happiness and gratitude.
"Mr. Roth died in his sleep. When I arrived for work one morning, his house was filled with his children, attorneys, and medical personnel, all walking about aimlessly. I escaped as soon as I learned the time of the funeral. I cried and mourned for him wholeheartedly. I had no doubt that he would have become a true baal teshuvah. I knew that I'd miss him very much.
"Mr. Roth's sons sat shivah in his home. His attorney told them their father had requested they do so. They agreed. It was a strange week; they didn't know anything about the laws of mourning and they didn't have much patience, but somehow they managed to get through the week in a Jewish fashion.
"I arranged minyanim and a sefer Torah, and they managed to recite Kaddish with great difficulty. After the shivah, the will was opened. Mr. Roth had changed it three months previously and approved those changes with a notary, witnesses, and video tape.
"He bequeathed huge sums to Jewish institutions, he gave his children various holdings that he owned throughout the United States, and he left me his enormous house in his upscale New York neighborhood, along with close to a million dollars.
"Without a doubt, I'd received quite a large salary for a year and a half of work.
"But I gained even more than that. Today I no longer need to work for my livelihood. The money has been invested in special programs that provide monthly allotments to cover my expenses. I dedicate most of my time to elderly people with no one left to liven up their day, to give them the feeling that they're still worth something. 
"I explain to their families and to people who care, how many mitzvot they can achieve by spending time with the elderly. I try convincing people to adopt an elderly person who lives alone or whose family is too busy to spend much time with him, and see how much they can accomplish with fairly little effort. I personally visit private homes and seniors' homes, listen to the people sitting and waiting for no one, and tell them what's happening in the world. I ask them how best to care for my large family, I ask them who should be president and why, and listen to their financial schemes. Basically, I give them the sense that they're still alive."
(Used with permission from goodshabboseveryone@yahoo.com can be viewed on line at                          http://www.civlitigation.com/gs/index.asp)

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