Enjoying this page?

4/29/2011 An Opportunity to Pay Back a Debt — a Story with a Dream!

An Opportunity to Pay Back a Debt — a Story with a Dream!


Thoughts at Yizkor on the last day of Pesach


This past Tuesday, the last day of Passover, was the first yahrtzeit of my late mother, Sara Relke bas Schneur Zalmen Menachem Mendel o.b.m. 


The shul was packed with daveners. It is truly remarkable that everyone shows up in shul for the Yizkor service! I guess people feel a need to remember and to express their love and respect for their parents, brothers and sisters, etc., who have passed on.


Yizkor also serves as a reminder for those whose parents are alive. It reminds them to cherish and to do the best they can to take care of the gift bestowed to them by G-d. They are reminded to take every opportunity to treat their parents with respect and dignity.


Over the years I would watch and marvel how one of my dear friends, a local physician, takes care of his mom. The respect he showed her inspired me to try and do the same. He would always tell me, people don’t live forever and one should make sure not to miss even a single opportunity to visit one's parents and to take care of them to the best of one's abilities.


*   *   *

If I had to come up with the one main central message of the Passover holiday it would probably be the idea of never giving up hope, and the realization that no matter what the present conditions are, things can and will change for the better.


As the saying goes, “In the end, things will be OK. If they're not OK, it’s not the end."


We can only imagine how hopeless the Jews felt in Egyptian bondage as slaves. In their wildest dreams they could not imagine ever getting out of there or being free. When Moses is instructed by G-d to tell the people that freedom is near, Moses argues, “They will not believe me!” The verse goes on to state, “They [the children of Israel] did not listen to Moses because of shortness of breath and backbreaking labor.”


Yet, as we celebrate Passover annually, we are reminded once again that things did turn around, and that from a situation that not even a single slave could escape, an entire nation was miraculously freed.


On the final day of Passover, we celebrate and remember the redemption of the future, through our righteous Moshiach. But the concept of Moshiach seems unbelievable, unimaginable, and unattainable!


We cannot imagine that any real changes to our current situation can take place. The Jewish people have been in the Diaspora for thousands of years. We have been shouting, it seems like forever, leshanah haba'ah b'Yerushalayim (next year in Jerusalem), and yet we are still in exile! 


How could rational people believe that all of a sudden, now, things will change? Can reasonable thinking people honestly say that redemption through Moshaich is imminent?


But is this not exactly the reason we celebrate Pesach every year! What does it really matter to us in 2011 what took place so many years ago in Egypt? Is it not to remind us that the unimaginable became reality, the unattainable happened? And we celebrate and show our families and the world that we really believe and that Moshiach can and will happen very soon!

*   *   *


Real and simple faith in Hashem and the Torah, without hesitation, was the hallmark of my mother, o.b.m. With all the fibers of her soul and body she believed in the Torah and always lived with emunah and trust in Hashem.


She had an unwavering resolve to do the mitzvos to perfection. As a mother in charge of the home and the kitchen, she would not allow for any leniencies when it came to kashrut in her kitchen.


As we were growing up and attending yeshivos, we would occasionally try to change some of her strict rules by telling her that what she thought was not proper was, in fact, OK. She would never listen, however; she would say, "I am not going to let you treif up my kitchen!"


Even after she was basically bedridden and had not used her kitchen in years, she would always tell the children to make sure that the caretaker, who was not Jewish, should not "treif up her kitchen."


And here I come to the main story of today’s article.


For the last couple of years, the burden of the extra care for my mother required fell on my brother and sister who lived close to her, in Brooklyn. Now, despite all of her ailments, my mother was a feisty lady and she hung in there real tight. 


A couple of weeks before she passed away, my sister Tzippy called and asked me to drive to New York to take our mother for an eye doctor appointment.


She explained that she could not do it because Ma was not mobile, and in order for the physician to make a proper examination, he would need a strong man to be with her to help him maneuver her into and around the office. She said our brother Mendel couldn't take off any more time from work. And since they were the ones taking care of her all the time, it was my turn to come and help.


The truth be said, I always felt a bit guilty for not sharing equally with my brother and sister in caring for our mother. At the end of the day, I perhaps had legitimate reasons for not being there, but the fact still remained: they were the ones who labored diligently to take care of her on a daily basis. They were the ones who took the responsibility to make her life as pleasant as possible.


Yet, I was a bit surprised that my sister would call me and expect me to drive all the way from Sharon, 4.5 hours each direction, just for a doctor's appointment? In the beginning I thought she was kidding me. Was there no one else locally she could get to go with her? 


On the other hand, I was happy for the opportunity to show my brother and sister, and of course my mother, that I am also a caring son and brother. So I said, sure I will come.


Little did I know, at the time, that this was a gift to me from Hashem to be able to spend some precious time with my mother before she left this world forever (that is until Moshiach comes and techiyas hamesim bimheiro b'yomeinu)!


The timing of her appointment could not have come during a busier or more hectic time. We had just finished the bar mitzvah celebration for our son Sholom Dov Ber and it was getting close to Pesach. In addition, we had two more family simchos in New York that we were planning to attend in the two weeks that followed.

The plan was to meet my mother at the doctor’s office and do what I could to help the doctor do the exam. Then I would turn around and drive back home.


I don’t know if Sara sensed something—if she did, she did not share it with me—but she said she would come along for the ride to New York and keep me company. 


From the direction we were coming from, the doctor’s office was located on the furthest edge of Brooklyn. We experienced some unusual (maybe in New York it was usual) heavy traffic on the way, and after about five hours we finally (barely) made it in time for the appointment.


We met my mother in the waiting room. (She used the “Ride” service to get there.) She was delighted to see us and she sent me over to the receptionist’s desk to find out when her turn was. She must have sent me three or four times to ask. Finally the moment came. It was not easy to move her around but with some help from the nurses, and Sara, we all somehow managed to get her into the examination room. 


The nurse then came over and asked my mother what she was there for. She says, for her eye examination. The nurse looked at the charts she was holding in her hand, then at my mother, then at me, and then at Sara. She then said, "I’m awfully sorry, there was some terrible mistake, but you don’t have an appointment for today."


"Wait a minute!" I said. "I am not leaving this examination room without my mother being seen by the doctor! I traveled all the way from Sharon, Massachusetts, to be with my mother at the doctor's appointment, so there better be an appointment for her!"


The nurse felt bad for me and politely told me, "You're welcome to stay in the exam room, but her doctor is not even in today. Staying here will not really help you. Besides, there are other patients who would like to be seen by the doctor who is here today."


I protested and said, "I don’t care who her regular doctor is, since I am here now and I can’t come back. Let the other doctor look at her! I’m not leaving before a doctor examines my mother, before I have to drive back home."


The nurse said, "You seem like a rational person. I would love to help you, but the doctor who is here today examines for eye glasses. Your mother comes here for treatment for her glaucoma, and this doctor does not treat glaucoma patients."


I went to the front desk and demanded to speak to someone higher up in the office. "This is not fair," I said. "They cannot do this to us!"


In the meantime, I was frantically trying to reach my sister. I was going to give her a piece of my mind and some more. (Just kidding! I would never yell at my sister, who is six years my junior.)


But I could not understand how she could do this to me. How could Mrs. Organized mess up so badly? How could she make me shlep all this way for nothing?


I guess G-d protected her (and me). She did not pick up any of her phones! So now what could I do? I was there with mother; I could barely move her around. I needed to go back home to Sharon. How could I get out of this mess? Why was Hashem doing this to me?


Finally, the big boss from the office came out to speak to me. The boss was the wife of the glaucoma doctor whom my mother usually saw. She apologized profusely and calmed me down. She said she was sorry this happened, she had no explanation for it, and this had never happened before. But since her husband was not in the office there was really nothing that she or anyone else could do about it.


After checking her husband’s schedule for the next day, she suggested, "After my husband finishes his morning rounds in the hospital, he will see your mother first thing in the morning. Make sure to be back in this office at 9:30 A.M. If you want to be seen you cannot be late."


By that time, I figured out that I was not going back to Sharon that day. I slowly began to understand that all this was happening for a reason, although I only understood it fully after my mother passed away some two weeks later.


Of course, whenever we planned a trip to New York, a visit to my mother was a priority, but since there were always many items to take care of while there, we could not always give her the full attention she deserved.


I decided that since this time there was nothing planned and no distraction, I would take care of her and do my utmost to be with her every minute and try to entertain her, talk to her, and help her as much as I could.


Somehow, I felt this might be my last chance to try and pay up some of my debt to my mother for all that she had done for me throughout her life! Hashem was giving me a chance for hakoras hatov (recognizing one who has done good to you) and to perform the mitzvah of kibud av va'eim (honoring one's parents)!


When I got back to my mother's apartment, I finally got through to my sister and told her what was going on. She was shocked and said, "It's impossible! There must have been some terrible mistake. I’m one hundred percent positive that she had an appointment at the doctor's today!" 


She tried calling the doctor's office but by then there was no one there. The answering machine informed us that we would need to call in the morning after 9:00 A.M.


I ended up playing Rummikub that evening with my mother. I gave her her night medication and tucked her into bed. I did not know nor did I expect that these would be some of our final, special moments together.


The end of the story was that in the morning I woke up early and davened, helped my mother get dressed, and once again helped her into the car.


I told my sister that I needed to be on the way, for it would take me about an hour to get to the doctor's office, but that as soon as she got through to the office she should call me on my cell phone and let me know what was going on.


I was halfway to the doctor when Tzippy calls me and said that it turned out that the doctor’s office made a terrible mistake. Mother's appointment the day before was not for glaucoma treatment, but for a regular eyeglasses examination, and the doctor on duty should have seen her and examined her.


Somehow they had forgotten to write down her appointment, and when they saw her, they assumed she was there for her usual glaucoma treatment.


They apologized for the mistake, but since she did not need glaucoma treatment at the moment and she did need the eye exam, the glaucoma doctor arranged for a friend of his to see my mother that morning in another section of Brooklyn.


As I changed driving direction, wondering about my experiences over the past 24 hours, I remembered a story my mother related to me many years ago.


She would speak of her parents' marriage as a picture-perfect one, with true respect and love. Their most heartfelt prayer was that they would never be left without their spouse. They prayed that when the time to depart from this world came, they would depart together. Apparently they got their wish. My mother was orphaned at the age of 16, when her parents died within a few months of each other.


My mother’s father was a boochhalter (bookkeeper) whose integrity was beyond reproach. He was trusted and greatly respected even by the gentile neighbors. As such, he would sometimes hold on to monies entrusted to his care.


After he passed away, he appeared to several family members in their dreams, telling them that there was money left in his possession that needed to be returned to someone. In these dreams he told them the exact amount and the place where they would find the money. Of course they verified it and returned the money to the rightful owners. 


Sometimes a soul who has unfinished business in this world cannot fully rest in peace until it settles matters down here. In the case of my mother's father, he accomplished this by coming to his children in a dream. The family then made sure that the soul had no debts left and could rest in peace.


Sometimes there is a debt owed to the deceased that needs to be paid before they pass on to the other world.


On the eve of Pesach last year, I ran in for a minute to wish my mother a kosher and freilichun Pesach. I gave her my final kiss and she gave me hers.


After she passed away about two weeks later, I finally understood the kindness Hashem had done for me, and the opportunity He had given me to pay back my debt to her.


For as we now know, she really had no use for an eye exam or new eyeglasses, because she passed away just two weeks after the whole confusion with the doctor's visit.

Had things gone as we planned it or Tzippy would have answered her phone, I would have left immediately after the doctor had seen her and would not have had the special opportunity to spend some of her final days together with her.


Thank you Hashem for the opportunity!


May her memory be for a blessing.