By Rabbi Yair Hoffman
She is not a member of Hatzalah, but she saves lives. She considers it her full-time job, yet she does not get paid. She wishes to remain anonymous, so we will call her “Hadassah.”
Hadassah, who is in her early 40s, spends her days driving cancer patients and their family members to and from the hospital. Typically, she will travel from her home in Lawrence to Boro Park to pick up a family with their child. She brings them to Memorial Sloan Kettering in Manhattan. She attends to her errands or goes to a gym session. And then she drives someone back. She does this every day.
She is a driver for Chai Lifeline. And she has been doing this for 16 years.
Why did she get into this? How did she start? It was on her father’s advice. Hadassah’s daughter was refusing to go to school. Hadassah kept her home and took her along on errands. Soon, however, Hadassah was going nuts. Her father’s advice? “Mitzvah therapy. It is the best thing.”
And so Hadassah began her now 16-year-long career.
Although every day she sees miracles, there was one incident in which she saw Yad Hashem unfold before her. She received a call from Chai Lifeline to pick someone up in a ritzy neighborhood and take her to the airport at 5 a.m. It was the beginning of the summer and Hadassah’s children were all in camp. “If I get very tired, I could always nap in the daytime,” she figured. She decided to do it.
When she arrived at the house, the young woman entered her car with seven suitcases. They were packed with toys. “I am bringing them to children in Israel who are cancer patients,” she said. Hadassah thought it a bit strange that Chai Lifeline was doing this, but she had learned not to question. As it turned out, this benefactor was herself a survivor. Hadassah drove her a number of times to local hospitals and became friendly with her.
A few weeks into this summer, one of Hadassah’s regular “customers” was hysterical. “Please help me, Hadassah! My daughter has turned 18, and she wants to discontinue her treatments! I don’t know what to do! Can you speak to her?”
Hadassah spoke to her, but to no avail. “You have no idea what it is like for me!” was the response.
And then Hadassah knew exactly what to do.
Hadassah called the woman she had once driven to the airport and asked if she could speak to her young customer. She responded, “Absolutely.”
They spoke. She told the 18-year-old: “Look, I do know what it is like. I know the pain, the nausea, and I know the feeling of not wanting to continue. But I am telling you right now. Don’t give up. Life is so beautiful, especially when you can help and give to others. Trust me, it is so worth it. Don’t give it up, and don’t ever think not to continue. The treatments work. And you will have a beautiful life. You just have to get over this hump.”
They were the perfect words that she needed to hear.
Hadassah has clearly seen the hand of G-d at play here. And by putting these two people together, Hadassah herself had saved a life.
At times, Hadassah will drive a wee bit quicker than she should, because she hears some of her younger customers crying during the long drives. She does not justify it, and she would never endanger her charges. She gladly swallows the cost of the ticket. I suggested she could benefit from one of those PBA cards, but she did not want one. “I should probably just adjust my driving.”
While in the Sloan Kettering waiting room, two volunteers from Chai Lifeline came around and offered food. They offered tuna, salad, and a mango fruit snack box. Oh, and by the way, whenever they can, Hadassah and her daughter also give out food packages there.
Rav Chatzkel Levenstein explains that the standard translation of “Mechalkel chaim b’chesed” is that Hashem sustains life, with chesed as an adverb. Rav Chatzkel explains that the word chesed here is actually a noun. How does Hashem sustain life? Not with bread; He sustains us with the concept of chesed.”
Mi k’amcha Yisrael.
Rabbi Hoffman can be reached at Yairhoffman2@gmail.com.