Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

1 Av 5762 - July 10, 2002 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








All Rights Reserved

by R. Chadshai

The Green and the Schneider families live opposite each other, on the middle floor of a three-story apartment building. Their apartments are identical in size and layout, differing only in their exposures, of course.

Yoel Schneider is an avreich who studies in kollel full-time, while Yehoshua Green, whose accent betrays his British origin, studies with Yoel half a day in kollel, and works in a sifrei kodesh store between five to eight in the evening.

Whoever might think that the closeness of their apartments makes the two young men resemble each other in character and outlook, is wrong. Their personalities are as diametrical as east is from west, and each one of them determines his household policies accordingly (or at least they did until unusual circumstances caused one of them to make a drastic change in his life).

At the outset of our story, the Green household was run by strict and clear rules. The members of the family knew in advance what Mrs. Green would prepare every day for lunch. On Shabbosim and yomim tovim, the menu was set and routine.

Meals in the Green home were served at specific hours: lunch at 1:30, followed by a rest period, during which Mrs. Green closed the shutters, put the children into bed, and then lay down herself. A large sign on the door, in bold English and Hebrew lettering said: "Please don't knock or ring the bell between 2 and 4 in the afternoon. Thank you."

The daily schedule was also rigid. If anyone tried to visit them after 10:30 at night, the chances that his knocks on the door would be answered were nil.

Needless to say that every visitor knew that he had to inform the family of his arrival in advance and to coordinate his visit with them, otherwise he would nonplus the Greens and cause an unpleasant situation which he certainly would want to avoid second time around, thank you so kindly.

Yehoshua Green seemed like a self-appointed representative of the building's Environment and Living Conditions committee, even though it didn't really have one. He repeatedly posted requests to the other occupants to keep quiet during rest hours, to keep the building clean and not to pick the flowers in the garden. He was vigilant on these points and scolded anyone who disobeyed them.

He never regarded even the smallest request addressed to him by friends, neighbors or family lightly, but would carefully weigh all sides of any given request, examining all of its aspects and factors very seriously before making his final decision.


The daily schedule at the Schneider home was totally different. In the Schneider home, schedules were leisurely and flexible. The family members never knew what to expect for lunch, nor at what time it would be served. Sometimes lunch was ready when they returned home. At other times, it only began to cook then -- and from time to time, it was postponed until evening. But who cared? In the meantime the family found plenty to munch on in the pantry and refrigerator.

Sometimes, just the immediate family dined together. At other times, a number of unexpected guests would join them, everyone feeling at ease.

There were days on which Yoel Schneider napped after lunch, in order to refresh himself before the afternoon session in kollel, and there were times when he didn't even see a pillow. Despite his exhaustion, he often tended to his affairs in the afternoons. Sometimes, a neighbor needed help, and occasionally, the only time Yoel could pop in on his elderly neighbor and ask how he felt was during siesta time.

Once in a while, he had to repair a broken item in the house precisely then, or to return money he had borrowed from a friend. Knocks on the door or phone calls could be expected at any time, since the Schneider family ran a number of gemachim in its home: a medicine gemach, a Materna gemach, a pacifier gemach, a crib gemach, a tablecloth gemach. You name it, they had it.

In addition to all this, Yoel volunteered for Hatzoloh, and everyone knew that he could be called at any hour of the day or night, except during the hours he was in kollel. When his beeper went off, he would rush to the scene of the accident and administer the necessary first aid to the injured and the wounded.

Obviously, the Schneiders didn't have a set bedtime. Sometimes at 10 P.M. the entire family would hit the hay, dead tired. At other times, the house bustled until well after midnight. People who knocked at their door didn't give up after one try, but knocked again and again. In general, they were eventually answered.

Yoel tried to abide by the rules set by the tenants, yet he never rebuked offenders for littering. Despite the inconvenience, his children remained inside during rest hours and never threw candy wrappers or ice cream sticks on the stairs or in the hall.

The differences of opinion between Yehoshua and Yoel surfaced when Mr. Avner Lebowitz, a neighbor who lived on top of the Schneiders asked Yoel: "Do you agree to let me build a porch?"

". . . And you let him," Yehoshua sarcastically remarked when he heard about the plan.

"Why not?" Yoel wondered. "If I can help a neighbor have more space, why should I stand in his way?"

"Come on. Don't be so naive," Yehoshua mocked. "Don't you know what you're getting into? First of all, even though the date the work is slated to begin is known, you can never know when it'll end. Occasionally, in midstream, the owner of the apartment decides that he wants to exceed the allotted time and the space the municipality has authorized, sometimes to the point of wild invasion of your area and the blatant disregard of your rights.

"Besides that, what about the other points you have to examine before you give your approval? Do you know how you'll feel when the porch blocks the warm sun rays and the light, or the beautiful view from your apartment window? Don't forget the deafening noise we'll all have to endure during construction. And what about our afternoon rest periods? And then there's the dirt, the dust, the mess. All that has to be taken into consideration in advance."

"True, I haven't examined all of the factors. But I don't find any important reason to refuse. Are such side considerations like sun, light and view sufficient to prevent me from letting a neighbor enjoy a bit of much-needed extra space?"

"It's pointless to talk to you on this subject," Yehoshua claimed with a dismissing gesture. "If my side of the building were involved, I would never give my permission so easily."

Yehoshua's words were nearly prophetic, even though he didn't know it at the time. While the scaffolding which supported Lebowitz's future porch was being erected in the building's yard, Friedman the neighbor from the first floor (under Schneider) decided to add two rooms to his apartment, thereby building in his private garden.

"It'll ruin the appearance of the entire side of the building," Yehoshua warned Yoel.

"Don't worry. Only the back of the building is involved. The expansion won't be visible at all from the building's front."

After a few moments, another thought flashed through Yehoshua's mind, and he whispered: "Yoel, I think I understand what's going on. If you agreed, then you apparently want to build after him. Am I right?"

"I haven't even thought about that. I have no plans to expand, and no money for such things. But if my neighbor can, in the meantime, expand his living quarters, why should I prevent him?"

"It's like I said. There's no one to talk to," Yehoshua grunted when he saw the cement blocks piling up in the garden, attesting to the fact that construction was a fait accompli. "It's no wonder that you're so tired, " Yehoshua told Yoel one day. "I'm sure that you don't rest at all in the afternoon, because of the noise. Even though my bedroom is on the other side of the apartment, I still bought a pair of ear plugs, and can rest during the afternoons as usual."

"We've gotten used to the noise," Yoel replied. "For us its like background music. There are other reasons why I can't catch a nap in the afternoons. You know, during this season, a lot of people are sick and need the medicine gemach. People knock even in the middle of the night. I also attend to many personal affairs in the afternoon, so that I won't have to miss kollel. Furthermore, I volunteer for Hatzoloh, and every now and then get calls on the beeper. I guess I am a bit pressured."

"I don't understand how you can live that way," Yehoshua exclaimed. "I could never take such a regimen. Your burden could be shared by a few people. It's too much for one person. Be careful, though. You're liable to collapse one day, and then no one will be have gained, neither you nor the community which exploits you that way," Yehoshua rejoined.

"Funny, I've never felt exploited," Yoel replied in an offended tone. "I was raised to believe that whatever a person does, he does for himself alone, even if it seems as if he has his fellow's sake in mind. Everything he does contributes to the building of his character. Hakodosh Boruch Hu has many ways to help people, and He doesn't need my help. I regard it as a zechus to contribute to the community, and I am glad that my contribution sometimes helps a bit."

Yehoshua shrugged his shoulders. It was obvious that he didn't understand his neighbor's mindset.


One afternoon, as Yehoshua and Yoel were on their way home from kollel, Yoel's beeper began to buzz, informing him that an accident had just occurred in the center of town.

"These accidents are a national calamity," Yehoshua, who was terribly shaken, commented.

"I have to rush to the intersection where a Hatzoloh car will pick me up. Do me a favor, and tell my wife that I had a call and that she shouldn't worry," Yoel said and rushed off.

Yoel reached the site of the accident and began to treat the victim, who was stretched out on the road, unconscious and bleeding heavily. He had been hit by a bus and was obviously a young yeshiva student. For some reason, Yoel thought that he looked familiar but he couldn't quite place him.

Yoel bent over him and tried to stop the flow of the blood and to bandage his wounds. After administering first aid, he checked the boy's documents and found a passport with the name Meir Green.

"Why didn't I recognize him right away? I'm nearly certain that he's Yehoshua's brother. He came here to study and he visits Yehoshua every now and then."

Meir Green's parents lived in chutz lo'oretz and, except for Yehoshua, Meir had no relatives in Eretz Yisroel. Yoel hopped into the ambulance which took Meir to the hospital and, after he was certain that Meir's situation was stable, called Yehoshua in order to update him. He tried the telephone, and then the cellular phone, but in vain. There was no answer. Then he recalled that it was nap time at the Greens!

Yoel called home and asked his wife to wake Mr. Green urgently and to ask him to call him immediately. Mrs. Schneider stepped across the hall and ignored the sign on the Green's door: "Don't knock between two and four." After all, the circumstances were extenuating.

Despite the knocking and buzzing, no one opened the door. As we noted earlier, since construction had begun nearby in the building, Yehoshua napped with ear plugs in his ears and didn't hear a thing. The Greens had also gotten used to the idea that in Eretz Yisroel unlike in chutz lo'oretz, certain people had absolutely no manners and ignored even the politest requests. These people did whatever they wanted, even if that meant disregarding the needs and stealing the sleep of one's fellow. Therefore, they decided not to be accomplices to such offenses and never to open the door even if they indeed heard the knocks.

Mrs. Schneider told her husband about the failed mission and Yoel asked her not to give up, because of the importance of the matter, and to give Mr. Green the message before he left for kollel, come what may.

At precisely 4:02, Yoel's cellular phone rang and he received the call he had so long anticipated.

"What's doing Yoel?" Yehoshua asked as he tried to mask his yawn.

"I was a bit busy today," Yoel replied.

"Ah, I nearly forgot. You told me that there was an accident this afternoon. What happened?"

"I need your help. Can you meet me in the emergency room of the hospital in the center of the city?" Yoel asked.

"No problem. I'll pop over on my way to the book store," Yehoshua replied. Although he still didn't understand what was behind the request, from Yoel's tone he realized that the matter was rather serious.

On the way, Yehoshua's mind cleared a bit and he began to tremble and to wonder why he hadn't understood Yoel's hint. "Who knows what happened?" he asked himself, the fear which gripped him preventing him from calling Yoel for details. He recited Tehillim the entire way to the hospital and their words suddenly bore relevance to him.

When he met Yoel and heard the terrible news, he was thunderstruck.

Meir lay on the bed, motionless. His eyes were closed, and most of his body was bandaged.

"Oy Meir, how awful to see you this way," Yehoshua wailed.

Then, after recovering from the initial shock, he turned to Yoel and said: "I feel terrible. There I was napping in my house like a king, while my dear, precious and exhausted neighbor was struggling to save my very own brother's life. Does that make sense? How can I repay you for your kindness, for your extraordinary mesiras nefesh, for your unprecedented dedication to others?"

"That's okay. I was merely doing my duty," Yoel cut him short. Obviously, Yoel felt uncomfortable hearing Yehoshua's apologies.

"You say that you fulfilled your duty? I was the one who should have come to the hospital to care for my brother," Yehoshua asserted.

"Yes, I fulfilled my obligation. But it was also a zechus. Don't you remember that in one of our `arguments,' I once said that whatever a man does, is eventually for his own sake? If I hadn't given Meir first aid, he would have closed his eyes forever. I had the zechus to be the shaliach who saved him, and I thank Hashem for granting me that zechus."


The construction in the yard took four months. It wasn't an easy period for the neighbors -- noise, dust dirt, dawdling. Finally, it was over, and all heaved sighs of relief, glad that they would no longer be inconvenienced.

Actually, that isn't an accurate statement. Yehoshua's priorities had totally changed and he had stopped being disturbed by petty inconveniences long ago.

Yehoshua's life had totally about-faced due to his unexpected situation. It had taken his brother a long time to recuperate, and Yehoshua was forced to change his habits and to become more flexible as he nursed his brother back to health. He changed so drastically that it seemed as if vicissitude was the most permanent factor in his life.

After his brother had totally recovered and had returned to yeshiva, Yehoshua was updated on the developments among the neighbors. He was told that the two rooms which the first floor neighbor, Mr. Friedman, had added, created a surface which the Schneiders had decided to annex to their own area as a huge porch.

Since Yoel's limited budget did not allow him to build on that area, Yoel just covered it with floor tiles and built a fence around it, and then converted the window which faced it into a door. The result was that Yoel had a huge porch, which was like a private yard where lots of kids, including Yehoshua's, came to play.

A few months passed and it was Erev Succos. Mr. Lebowitz, the upstairs neighbor who had since closed his porch with aluminum and glass which he was using for a succah this year, offered Yoel his old succa boards, saying: "It was so nice of you to give me permission to expand. The least I can do to express my gratitude to you is to give you these boards."

That same day, Yehoshua informed his neighbors: "We get a mazel Tov. My wife had a boy."

After extending him his usual, warm greeting, Yoel asked: "Where will you hold the sholom zochor? Don't forget that it falls on Shabbos chol hamoed Succos,"

"To tell you the truth, I was so busy that I nearly forgot about that," Yehoshua replied, a bit confused.

"That's really a problem. How will everyone fit into your small succah? But there's a solution to that problem too. I guess that's why Hashem expanded our succah this year. Take a look at my porch. You're welcome to use the entire area on Shabbos night. We'll hold the sholom zochor here," Yoel told Yehoshua who was stunned by Yoel's goodwill.

With shame, Yehoshua recalled how he had made such a fuss about the expansion of the Friedman's apartment.

"What do you say to this?" Yoel then asked as he pointed to a tiny area, which was covered by Lebowitz's porch and thus couldn't be used as a part of the succah.

Yehoshua once more lowered his eyes, as Yoel enthusiastically said: "That covered corner is a blessing too. I'll be able to store my succah boards there after yom tov."

"All that one does, he does for himself," the surprised Yehoshua murmured, when he thought how his remarkable neighbor, Yoel, totally devoted himself to others, without seeking glory or remuneration, and without fighting over his own rights.

"Amazing," Yehoshua then told himself. "In addition to the main investment, which continues to benefit Yoel in the World to Come, certain privileges and benefits are reserved for him in his daily life too, and pursue him, against his will, wherever he turns."


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