Rabbi Aharon Levi, Senior Administrator at Ezer Mizion’s Donald Berman Rehabilitation Center , visited Ezer Mizion’s retreat for men with cancer, sons and fathers, which took place at the Lavi Hotel in Northern Israel.
Rabbi Levi wrote up the following personal monologue, representing a drop in the painful ocean he observed in just one hour of the retreat.
“Please take your son, your only one, whom you love…and bring him up there as an offering”
Today, there isn’t a single hair on his head, just like the day he was born, but what they went through until he was born…
Fifteen years, an ongoing story of suffering, branded its mark. They almost collapsed from all the disappointment, worry and hope, so anxious were they to embrace a child of their own. Their prayers pounded at the Gates of Heaven, until the impossible happened. At last they lovingly held their one and only child in their arms.
A first tooth, a charming smile at Ima. She brought him to the baby clinic in his new coach carriage, glowing with a double measure of unconcealed maternal pride. Everything was so bright and promising, painted in pastel colors of his loving parents’ hope, prayers and deepest wishes. Loving, did we say? “Loving” is an understatement.
Shmulik, their only child, repaid his parents’ devotion with true nachas. He blazed his trail in the Torah world and strode confidently on the path to happiness, to the peak of his life.
A shattered plate heralded his engagement. His parents, who had waited so eagerly for this point in life, could hardly contain their joy. Their imagination began to work overtime. Soon… soon the time would come.
Just two days later, on erev Shabbat, something was not right. Shmulik was suddenly gripped by sharp, intolerable stomach pains. His mother’s face grew serious, a wrinkle of concern etched between her brows. Her only son, who at this very moment should be making his way to the home of his bride’s family, was writhing in agony. Sometimes, a mother’s heart is more piercingly accurate than an x-ray. A mother’s eyes know how to penetrate with unseen rays of anxiety. She insisted on a more comprehensive test, in-depth. They took him for an MRI. Then they were told: The doctor will see you now. Go into the doctor. He will explain everything. But he did not even have to explain. The niggling doubt instantly turned into a horrible certainty. And on the other end of the route, a young bride already sat at the bus stop, waiting…
He underwent chemotherapy treatments, radiation set out to fight its difficult battle. The treatments left their malevolent mark. His hair fell out, and his head was exposed, just like the day he was born.
The suffering stuck with him like a shadow. The aches and pains held fast. For long months, he did not see the light of day and did not cross the threshold of the Sheba Hospital. As circumstances would have it, I met Shmulik and his parents several times at the Oncology Institute. I always felt a swelling ache. His personal story touched me to the quick. I was hurled into echoes of Avraham’s final test, “Please take your son, your only one, whom you love…and bring him up there as an offering.”
I watched as Ima held his hand on one side, and Abba on the other. They were not walking him down the aisle toward the chupa. Instead they walked him once again to another treatment in the chemotherapy furnaces.
Last night, we met again, this time in the delightful kibbutz air of the Lavi woods, at the Ezer Mizion retreat for the dozens of fighters who are fighting their battle for the most precious treasure of all, for life itself. A kind of pride enveloped me, and in my bones, I felt the special feeling of being aligned with the giving side, of belonging to the Ezer Mizion family so caring that it knows how to choose just the right melody and give these fighters a the joy that strengthens the spirit. Yes, we are partners in their battle.
I felt a shock of light, the kind that lifts you to hours of spiritual elevation and detaches you from the rough, gray, mundane world directly to a world of purity, nobility and unabated giving. I experienced the circles of blazing joy that swept away fearsome thoughts of the disease. It was like a bubble of stopped time in the shadow of the rapidly ticking clock from which there is no escape.
To see Shmulik jumping in the air and dancing as if tomorrow did not exist, as if he was doing final rehearsals for his wedding, the happiest day of his life. Yes, in another 24 hours, he will return once again to the hospital sheets and the sickening scent of powerful medicines. Again he will have to enter the landmine of bone marrow transplants. But our people here at Ezer Mizion will just redouble their efforts to embrace him and his enervated parents, pumping into them a spirit of hope in their constant battle with the specter of despair.
For further info: www.ezermizion.org