The phone rings in the home of an older woman in Florida and she answer in a low voice — “Hello?”
“Mom it’s me — Brad. How are you doing?”
“Fine,” she answers weakly.
“Are you sure you are fine?”
“Yes,” she says.
“But, you sound very weak!”
“Well, I haven’t eaten in a month.”
“Haven’t eaten in a month? Why? Are you okay?”
“Well, we spoke about a month ago and you said you would be calling again very soon — and I did not want to answer the phone with my mouth full!”
So you laugh and chuckle — could that be realistic? Could that really be realistic? In a way, yes, it could.
It is incumbent upon us to examine our deeds, to understand what we are going through, and to take lessons for the future. Why else did the Ribbono shel Olam bring this mageifah upon us?
Everyone understands that we spent much more time at home during these past two months. Many feel this indicates that we needed to refocus on our families, on our children, and give them more time. But what about our parents and our grandparents? Parents who are still young and energetic have their own social lives and agendas. But elderly parents who are homebound need to hear from their children, from their grandchildren, and from their great-grandchildren on a constant basis.
Certainly throughout the year, it is commendable when we reach out to the elderly on Erev Shabbos. (I can’t imagine anyone who does this only on Mother’s Day or on a birthday.) However, in my opinion, we really have a chiyuv to be more involved in our parents’ lives overall. It is not easy for the elderly to be neglected and put to the side. Parents and grandparents want to share in our nachas and want to kvell — they want to be part of the excitement!
That goes on all year, but sometimes we don’t feel it. However, it became even more apparent when these individuals were isolated, in a bubble as it were, alone at home.
I do believe that, baruch Hashem, many rose to the challenge during corona. Many children and grandchildren went continually to their elderly parents and took care of them. They shopped, and many visited from the porch and through the window. In my own family, many of the married children reached out, I am proud to say, and continuously called my mother, who was alone at home, in isolation of a sort.
We had a special zechus that my mother-in-law was with us in our home throughout the pandemic, due to a previous fall. For about two weeks she suffered from the coronavirus and my daughters, together with my wife, went above and beyond in nursing her back to good health, baruch Hashem.
Many families did what we did, and much more. But I hesitate to ask what will be when the pandemic subsides? Will all of us remember these important lessons? Will we continue to call? To shop? To help? To keep our elderly parents and grandparents part of our daily focus?
I once went into a fruit store before Sukkos and purchased two lemons. I said to the proprietor, who was charging me 39 cents for the lemons, “With these 39 cents I am being mekayeim a mitzvas asei d’Oraisa perhaps equal to the mitzvah of esrog, for which we know people pay astronomical sums.”
“How is that?” he asked.
“Because I am on the way to visit my mother,” I replied, “and she asked me to buy her two lemons — so for 39 cents I am being mekayem the mitzvah of kibbud av va’eim — one of the Aseres Hadibros.”
The mitzvah of kibbud av va’eim is one of the very few mitzvos that says “l’maan yaarichun yamecha — so that your lives will be lengthened.” All of us saw how, in the past few weeks, the Malach Hamaves was given license to take so many away. We should take this to heart. We would be wise to double and redouble our efforts to put our parents on a pedestal, call them on a much more frequent basis, and share with them our happy moments.
Many from the older generation, unfortunately, were not zocheh to be mechabed their parents and grandparents, who were tragically killed during the Holocaust. Hy”d. How fortunate are we, baruch Hashem, to be part of a four-generation era with parents, grandparents and great-grandparents.
Let us hold this mitzvah high and continue to focus on this privilege as we emerge from the pandemic. May we all be zocheh to l’maan yarichun yamecha — to have our days lengthened.
Rabbi Yitzchok Gottdiener is the Executive Director of Yeshiva Torah Vodaath.