This letter appeared in the August 7th opinion column of The Jewish Review, a newspaper of the Jewish Federation of Greater Portland. The writer is active in Portland's Jewish community. Rabbi Wilhelm is Portland's Chabad-Lubavitch representative.
More than once, every day, I say to myself: “I should do X or Y, but I don’t have time right now, this X or Y is more important.”
Let me tell you a story that changed my mind about not “having time.”
One June 1, I flew to Houston to be with my husband David as he awaited his fourth surgery this year. I brought a lot of books with me to read while David was in the operating room, because I knew that I would be waiting for the whole day to hear the outcome of the surgery. I was prepared to be alone with my thoughts and worries: as prepared as a wife can be.
What I didn’t know was that I was not going to be all alone that day.
Rabbi Moshe Wilhelm, the spiritual leader of Chabad in Portland, had on his calendar to “spend the day with Kim Rosenberg.”
For those of you who don’t know, rabbis don’t have a lot of free time. Rabbi Wilhelm is no exception. He often starts his day at dawn praying on behalf of the Jewish people. Then he might go to the Multnomah County Jail and meet with some of the inmates who need an open ear. On Thursdays and Fridays he can always be found at one of the hospitals in the city making a Bikur Cholim call with as many patients as will let him. I have seen Rabbi Wilhelm on such occasions sit with a person who is in great pain and great distress and who might not have a soul in town who cares.
Rabbi Wilhelm is a gentle man with sweet, warm eyes and a calm nature. He visits any Jew in the hospital. He is a firmly committed to the belief “Kol Yisroel Areyvim Zeh le Zeh,” all Israel is responsible for one another.” This means that Rabbi Wilhelm and all of Chabad are committed to taking care of the Jewish people through creating a positive connection.
When he meets with a person, he doesn’t ask which congregation the person attends, if he or she believes in G-d, or even if the person is affiliated at all. Rabbi Wilhelm is trying to make a connection, and he firmly believes that it is his obligation to offer comfort to those in distress or who are alone in the world.
Yes, I did mention that Rabbi Wilhelm spent the day with me in Houston.
Can you believe it? Rabbi Wilhelm said to himself: This is a priority of my time. I am going to sit with Kim Rosenberg in the hospital waiting room so she doesn’t have to experience the terror of being alone while she waits on the fate of her husband.
He had the time to make a flight arrangement. He had the time to leave his large family (he makes dinner every night, by the way). He had the time to find a place to stay, and he had the time just to sit with me and talk.
During those hours of waiting, Rabbi Wilhelm spoke passionately about how we could create a Bikkur Cholim group in Portland that mirrors the one in Houston. In Houston, Chabad has built the Aishel House, a multi-family apartment complex on the grounds of the hospital open to any family, Jewish or not, that needs a place to stay while their loved one is being cared for in the hospital. Each family has a furnished apartment, three hot (kosher) meals a day and a community of people who are there to aid in any need, be it holy or mundane.
Rabbi Wilhelm desperately wants to create a similar type of home away from home for anyone visiting Portland. I am swept up with his energy and his vision. More importantly, I can’t get it out of my mind that a person decides that it is more important to sit with me than to do whatever it was that was on his day-timer that day! How kind, how selfless! How blessed we all are to have him in our midst.
At around 4:30 p.m. David’s surgeon came to the waiting room to tell me he was happy about the outcome and David did fine during the operation. Rabbi Wilhelm was there to be relieved and thankful with me, and then he got on the phone and ordered me some food. A yummy kosher meal was delivered to hospital in 20 minutes and I was thoroughly nourished, not only by the food, but by his presence.
Rabbi Wilhelm visits my home every Friday before Shabbat. He brings a whole wheat challah made by his wife Devora, and he sits with David for a few minutes and shares an inspiring tidbit from the weekly Torah portion.
He never seems to be in a hurry; he never complains about being busy. He knows that there is always more for him to do. He is OK with that because he knows how to use his time.
This story is a public thank-you note to Rabbi Wilhelm (and his family for sharing him). Thank you for comforting me in a time of great anxiety and fear, and thank you even more for teaching me how infinite and holy a moment can be when doing a mitzvah.
Bikur Cholim, Hebrew for visiting the sick, is a term encompassing a wide range of activities performed by an individual or a group to provide comfort and support to people who are ill, homebound, isolated and/or otherwise in distress. Bikur Cholim can include such activities as: visiting patients in a hospital, rehabilitation center or nursing home; visiting people who are restricted to their home because of physical or psychological impairment or social isolation; taking people who are ill or impaired on errands or field trips; and providing telephone contact and reassurance to those who are ill or homebound.