By Malki Rodal
Everyone has a price. Most responsible people have a savings plan, some sort of budget or a preconceived notion of what they would or wouldn’t spend on something. Because we’re all different, we often find ourselves looking at someone else and questioning “How they can afford it?”
It’s because we all value things differently, and for each person, it’s an individual choice. Some prefer to spend on the luxuries of life and skimp on the savings, others save everything and try to spend frugally. We all have an idea of what’s sensible and what’s ludicrous: what to spend on a night out at a restaurant; to spend on a new baby carriage; an online subscription; a new Shaitel. It’s a personal decision, a calculation, daily decisions for a long term outlook. If it’s beyond ‘our price’, we leave it, look for a better priced option, or haggle with the seller for a discount. Whatever the way, we figure it out.
But what happens when this idea cannot be applied? What happens when you could never figure out what ‘your price’ is? What happens when you are faced with the question of what is the price of a life?
Nechama Dina and Zalmy Baras were placed in this impossible situation time and again over the last two years. Diagnosed with an aggressive cancer, they were faced with treatment plans, medical interventions, surgeries and hospital stays. But each option had a price. Some treatments were successful and the future seemed bright. But then it came back, and with it came the questions. When do we say the price is too high? When do we say that fighting for the life of our husband and father is a price too high to pay? They believed from day one, until the day he took his last breath. That Zalmy would recover, that he would return to his sweet children at home, that he would return to the important shlichus to which he devoted his heart and soul. That he would return to his beloved wife who stood by him through it all. The price was never too high. But alas, G-d had other plans, and Zalmy took his last breath and returned to his Creator. Now, Nechama Dina stands alone, with the decisions of life to make by herself.
What is the price of a life? Of seven young lives who depend on her?
There is a well known Holocaust story about a whole town, rounded up and shoved onto a train of cattle carts. In the frigid European winter, the snow falling around them, the Jews welcomed the shelter of the cart after standing out in the icy sleet for hours that morning. But the inside of the rotted wooden cart provided no relief. Their wet clothes stuck frozen to their blueing skin. As the train rode on, the screeching wind gusts tore through the gaps in the planks. The men, women and children in the cattle cars huddled together, trying their hardest to maintain some warmth. As the sun set, the cold became unbearable.
A small woman, Sara, sat in the corner of the carriage, her arms held tight around her bent knees, desperately trying to keep warm. Fatigued and scared, she could feel her energy waning. She wondered how long this hell would last. She wondered if she would step off this train alive.
Interrupting her thoughts, a tall woman shuffled beside her. “Please,” the tall woman begged, “I am freezing. Please rub my back for some warmth. I cannot bear the pain of the icy cold” she cried. Sara blanched. This woman was surely healthier, more robust than her. Surely she had more strength than she did. Sara knew that she must conserve the small amount of energy she had. How could she unfurl from the ball she had wound into? The tall woman begged her, eyes beseeching Sara for mercy. And so she acquiesced. “Just for a few minutes,” she whispered.
Together they sat, two women huddled together on an frozen train racing through the icy countryside. Every time Sara let her arms fall, exhausted and sore, the woman would cry out, “Please! Just a little longer!” And Sara would resume rubbing her back, with slow soft motions around and around. She wondered to herself as she stroked the woman’s back, “Why? Why am I giving so much of myself to a stranger I do not know? This horrible journey seems to be just the beginning, shouldn’t I be looking after myself and myself alone?” As the night wore on, the cries and moans of the other people quietened. She assumed they had finally found a position to sleep and she envied them. She wished she could close her eyes and rest, but every time she slowed, the tall woman would rouse her to continue. As the first light peeked through the slats, Sara looked around. The sunlight seemed to promise the warmth and hope they so craved. She looked around as the carriage lightened. Everyone sat or lay quietly, huddled in groups. Too quietly, too frozen. She gasped as she understood. The quiet was not the sweet quiet of exhausted people sleeping; it was the deathly quiet of her fellow people frozen to death on this frigid night travel. She turned to the tall woman who was also surveying the scene. They cried and mourned into each other’s arms as they realised what had happened. “You saved my life”, the tall woman sobbed. “As did you,” Sara whispered. She gave more of herself than she could have humanly thought possible. Exhausted, sore and hungry, she had sat the whole night rubbing the back of a freezing stranger. And it had saved her life. *
When another person is in need, in a desperate situation that is unfathomable to us, we may doubt our ability to help. It may not align with our fiscally responsible spending plans or our allotted ‘price’ of what we planned to give to tzedaka this year. But when a fellow woman cries in pain, a mother of sweet young children, a shlucha who has devoted her life to the good of others, we need to be in pain too. Don’t just take what is ‘available’ for tzedaka; the money we can spare, but rather reach deeper. Reach into the comfort of your life and really give from yourself. Perhaps you can forgo the flower bouquet for Shabbos this week, or spend less on your weekly shopping trip, forgo the coffee date with friends and meet them in the park instead. Sure money is tight and life is hard for all of us. But in a time such as this, when a sister is broken and in need, it’s up to us, her global family to step up. To give of ourselves even when it hurts- to dig in and find the love and dollars to give over. In the scheme of life, we won’t miss these details. It may indeed be hard, uncomfortable, inconvenient or even potentially stressful. But only for a moment. Life will move on. Let’s lift up our sister, Nechama Dina, and carry her on our shoulders as we all move on through life together. Giving will not only improve her life, it’ll improve ours too.
Dig deeper at https://www.charidy.com/barasfamilyfund
*Authors Note: I tried to verify this story without success. It is a story that I have grown up hearing over the years. As they say about Baal Shemtov stories, if you believe them all you are a fool, but if you believe none, you are a kofer. Whether this story is true or not, the lesson is powerful and truthful.