When my neighbors Baruch and Yocheved Goldberg made aliyah to Ramat Beit Shemesh sixteen years ago from a small out of town community in the Midwest, they had never in their lives met a meshulach (tzedakah collector). With middle class people holding fundraising dinners and scraping together whatever they could in order to support their shuls and yeshivas, no sensible meshulach would have wasted his precious time collecting there. It just wouldn’t have been worth his time and effort. When the Goldbergs moved to Israel, things changed. While they were a bit surprised the first time they opened their door to find a meshulach with an outstretched hand asking for money, they quickly got with the program. Over time they realized that meshulachim come in many shapes and sizes. It could be a man with a letter of endorsement asking for support for a local kollel. It could be someone with a medical condition or someone making a wedding who needs help covering expenses. It could be a woman collecting for food for Shabbos for her family. It could be young and eager children with toothless smiles lugging heavy bags filled with pasta, canned vegetables, and an assortment of groceries earmarked for the poor and needy. And all of these people could show up at the door within just a few minutes of each other. During the weeks leading up to Purim, one may as well just sit by the door in order to receive the steady stream of yeshiva students collecting for their yeshivas.
Approximately two months ago, the Goldbergs followed the growing neighborhood trend and purchased a hybrid car. The sleek hybrid takes a bit of getting used to. We bought ours over a year ago and I’m still getting used to it. Yes, it’s a great car, but was it really necessary for them to build it with a piece of metal smack in the middle of the rear windshield which obstructs my vision? And was inserting a key into the ignition and turning it in order to start the car too difficult a task? This car is started and shut down with the push of a button. And most of all, the car is silent - whether it’s running or not. Yocheved was still in the early stage of adjustment when she came home one day from an outing with her kids. She pulled the car into her garage, took the keys in her hand, and shut the door. She forgot to shut the car off. She was none the wiser since the engine made absolutely no noise.
Baruch’s office is in their basement, right off the garage. Yocheved and their kids have little contact with him while he’s down there so as not to disturb him while he’s working, often until the wee hours of the morning. On that particular night, while he was deeply engrossed in his work, Baruch began to feel unwell. Not being the kvetchy type, he ignored his symptoms and continued to work. Then he came down with an annoying headache, but he ploughed on. Yocheved was completely unaware that he wasn’t feeling well and would have typically gone upstairs to sleep if not for the knock at the door by Yaakov, a meshulach who was a regular in town. At that hour, she was a bit uncomfortable interacting with Yaakov so she sent him down the outside stairs to her husband in the basement. Meanwhile, she called down to Baruch to alert him and she clicked the remote of the garage door so that Aharon could go inside. By then, Baruch had a splitting headache yet he graciously went out to greet Yaakov. It was when Baruch entered the garage that he realized that the car was running and actually had been running in the closed garage for several hours since Yocheved had come home with the kids. In the interim, the downstairs had filled with carbon monoxide - a toxic, colorless, odorless, and tasteless flammable gas. This whole time he had unknowingly been breathing in carbon monoxide, which is why he was feeling so sick.
Hashem runs the world and we are all beneficiaries of His hashgachah pratis (Divine Providence) at every moment, but sometimes His hand is more hidden and sometimes it’s extraordinarily apparent. When His involvement is obvious, His role in orchestrating our lives becomes crystal clear. It is terrifying to think what might have happened had Yocheved gone to sleep as Baruch continued to work late into the night, as she had done on countless occasions. Hashem, in His infinite wisdom and mercy, sent a meshulach to her door exactly when it was critical that someone open that garage and get Baruch out of his office. Baruch Hashem. The meshulach, which means messenger or agent, had an additional mission that evening.
It says in Mishlei, “Tzedakah tatzil mimaves,” charity saves from death. How true it is!
Suzie (nee Schapiro) Steinberg grew up in Kew Gardens Hills. She works as a social worker and lives with her husband and children in Ramat Beit Shemesh.