Jewish Thought

Seizing the Moment

My husband would give anything to turn the clock back and redress his forgotten promise

Seizing the Moment

My husband was once summoned to the hospital where Sam, an elderly Holocaust survivor, was dying. Sam had never married, and his only relative was his sister, a spinster, who did not leave his bedside. My husband asked Sam if there was something he might bring him, anything that would cheer him up and give him pleasure. Sam thought for a moment and then said, “Rabbi, would you bring me a good piece of herring?” My husband assured him that he would feel privileged to do so.

The life of a rabbi is demanding, with one moment and one task chasing the next. The days that ensued were particularly hectic, and a few days later we got a call informing us that Sam had passed away. When we paid a shivah call, Sam’s sister informed us that the last thing he had said was, “Do you think the rabbi will still bring me that piece of herring?” My husband was mortified and has since repeated this story many times. He would give anything to turn the clock back and redress his forgotten promise. Although he has sought forgiveness at Sam’s graveside, his regret lingers on.  David came to seek counsel about his ailing mother, who lived across the ocean. Paying her a visit would require a great deal of time away from work, and in addition David would fall behind on the many other commitments in his life.

Should he wait and see how she fared or should he go now? We advised him to go immediately. We had seen enough of life to know that the question one must ask under these circumstances is “What will I regret the least in the future?”To the best of our knowledge, at the end of the day, nobody has said that he wished he hadn’t put himself out or gone the extra mile to see a parent or friend. Conversely, there are many who have expressed regret for not having seized the moment, difficult though it might have been, to be there at the right time.

Rachel Naomi Remen, a noted doctor and counselor of those with chronic and terminal illness, often talks about her difficult life and what kept her going in dark moments. She credits her grandfather, whom she was privileged to have only up until the age of seven. Her zeidie loved her unconditionally. Every Friday night he would bless her and bless G-d for giving him such a wonderful granddaughter. In contrast to her grandfather, her parents always demanded perfection, and no achievement was good enough for them. When her mother was close to death, Naomi recalled a conversation in which she told her mother that her world had all but collapsed when her grandfather died because she felt there was no one left in the universe who would bless her the way he had. Her mother, tearfully and sadly, responded, “Naomi, I have blessed you every day of your life, but I didn’t have the good sense to say it out loud so that you might have heard it and known how much I cared about you.” There is a lesson here for all of us.

We have opportunities on a daily, moment-tomoment basis to lift the spirits of a spouse, children, friends—anyone who crosses our path. We can never adequately assess the impact or the ripple effect of a good word, a positive comment or a loving embrace. Nobody ever knows what the next moment will bring. Hopefully only good awaits us; but without a doubt, we will never have regrets if we leave a trail of kind and affirming gestures that gladden others’ spirits. I can’t help but wonder, given our wayward past and often poor record as a nation, if the Master of the universe ever regrets electing us as His chosen people.

The following idea is a source of great comfort to me: Hashem, our Heavenly Parent, exclaims, “Zacharti lach chesed ne’urayich—I remember the kindness of your youth, My dear children.” Despite all of our transgressions, our deplorable behavior and the grief to which we subjected our benevolent Creator during our 40 years in the desert, when all is said and done, He chose to focus on our heroic commitment as a young nation when we followed Him into the desert, “to a land that was not planted.”

Our willingness at that time to set aside reason and logic and follow the call of our deep, inherent faith in Him is something that Hashem will never forget, no matter how far afield we might stray, chas v’shalom. This deep, abiding faith and the “love that cannot be extinguished” are what keep klal Yisrael going. We know at a very deep level that despite the consequences we have suffered for our betrayal and flagrant flaunting of Hashem’s will, redemption awaits us because of His immortal words: “Zacharti lach chesed ne’urayich—I will always remember your kindness, the dedication of your youth.” These words reverberate through our tortured history, giving us hope and a glimpse of the light that awaits us at the end of the dark tunnel.

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