The big grandfather clock gonged loudly and R' Chanoch rose
from his comfortable armchair, stretching his legs as he did
so, before moving down the hall. As usual, his slipper caught
on the broken tile near the entrance door and he swayed
slightly before catching his balance again. The familiar,
expected knock sounded. R' Chanoch knew that it would
immediately follow the gong and had prepared himself in
advance. He cleared his throat and called out, "Just a
minute!" while looking through the peephole as a matter of
habit, even though he knew exactly who was waiting on the
other side, and turned the key in the lock.
The smile was all prepared in advance, like a familiar
formula. His thin lips pulled to the sides and a warm smile
spread over his lined face. Mrs. Groner, the next door
neighbor, was standing there, energetic as always. In her
hands she held a steaming tray which exuded a delicious
aroma. "This is for you, Reb Chanoch. Enjoy!"
"Thank you!" he nodded, still smiling. "Tizku
Sometimes it seemed to him that he was rehearsing a part in a
familiar play. For a while she used to add, "Careful, the
food is very hot!" or "Hold the tray steady. Be careful not
to spill the soup!" Sometimes he felt like a small child who
couldn't take care of himself, with everyone giving him
endless instructions and warnings so that he wouldn't falter.
Today, it seemed that she had decided to go easy on him with
the warnings, since he had probably digested all the
About two years before, he had tried to protest against the
regular meals that the neighbors were sending every day. It
had all started at the end of the shiva period for his
late wife. Mr. Groner had come to his house and stood there
on the threadbare rug of his living room, hands stuck in his
business suit pockets. His forehead was creased in thought as
he checked out the surroundings. It seemed he was trying to
size up the situation of the new widower and his meager
possessions. R' Chanoch stared out the window uncomfortably.
Low clouds were moving heavily through the gray evening sky,
reflecting his somber mood. Mr. Groner stood opposite him,
his head almost touching the simple light fixture, and asked
abruptly, "Does R' Chanoch need anything, perhaps?" There was
a decisive tone to his voice, and R' Chanoch had ensconced
himself even further into the old armchair. The familiar
velvet covering caressed his back and created a feeling of
soothing comfort. He looked up directly at Mr. Groner and
answered evenly, "No, thank you. I don't need a thing. The
children will continue to come in the mornings, b'ezras
Hashem. The granddaughters will help clean up and I still
have the strength to go out and shop for my needs."
"And who will do the cooking?" retorted Mr. Groner, his foot
tapping lightly on the old rug. R' Chanoch laughed
pleasantly, "I don't need fancy meals. I really don't eat
much and it's enough for me to cook once or twice a week. And
if not, I'm sure my daughters won't let me go hungry."
Mr. Groner jumped at the opening. "Wonderful! We'll make sure
you have a hot meal every day!"
"Please, I really appreciate it, but it's unnecessary. I can
manage fine on my own," R' Chanoch insisted. "I know how to
"We will not allow anyone in our building to be neglected,"
Eliezer Groner responded in a firm tone.
R' Chanoch attempted to protest, "But it's really no problem
"Mrs. Groner has to cook anyway for the whole family so that
we won't even feel it," Mr. Groner explained, firmly but
gently, and with a wave of his hand, the matter was settled.
R' Chanoch sighed deeply and gave it one last try. "But
really, it's not worth the bother. I can easily prepare my
own lunches. I told my daughter the same thing."
"If you're afraid of other people finding out, I promise you
that no one else will know about it," Mr. Groner reassured
"All right, all right," R' Chanoch nodded in assent. He felt
as if he were chasing away an annoying fly. He once more
tried to refuse the proffered help but to no avail. Mr.
Groner was even more stubborn -- he wasn't about to give up
the mitzva of helping the new, lonely widower manage
his daily life.
Visibly relaxed now. Eliezer Groner sat down on the edge of
the sofa, his legs stretched out. "So what's new?" R' Chanoch
asked, changing the subject of hot lunches.
"You know we belong to an organization which helps people in
this neighborhood and other parts of the city as well,"
Eliezer said. His eyes shone as he told of broken families
that had been rehabilitated through the chessed
organization. R' Chanoch recognized the brightness in his
neighbor's eyes; it signaled that a story was about to be
told emotionally and in great detail.
"How wonderful, Eliezer," he said with emphasis, hoping to
head him off. "You're involved in so much chessed! I'm
always amazed at how you manage to find time for all these
activities! After all, you work all day. I also see you at
the daf yomi shiur in the morning and after that, you
have to hurry off in your car and you're not back till late
at night. You must be exhausted by then. How do you manage to
take care of so many things and still do all that
chessed? I envy you."
"Well," Mr. Groner lowered his head modestly, "that's one of
our tasks in this world, isn't it?" He rose, lingered on the
threshold for a moment and parted from his elderly neighbor.
"It's all settled then. B'ezras Hashem my wife will
send you over a hot lunch every day."
"Thank you so much. Tizku lemitzvos." The door
opposite opened and R' Chanoch caught a glimpse of sparkling
tile floors and a lush green hanging plant swaying near the
large picture window of their living room. He saw that the
clouds were gone and a grey mist had covered the sky. It made
him sleepy, and a deep sigh almost escaped his lips. He
quickly stifled it and pulled himself together as he noticed
his grandson Shimon coming up the stairs. "Ima sent supper.
The kugel you like so much," he added quickly. R'
Chanoch smiled in thanks. Baruch Hashem, so many
people were taking care of his needs. He wouldn't starve,
that was for sure. Hashem wasn't about to neglect him in his
He closed the door and locked it, and set the hot tray down
carefully on the kitchen table. With bony hands, speckled
with age spots, he took off the foil and inhaled the aroma of
steaming food. "Hmm, very good. No, actually, it's
excellent," he mumbled to himself. As usual, the food was not
only tasty but laid out beautifully. There were hot bourekas,
a bowl of vegetable soup with everything finely chopped,
chicken breast with sauce, well done string beans and a nice
serving of mashed potatoes. His good neighbor had even
prepared a tasty dessert of chocolate covered strawberries.
He threw his head back and chuckled.
After about 20 minutes, R' Chanoch left the house as usual
and crossed the street. As usual, the curtain in the
apartment on the second floor was moved aside. Mrs. Groner
looked down. "Poor man. You can see how he waits for the hot
meal every day. He gulps it down in 20 minutes and goes off
to mincha," she reported to her husband each time.
"He'd never be able to prepare the food on his own. I can't
imagine him fussing wth pots and cooking a nourishing
She followed his regular gait and felt a surge of
contentment. Every afternoon, he got his color and his
strength back. Even a stranger could tell that he was healthy
and had eaten well. She went back to her chores, satisfied.
It was too bad he wouldn't agree to come to them for Shabbos
meals. Since he had become a widower, he had not spent a
single Shabbos or Yom Tov at home. His children fought over
the privilege of having hm over. Mrs. Groner was glad that at
least she had taken the burden off them by preparing his
lunches. In her heart, she felt that this was one of the most
important mitzvos she had ever undertaken and she was
duly proud of it.
[Final part next week]