by Rabbi Sholom Avtzon
My friend Pinchus related the following personal story to me:
Last year at Elul time, my wife and I flew from New York to Los Angeles to celebrate the upsherinish of our grandson. On the plane, a young man came over and introduced himself as a Jew from Yerushalayim. Having noticed me learning, he asked if he could borrow a sefer since he mistakenly packed all of his seforim in his suitcase.
I replied that “the only sefer I have is this Chayeinu, and after my wife studies her chitas, I will happily bring it over.” The man thanked me and returned to his seat. About an hour later, I walked over and gave it to him even though I still hadn’t completed learning from the sefer.
A little while later I see this Yid standing a few rows ahead of me in an animated conversation with another Jewish passenger all the while holding onto my sefer. It peeved me somewhat since I wanted to complete my studies, but I let it go. He finally returned my sefer to me after what seemed to be an eternity. He then asked me where I was going in LA and how I was going to get there. I replied I am going to the Pico Robertson area and I am renting a car. He asked if I would mind giving him a lift since he was also going to that area. “Absolutely, my pleasure,” I responded. He thanked me and returned to his seat.
When the plane landed, I quickly took the few carry-on-pieces that we had. I glanced at my guest and noticed he had two hat boxes, a small suitcase, and a personal bag. He was struggling to get a grip on everything. One of the hat boxes continued to fall onto the seat until he finally got hold of it.
Passing by, I told him that I would meet him by the luggage carousal and went there with my wife. We picked up our luggage and saw he had managed to obtain a cart but was still struggling to remove his luggage from the carousel and place it in his cart. Although I felt this person was a little bit of a shlimazel, I graciously went over and helped him take his remaining suitcases off the carousel and place them on his cart. I then told him we were going to catch the shuttle to the car rental and he should follow me.
After waiting a few minutes by the shuttle stop, I felt uneasy. I gave this Yid my sefer and he held onto it while holding a lengthy conversation. I offered him a ride and he was nowhere to be seen. Begrudgingly, I retraced my steps to look for him. The shuttle area in LA airport has these huge cement columns that makes it difficult to see around them. As I walked around the first column, I noticed him pushing his belongings on the airport cart, advancing at a snail’s pace. I saw that there was a lip to the sidewalk that he needed to negotiate to get to our side. Low and behold as he pushed his cart over the lip, it overturned and the contents of the cart scattered around him.
Immediately there was a flurry of people running to his aid and in a moment his cart was upright again with all his belongings arranged neatly for him to proceed. I hurried to him and took over the navigation of the cart very much not wanting to miss our shuttle ride. I just wanted to be in control of the situation without being at his mercy.
When the shuttle bus came, I put on our suitcases and noticed that he was once again struggling. By now I was becoming irritated and, taking control of the situation, I loaded his belongings onto the shuttle. He thanked me and we drove in silence.
When we arrived at the car rental, I helped him once again with his luggage and advised him that my car was preassigned and we just had to take our belongings and proceed to the car. He asked if the car is far away from where we stood. I estimated it was a 2 or 3 minute walk. He requested that I please bring the car over to him. We were standing on a sidewalk that clearly indicated with a neon yellow line and a sign, “No parking or standing in this area.” Now I was annoyed. I didn’t want to make a chillul Hashem and demonstrate that Yidden disregard rules and regulations especially ones so clearly defined. Yet I also knew that mincha was fast approaching and there would be traffic. So I quickly went to the car’s location and brought it to where he stood. I jumped out of the car and swiftly put everything in the trunk before anyone could comment or point out that I was breaking the rules.
Shortly after I began driving, he said that he forgot to charge his phone and could I please hook it up into the USB connector. In the meantime, he asked if he could please use my cell phone to call his host to mention that he was on his way. So what else is new? I gave him my phone, wondering what my guest will offer as his next challenge to my ever-thinning patience.
When he finished his conversation, he mentioned to me that he had not yet davened Mincha and as an ovel he had to say kaddish for his father. I told him that I would drive him directly to a shul in the Pico area and from there he can arrange a ride to his host’s place.
I didn’t need to wait very long for the next challenge. When I pulled up to the shul, I eagerly pulled out his suitcases placed them on the curb and sat in the driver’s seat, letting out a sigh of relief. I did my mitzvah and held my feelings to myself without saying anything hurtful. Now I could take my wife and our belongings to our son and get settled in.
Much to my surprise, my wife exclaimed, “Aren’t you going to help him with the suitcases?!” And I replied, “Definitely not!” She was taken aback, but decided not to say anything and she got into the car. We drove around the block, unloaded the car and I went back to the same shul to daven mincha.
When I entered the entranceway of the shul I saw all of his luggage neatly packed under a table that had one of those Moroccan-looking arches. It was as if the shul was waiting for his arrival. It was a perfect fit. “So he really can manage when he needs to,” I thought.
After mincha, he came over to me and asked if by any chance I noticed his charger in the back seat? I can’t find it, he exclaimed. So the saga wasn’t over yet. Keeping my thoughts to myself, I replied, “I didn’t notice it, but the car is a block away and you can come and take a look for yourself between mincha maariv.”
We arrived at the car and after noticing it was not there he said, “Maybe I packed the charger in another suitcase.”
He then turned to me and said, “I am coming from Yerushayim to America in order to raise funds for a chesed organization that my father- of blessed memory, founded. Would you be so kind and participate with a donation in honor of your grandson’s upsherinish?”
What should I tell you? At that point, he was just pushing all the wrong buttons, but I decided I would give him something. So I took out a twenty dollar bill and asked him for ten dollars back.
He took out a wad of bills with one hand and began rumbling through the bills looking for a ten with the other. At that point my eyes almost popped out of my head. I stood there aghast. His second hand was missing all of his fingers and thumb up to the knuckles adjoining the palm of his hand.
I immediately went into instant replay mode, and in a number of milliseconds reviewed the entire interaction with this Yid from the time he first approached me on the plane. Everything he did to draw my ire now made perfect sense. He was handicapped and he was doing the best he could. Fumbling with his two hat boxes and suitcases, the overturning of his cart, the immediate response of the people to come to his aid, the inability to take the luggage to the car, my wife’s incredulity when I refused to help him take his belongings into shul, all this and more, my opinion that he was nothing but a shlimazel. How embarrassed I felt that I so easily prejudged another Yid, a fellow human being.
Now I understood that here was a person of tremendous determination. In spite of his handicap he took himself to America to continue his late father’s work; an ordinary person surmounting tremendous difficulties.
Entering my son’s house after maariv, I mentioned my discovery to my wife. In reply, she expressed disbelief at my refusal to help him with the suitcases at the curb of the shul. She hadn’t realized I was unaware of his predicament. But for the sake of shalom bayis she held herself back in shock that I wasn’t lending him a hand.
This is what I took away from my encounter with this Yid. We are proceeding through the days of Elul, the ultimate time to prepare for the Days of Awe, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. May we all understand that each and every one of us is handicapped in one way or the other. May our Father in heaven judge us with compassion and with mercy, He who knows all our flaws. May we all be judged meritoriously with a shana tova umesuka and the fulfillment of all of our desires, including, of course, the coming of Moshiach speedily in our days.
Rabbi Avtzon is a veteran mechanech and the author of numerous books. He is available to farbreng in your community and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org Please share your story as well.