Your story ‘Those Little Things’ changed my entire perspective,” she told me.
I was on the phone with a woman who informed me that a story I had written a number of years before had made a tremendous impression on her heart, and consequently on her life as well.
Here is a recap for those of you who do not recall this particular story.
There was a father who used to tell his children to give “little gifts” to gedolim on the day of their yahrtzeit. Things like making a berachah with more kavanah than usual; things like being extra nice to a classmate; things like greeting someone with a cheerful hello – for the Rebbe Reb Elimelech and for the Baal Shem Tov and for so many other great Jews. Just do a small thing for their aliyas neshamah, for the benefit of their soul. The family grew up with this minhag, to do little things for tzaddikim on the anniversary of the day they had died.
This man passed away when his oldest daughter, Batya, was 16. It wasn’t long before she began doing the same thing he had told them to do for others; now she was doing it for him. She would make soup for her children and say, “I’m making a nutritious soup for my family’s lunch so they can learn well this afternoon and this should be a zechus for my father’s neshamah.” She did this all through the day. Many things. Little things. Tiny things. But done with the right intentions: that her father’s soul should have an aliyah in Shamayim.
The day before one of the yamim tovim her sister Miri called her up. She was extremely shaken up.
“What happened?” Batya asked her.
Her sister explained that she had not been feeling well and wasn’t planning on attending shul the following day. She was going to have to miss saying Yizkor for her father with a minyan. She didn’t feel good about it, but she knew that he would understand. That night he had come to her in a dream.
“Miri,” he said, “please don’t miss coming to shul to say Yizkor for me. You have no idea how every single neshamah in Shamayim who has someone down on this earth waits for their relative to say Yizkor for them preferably in shul. You have no idea what it does for the person’s soul! Please come to shul even if it’s difficult for you.”
And then,” Miri continued, “Abba told me that you, Batya, give him precious gifts all the time. I didn’t know what he meant. What special presents do you give Abba?”
Batya gave it a moment’s thought and realized that these gifts must be all the little things that she did for her father. Al the times she said a berachah with more kavanah and asked Hashem to take that extra effort as a merit for her late father. All the other things she did, the endless tiny gifts that she sent his way; now she saw that they were all highly appreciated in the upper worlds.
This was the story that this woman (I will call her Ruchy) had read, and which changed her mindset regarding her own parents. She wasn’t the first person to tell me that this particular story had made a big change in her life. I know teachers who use this story in their classrooms and speakers who say it over all the time. Baruch Hashem, its message has spread far and wide.
“ ‘Those Little Things’,” Ruchy told me, “was a catalyst for another story.”
My parents passed away when I was very young, and for years I contented myself with lighting a candle on their yahrtzeit and that was it. After I read your story I told myself that this was not acceptable behavior. I live in Yerushalayim and my parents are buried in Eretz Hachaim, a cemetery located on the Beit Shemesh road. It’s not so far form my home, but I don’t have a car and there are not buses that go straight there. Yes, I knew getting there wasn’t going to be easy, but after reading your story. I felt that I had no choice. My parents had done so much for me, brought me up, cared for , loved me until the day they died. The least I could do for them was to journey to the cemetery on the day of their yahrtzeit.
And so I decided to make the effort and get there. I wouldn’t allow anything to get in my way and I was sure that Hashem would assist me. And so He did.
My father’s yahrtzeit came first. I got a ride to the beis hakevaros. The driver drove into the cemetery and my breath caught in my throat. It had been so long since I had been there last. Too long. The road twisted and wound its way up through tall pine trees and leafy vegetation until it finally straightened out near the building where they delivered the hespedim, the eulogies. It’s a low building with a sink outside for people to wash their hands when they leave, and it is surrounded by the most beautiful scenery. If someone absolutely has to be buried, this is a lovely place to choose. The road that leads into the cemetery continues on past the building and splits the cemetery in two. On both sides of the road are large plots of land, some filled with graves, others empty… waiting…
Many plots have signs with the name of the organization that purchased that particular plot of land for its members. Some people have to walk quite a distance to reach the grave they came to visit. My parents, however, were buried right across the road from the beis hahesped. I walked over to their graves and got busy with some davening. It was a great moment. I felt with absolute confidence that this had been the best thing I could have done for them. I davened for a while, first by my father’s grave and then by my mother, and I was about to leave when I noticed a group of men standing off to the side. There was a minyan of them and they were saying Kaddish at a gravesite not far away.
The thought struck me with force.
“How long has it been since someone has said Kaddish by my parents’ graves? Probably not since their funerals, and those were many years ago. Don’t they deserve to have a minyan come and say Kaddish for them as well? Of course they do.” I decided there and then that I must do my best to make this happen.
I left the cemetery proper and headed over to the building. I looked around until I discovered the office. There was a man sitting inside the office. A Litvishe Yid. A chashuve-looking man.
“Yes? What can I do for you?”
“Well, you see, I came to the cemetery today for my father’s yahrtzeit and I couldn’t help noticinga minyan of avreichim standing at one of the other graves answering Amen to Kaddish. I too would like to have the zechus of having a minyan say Kaddish at my parents’ graves on the day of their yahrtzeit. Can you make this possible?”
He was quiet for a few seconds.
“We have a kollel here at Eretz Hachaim,” he said to me. “the students are the one who go out there to say Kaddish by the graves. But the service they provide is not for free.”
“Of course not,” I interjected. “I would never dream to presume that.”
“It costs 800 shekel for a minyan to come say Kaddish at a grave.”
“Eight hundred shekel!! That’s a lot of money!”
“Yes it is,” he agreed with me. “But this is one of the ways our kollel supports itself. So not only are you providing your parents with the merit of a Kaddish, they are supporting talmidei chachamim at the same time. That’s an even greater zechus.”
I didn’t allow myself to think too much. Yes it would be difficult for us to divert 800 shekel from our monthly budget for this, but it was more than worth it.
The lesson of “Those Little Things” swung through my mind. “I’ll do it.”
Somehow we found the money for the minyan to come out for my father’s yahrtzeit. A few months later it was my mother’s turn. For the first time in many years, there was a minyan at her kever as well. I could only imagine the pure simchah she was experiencing from our gift to her, and it provided me with a certain feeling of peace as well.
We got know each other, the man from the office and I. He was a kind man, always willing to help me out with any questions I might have or assistance of any kind if he was able. One particular moment stands out in my mind.
A friend had driven me to Eretz Hachaim for my father’s yahrtzeit. I had davened, spent time there, and was ready to leave. We got back to the car and were about to pull out of the cemetery, but when she switched on the ignition, a red warning light lit up on the dashboard.
“I can’t believe this,” she exclaimed, “This is a brand-new car. What’s going on here?”
She got out the manual and identified the source of the problem.
“It seems we are out of steering-wheel fluid,” she announced dramatically. “Where in the world are we going to find a bottle of steering-wheel fluid here in the middle of nowhere?”
It was kind of a problem. It was 12:30 and we really needed to get out of the cemetery and back home in time for the kids. Here we were stranded in a cemetery with no way of obtaining the fluid. What to do?
Then I remembered the man in the office. He seemed like the kind of guy who would know what to do. It was worth a try. I got out of the car. Utter stillness surrounded me. It felt like I was in the middle of the mountains. Here and there a sound broke through the silence: the buzz of a bee, the chirping of a bird hiding in a tree. A peaceful place, Eretz Hachaim. Perfect for eternal rest. But less perfect for two women with a car problem on their hands.
I found him in his office.
He smiled a greeting. “How can I help you?”
“It’s our car.”
He left his comfortable office and headed over to where we’d parked.
“Can I see the manual please?”
My friend handed him the manual. He read it in Ivrit. Found the page that dealt with that particular problem. Steering-wheel fluid. He stood there silently for a few seconds, then he grinned. He handed us back the manual and returned to his office, only to come rushing back, triumphantly holding aloft a bottle of steering-wheel fluid.
“How on earth?”
He explained. “You can see that we are a kollel that is located far away from all the stores,” he explained. “Because of this I make sure to stock up on everything we might possibly need. A few weeks ago,” he went on, “the kollel students were joking around with me. They said I store everything in the world in the office just in case we might need it one day. There was however one thing I didn’t have in stock.”
“What was that?” I asked them.
“Steering-wheel fluid,” they replied. “I had no steering-wheel fluid. And Heaven forbid someone should be stranded here on the mountain and need steering-wheel fluid. So as joke they went out and bought me a bottle and here it is!”
He added the fluid and we were on our way.
A year went by. The yahrtzeits were approaching once again. I had paid for a minyan for both of them the year before. It wasn’t easy, but I felt that it was important. The following year my mother’s yahrtzeit fell out on a Friday afternoon in Adar.
I gave the friendly kollel manager a call.
“What’s the story with the minyan for my mother?” I asked him.
“When does it fall out?”
The yahrtzeit is on a Friday.”
“Friday isn’t good for the kollel. They aren’t here on Friday.”
Isn’t there anything you can do?”
He thought for a little. “How about if the kollel goes down to the kever on Thursday night right before they leave for the day? The yahrtzeit already starts by then.”
“That’s fine with me.” Personally I would be coming on Friday, but it didn’t matter when the minyan came as long as they were there to say Kaddish on the yahrtzeit.
“It’s settled then.” A pause. “What about the money?”
I was quiet. Truthfully the money was going to be difficult to scrape together. We were having a hard time right then. Not that I was considering not hiring the minyan because of our financial difficulties. Not at all. I just didn’t know how I was going to pay for it.
“I’ll be honest with you,” I told him. “I don’t have the 800 shekel ($200) right this second. But I’ll pay you for the minyan as soon as I can.”
“No problem,” he said heartily. “I trust you. I’m sure you’ll get me the money as soon as you can.” And once again, a minyan went down to my mother’s kever to say Kaddish. But this time I was a little nervous. Where was the money going to come from? How was I going to pay this back?
I davened extra hard to Hashem during this time, asking for His help in paying for this expense I was taking upon myself. I had felt that it was very important for me to do this. It was not time for me to see if Hashem agreed. Was he happy that I was taking care of all the “little things”? I was waiting to find out.
Purim passed in the normal fashion. If you have ever been in Eretz Yisrael for Purim you will know what I mean when I say that. If you have not had the experience yet, just know that it’s worthwhile flying in for the day. Purim (actually, Shushan Purim!) in Yerushalayim is amazing. But it had passed and now, a few days later, I was beginning to put my house together to clean for Pesach.
There is a drawer in my house that I use on a daily basis. I’m in and out of it all the time. I keep things in there that I’m always using. Taking out. Putting back in. That day I opened the drawer. There, sitting in a place where there was no way that I could miss it, placed in prominent position, was something folded up.
I looked at the folded pieces of paper.
It wasn’t just paper. It was money.
But how much?
With trembling hands I reached into the drawer to the spot that I had seen a thousand times before. To the area that I riffled through 50 times a day. To a place that was impossible to miss. I picked up the money. Unfolded the bills. Two hundred dollars stared back at me. If they had been there before, there was no chance that I would have missed them!
I called my husband. “Did you by any chance leave $200 in the drawer for something?”
“Absolutely not,” he said.
“Are you sure?”
“No.” He was adamant.
But I found two big ones just sitting there in the drawer that I always use, you know which one…”
“How did it get there? I didn’t put it there, you didn’t put it there, and it’s the exact amount that I need to pay for the minyan?!!”
“I guess someone really cares about ‘those little things’,” he said.
I knew he was right. And that’s when I realized how really and truly important those little things really are.
As heard from “Ruchy”
(Reproduced from It Could Have Been You 2 by Rabbi Nachman Seltzer pages 142 – 150, with permission of the copyright holders, ArtScroll/Mesorah Publications, Ltd.)