A Bidding War For Chesed
By Toby Klein Greenwald
To be exact, this is a tale of giving an old stove away.
We live in Efrat, in Gush Etzion, halfway between Jerusalem and Hebron, and on the cusp of Bethlehem, where the book of Ruth—a book steeped in chesed—took place. So it should come as no surprise that our town is, baruch Hashem, filled with kindness.
For example, it is the only city in Israel that has a building called Yad b’Yad (Hand in Hand) that includes, under one roof, a g’mach (almost-free loan) center for bridal dresses, a “store” that sells donated, gently used clothing for a few dollars and sends the surplus to other locations in Israel, a similar “shop” for donated housewares, a kitchen for “rescued” food (food remaining from simchas) that is distributed to needy families, a branch of Yad Sarah, an organization that loans equipment for medical needs and for newborns, and—l’havdil—a sefer Torah, chairs and other needs of mourners. Appropriately, on the floor above this chesed center is the town library.
The town is filled with adults who volunteer at the local pina chama (“warm corner”) where cakes and drinks are served to soldiers, with teenagers who volunteer to help the elderly, and with women who dance to raise money for kimcha d’pischa, or who perform biblical musicals to educate and to provide a platform for women and girls to exercise their G‑d-given performing talents before women.
But one of the elements most replete with chesed is . . . the town e‑mail list, which has achieved a somewhat entertaining notoriety throughout the area, not only for its sharing of stories and humor (and hot political debates), but which through the years has served as a platform for people to buy, sell, or (usually) give away used or unneeded items (ranging from bookcases to DVDs to chicken necks) and, more important, to let neighbors know about the needs of others.
Requests for volunteers to help the ill, or the aged, or postpartum mothers fill the list. It is a place where one can find a ride to the hospital for medical tests, a last-minute babysitter, or invitations for Shabbat guests who are yeshiva students, seminary girls, or just someone who needs a friendly place to be. Lone soldiers, new olim, and even foster children have been placed or hosted thanks to the Efrat list.
An elderly woman wrote this week to the list about five local yeshiva high-school boys who swooped in one day, did cleaning, painted, repaired furniture, and planted window boxes for her. “They came into my home and made it my castle. . . . I don’t remember all their names,” she wrote. “To the parents: you have much to be proud of in your children.”
Naturally, the list is especially active in giving things away before Pesach. Which brings me to my story.
Our oven died a final death a few months ago, and since my daughters are the main bakers in our family, and most of them have their own homes in which to bake now, we decided to make do with the stovetop and buy a new stove before Pesach.
What to do with the old one? Simple enough—offer it for free on the Efrat list, explaining that only the stove worked.
I got two replies. One from a man I’ll call David, from a different town in the area, who picks up old electrical appliances, sells the parts, and recycles the rest. A few hours later I got a request from a man who lives alone, whom I’ll call Shlomo. I mentioned it to David when he called to double-check about when to pick up the stove. He said, “Then give it to him. He needs it more.” But I had David stop by to take away an old broken TV. He noticed some sheet music in the den and asked who played an instrument and proceeded to tell me that he is a chazzan and a music teacher and does this selling-recycling on the side for extra money. Nevertheless, David insisted that if Shlomo needed the stove, I should let him have it.
So I wrote to Shlomo, asking if he was also selling it for parts or needed it to cook on, explaining that if it was the latter, he should take it. Shlomo wrote back, “No, let him have it. I’ve a one-burner hotplate I rig for cholent action on Shabbatot that suffices. Parnassah (livelihood) is kodesh (holy), and I never cook much anyway. Thanks!”
We are now less than a week before Pesach and there was almost a reverse bidding war taking place between two men, each insisting that the other needed the oven more.
The story that comes to mind of course is of the two brothers, one who had a large family and the other who had none. Each would sneak over a hilltop at night to anonymously bring sheaves of wheat to the other. One thought, “I have a family. He has no one. He needs it more than I.” The other thought, “I have no family. He has many mouths to feed. He needs it more than I.” One night they met on the hilltop, each saw what the other was doing, and they embraced. This was the spot on which the Beit HaMikdash was destined to be built.
May Hashem pass over our infractions, see our kindnesses, and in the z’chut of chesed, may we soon welcome the final redemption. (And hopefully, one way or another, the stove will soon be out of our house!)
Have a happy, kosher Pesach! v
The author is a contributing editor for the Five Towns Jewish Times, the award-winning director of the Raise Your Spirits educational theater, and editor-in-chief of WholeFamily.com.