Weekly Chasidic Story #1377 (5784-34) 23 Nissan 5784 (May 1, 2024)

"A Series of Impositions"

I felt this person was a little bit of a shlimazel, so I graciously went over and helped him take his remaining luggage off the carousel and place them on his cart.

Why this week?: This Shabbat we begin the weekly study of Pirkei Avot. Chapter One contains: "…They [the Men of the Great Assembly] would always say…Be cautious in judgement…. [Mishnah 2]; …Joshua the son of Perachia would say: …judge every man to the side of merit. [Mishnah 6].

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A Lubavitcher chasid named Pinchas related the following personal story to Rabbi Sholom Avtzon (see 'Source' credit at end)

Last year [1976] at Elul time, during the final weeks before Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, my wife and I flew from New York to Los Angeles to celebrate the upsherinish (first haircut on 3rd birthday) of our grandson. On the plane, a young man came over and introduced himself as a Jew from Jerusalem. Having noticed me learning Torah, he asked if he could borrow a sefer (book) since he mistakenly packed all of his seforim (Torah books) in his suitcase.

I replied that all I had is this week's (English-Hebrew soft-covered booklet,) Chayeinu, and after my wife studies in it her chitas (daily portions of Chumash, Tanya and Tehillim), 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 my own learning from it.

A little while later I see this Jew standing a few rows ahead of me in an animated conversation with another Jewish passenger, all the while holding onto my Chayeinu. It peeved me somewhat since I wanted to complete my studies, but I let it go. He finally returned it 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 that I would be going to the Pico-Robertson area after first renting a car. He asked if I would mind giving him a lift as 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 down 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 on the cart. Although I felt this person was a little bit of a shlimazel (an unfortunate a/o a bungler), I graciously went over and helped him take his remaining belongings 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 about this person. I had given him my Chayeinu, and he held onto it while holding a lengthy conversation. I offered him a ride, but 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 simply 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, so I took over and 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.'

By then I became really annoyed. I didn't want to make a chillul Hashem ('profanation of G-d's name) by demonstrating that Jews disregard rules and regulations, especially ones so clearly defined. Yet I also knew that Mincha (the afternoon prayer) 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 insert it 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 davvened (prayed) Mincha and as an ovel (mourner) 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 returned to the driver's seat, letting out a sigh of relief. I did a mitzvah of kindness many times, and had succeeded to keep my feelings to myself without saying anything hurtful. At last I could take my wife and our belongings to my son and get settled in.

Much to my surprise, my wife exclaimed, "Aren't you going to help him with the suitcases?!" I replied, "Definitely not!" She seemed taken aback, but did not say anything.

We drove around the block and unloaded the car. Then I went back to the same shul to davven Mincha. When I entered, 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 and Maariv (the Evening Prayer).

When we arrived at the car. he saw it was not there. "Maybe I packed the charger in another suitcase," he remarked.

He then turned to me and said, "I am coming from Jerusalem to America in order to raise funds for a chesed (kindness) 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. Still, 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 man from the time he first approached me on the plane. It was an epiphany! 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. I felt deeply embarrassed that I so hastily and easily judged another human being and a fellow Jew no less.

I also 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 explained her disbelief at my refusal to help him with the suitcases at the curb of the shul. It never occurred to her that I might be unaware of his predicament. For the sake of shalom bayit (peaceful relations) she had held herself back in shock that I wasn't lending him a hand.

This is what I took away from my encounter with this special Jew during the month of Elul, the ultimate time to prepare for the Days of Awe and Judgment. We all need to understand that each and every one of us also is handicapped in one way or the other. May our Father in heaven who knows all our flaws nevertheless judge us with compassion, and may we all merit to be blessed with the fulfillment of all of our desires, including, and especially, the coming of Moshiach speedily, even before the new year.

Source: Adapted by Yerachmiel Tilles from a weekly story email of Rabbi Avtzon <avtzonbooks @ gmail.com>.
Rabbi Sholom Avtzon is a veteran educator and the author of numerous books on the seven Chabad Rebbes and their chasidim.

Why this week?: This Shabbat we begin the weekly study of Pirkei Avot. Chapter One contains: "…They [the Men of the Great Assembly] would always say…Be cautious in judgement…. [Mishnah 2]; …Joshua the son of Perachia would say: …judge every man to the side of merit. [Mishnah 6].

Yerachmiel Tilles is co-founder and associate director of Ascent-of-Safed, and chief editor of this website (and of KabbalaOnline.org). He has hundreds of published stories to his credit, and many have been translated into other languages. He tells them live at Ascent nearly every Saturday night.

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