Thursday, 16 February 2017

Uplifting the Widow and the Orphan

Uplifting the widow and the orphan and why this is important to me!

When someone is going through a hard time, many find knowing of the hardship uncomfortable. There are many who will find reason to blame the person for whatever they are going through. The kinds of blame vary from presuming the person did not put in enough effort, to the person has been absorbed in victim thinking to a range of other unkind judgements. For many it is easier to judge and then keep their distance. After all, out of sight, out of mind!

Judaism has a very different approach to one who is suffering. Torah teaches us that the world is built on loving kindness and that we have a responsibility to show kindness to all in very specific ways. The kindness outlined in the Torah extends to our environment, how we interact with nature, how we treat animals, how we treat those we interact with and then how we treat the widow, the orphan, the convert and the poor. Torah teaches us that everyone is vulnerable and tragedy can happen to anyone. Instead of falling into the habit of judging the other, Torah teaches to show them kindness. To uplift the other person, especially the widow, the orphan the convert and the poor.

Far from considering turning a blind eye, the Torah teaches us how to do so and to what extent we should assist the one in need. This teaching goes so far as to indicate that it is not that the person being helped is the only one to benefit but in a magical and mystical way, the one who gives receives blessing and protection from being involved in an important and appropriate act of kindness or charity.

These teachings speak to me on many levels, especially the care that one should give to uplift or empower the widow and the orphan. The latter has personal meaning to me. My late father was born an orphan as my paternal grandfather died at the age of just 35 years old, 4 and half months before my father was born. The loss had a major impact on my family. My father, had no father to guide him through life. He was a very talented man e.g. he was able to pass BA level Hebrew at Bar Mitzvah age. One of his many talents was the most beautiful singing voice. He learned how to read from the Torah scroll and would do so in the merit of his late father. My father's dream was to be a rabbi or a prayer leader in Synagogue. Sadly, this dream was blocked when he was offered assistance in obtaining tertiary education provided he became a lawyer and not a rabbi. He did sing in the choir in Shul and his singing touched me very deeply.

My father died when I was still in school and two of the most powerful memories I have of him are his singing in Shul and blowing Shofar. These made such an impact that when I found myself battling a chronic illness, it was my father's singing voice and the knowledge that he had wanted to be a rabbi or prayer leader that drew me to attend Shul and to begin my own Torah learning. Through this I discovered another approach to health and wellness, by incorporating the Torah lifestyle into my life.

My challenge with my health was not just the fact that I developed an infection that turned chronic but the financial drain. Having put myself through university, starting to work did not mean I had the freedom to save towards getting married and beginning my own home. On the contrary, my earnings went on paying off my tuition and health expenses. When I finally did come to marry, this was one time I really needed help and turned to a few I knew who were connected in the Jewish community.

The reception that I had from most was very far from what Torah teaches. The result has been that instead of having a start to my new home, I began married life without beds, with no appliances, with a set of second-hand broken crockery and second-hand worn linen. By the end of the first year of marriage, I had moved 5 times followed by a house burglary leading to another move and a work injury with no compensation. I recognized something more was going on. Using the teaching of Chassidus to find and elevate the positive points, I set to work to begin a service, in the merit of my late father, that would empower orphans, and hopefully widows too. The service includes everything that I needed but did not receive.

We began with just an idea, a vision, some health problems, some financial struggles and a small space in the corner of our strong-room. Over time, the idea began to develop. With much work and effort we began a store from unwanted, donated items. Some of these went to help begin the homes of over 38 couples and some were sold to help to cover expenses. As we progressed, the opportunity arose to add 60 bridal gowns to what we were doing.

Using my background of occupational therapy, I am developing this to become a complete service. One that will provide support, love and care to the widow and the orphan. Our centre aims to share the invaluable teachings of Torah and Acts of Loving Kindness, not only to the widow and the orphan but to others too. We have begun a series of books for children to teach about kindness to animals.  Torah in fact gives importance to every detail and every experience or occurrence. We learn this from the poem of "The Little Leaf" by Yom Tov Erlich z"l. This poem talks about a leaf that had fallen from a tree. After going through a discussion of why and how this might have happened, it turns out that down on the ground was a little worm that had cried out to Hashem due to the heat of the sun. The wind came along and helped the little leaf to fall exactly onto the little worm, thus providing shelter from the harsh sun's rays.

In Pirkei Avot we learn that caring for all aspects of creation has a benefit to the world at large and failing to do so has the opposite effect. This extends to such acts as letting the land rest in the 7th year, appropriate justice and taking care of the poor. Types of repercussions to ignoring G-d's system is the range of disasters such as natural disaster, war and famine.[1]

In every situation we have the opportunity to bring unity, growth and development, or the opposite, G-d forbid. Increasing in the former is one of the main goals of the centre that we are developing.

This post is prepared for you by
Occupational Therapist, healing facilitator, certified infant massage instructor, freelance writer and co-author of "Tuvia Finds His Freedom" and author of "Healing Your Life Through Activity - An Occupational Therapist's Story"


[1] Pirkei Avot, Ethics of our Fathers Chapter 5 verses 8-9

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