Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

30 Nissan 5764 - April 21, 2004 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









Produced and housed by
Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network











Home and Family

Climbing a Ladder on One Leg
a story by H. Ofek

Part I

There was no doubt in Rivka's mind -- the person reflected in the peephole was a beggar. She went to get her purse and took out several coins.

"My name is Liat," the young woman in the white snood smiled at her from the doorway, which she leaned on for apparent support, "and I'm the cleaning woman you ordered for today."

Rivka closed her fist tightly on the coins, gluing them together. Her lips also pursed tightly in silence. This is the cleaning help she had ordered after long and arduous searching? If she had only known ahead of time about her handicapped leg, her limp... How could she clean a house with measured steps? How would she climb a ladder? Perhaps she should have searched for someone like Maria, Olga, Olympia or Camilla. Romanians are another story altogether -- cheap, available and most important, rough-edged. With Liat she would have to be respectful and considerate. She was her sister, after all.

Liat shifted her position uncomfortably and squinted into the apartment with a heavy sigh. Rivka took the hint immediately and opened the door wide.

"Where do you want me to start?" Liat asked, getting down to buisness. Rivka lost a little of her natural vitality. With heavy legs and a head crowded with thoughts, she went into the small balcony that she'd improvised as an office for the chessed organization which she ran. Rifling through her diary, she looked for the families who desperately needed help in the house. Where should she send Liat?

R' Yosef tried to make some order in his big mess, the kind of order that men make when their wives are hospitalized. He moved items from the table to the counter and from the counter to the table, hurriedly wiped a puddle of milk and picked up several towels that had fallen to the floor but that didn't do anything. The house cried out for a hand experienced at washing floors, washing and ironing mountains of shirts and doing the dishes and pots that had accumulated in the sinks.

R' Yosef's chavrusa absorbed the quiet distress of his friend who was a former shadow of himself. Lately, he had often been absent from studies and even when they studied together, R' Yosef was not focused.

"My wife can help you out," he told him gently. "Every week, she sends out help to people's homes through her chessed organization. Once the house is straightened up and cleaned, you'll see that taking care of the children will be that much easier and you'll only be left with the most pressing tasks of the day."

R' Yosef's pale face lit up. He so desired this help. His wife had suffered complications from acute pneumonia and was hospitalized in the intensive care unit; he was coping alone. He had no brothers or sisters. His elderly mother lived in Bnei Brak and he was in Ofakim. His wife's family lived abroad. And the neighbors? He didn't feel comfortable involving them. And anyway... sometimes people like to churn up the lives of others like butter. The rumors about the sick woman had reached the sky's limit and were now traveling into the stratosphere. From pneumonia they had given her every conceivable, even terminal, illness. Besides, R' Yosef was a quiet, private, introverted type.

But things could not go on like this and his chavrusa took things into his own hands. That same day, Rivka got an urgent call. "S.O.S. Send someone to R' Yosef's house!" R' Dovid instructed her, and she knew that if he was asking, the situation must be desperate. In her memo book, other families were marked, all urgent, but today she knew where to send Liat. R' Yosef's situation took precedence.

"Come, Liat," Rivka said to the new employee who was meanwhile dusting and polishing the blinds in the office. "We'll go to Rechov Deganiot. Much work awaits there. I'd say a good four hours worth, minimum."

"And you're coming with me?" Liat asked in astonishment. Rikva nodded. This was the first time she was meeting Liat and she had to size her up, to test the speed and efficiency of her work. Perhaps she'd manage to cook up something for R' Yosef's family, deal with some of the laundry or do some other pressing tidying up and reorganizing while Liat did whatever she was capable of doing... The two women went out to the street, the first rushing as usual and the second, limping along, trying to keep up. The whole way, Rivka kept praying that Liat would not prove to be a total disappointment. Just now, when her husband's plea for help had been so desperate, she needed a really good cleaning lady. As soon as they reached the building, Rivka offered Liat help up the stairs. She really was a compassionate sort. But Liat rejected any assistance with a small smile, held on tight to the iron railing and ascended, somewhat awkwardly. Rivka opened the door and choked. The house was dark, the blinds were lowered and chaos reigned. At first, she felt helpless. Where should she start? With the general mess or with the dishes in the sink? The kitchen or the bedrooms? And where were the cleaning supplies?

Liat took the initiative. She pulled up the blinds, opened the windows, hung out the bedding to air, picked up toys and pajamas, and had already found a bucket and filled it with water and cleanser. Where had she found them? Rivka wondered.

Rivka went into the kitchen. You had to hand it to Liat, she muttered to herself while following the rhythm of her work. Liat worked with an alacrity she, herself, could not match. By the time Rivka had peeled the carrots, sweet potatoes and a few squash for a soup, Liat had managed to clear the floors and restore order.

When she got to the task of washing the floors, Rivka became nervous. G-d forbid she should slip or suddenly lose her balance. Washing floors is not easy for someone who limps. "How about doing it together?" she suggested. "You squeeze the sponga-mop and I'll gather the water with the rubber squeegie stick. "Oh, it's all right," Liat calmly reassured her. "I brought a special cloth from home and I've improvised a comfortable cleaning method."

She showed Rivka a large cloth with a hole in the middle. She threaded it onto the squeegie stick so that it wouldn't escape while she worked.

Rivka returned to the kitchen. This cleaning help was surprising her with her creativity and initiative. Ah, what the coping mechanism can make from a human being! Room after room gleamed. Liat was progressing apace, investing her all in the work. After the floors were done, she found some silver polish in the bathroom cupboard and was already polishing the Shabbos candlesticks. What Romanian maid would have done as much, without being asked? Here was genuine caring and a desire to help others relieve their burden and make life more pleasant.

In less than four hours, a pleasant fragrance spread through R' Yosef's house, a scent that combined with the aroma of food bubbling on the stove. Rivka couldn't help noticing how gratified Liat looked. Her sweaty face was weary but her eyes were shining with satisfaction.

"We have twenty minutes to rest, until the soup is done," she invited her employee to sit down in the polished kitchen and whipped out a bag of cookies from her purse. Liat complied and Rivka couldn't help remarking to herself that she was really pleasant and friendly.

"You are very skilled at housework," Rivka complimented the young woman, appreciatively.

"Yes, life has taught me to specialize in all kinds of domestic areas." With her wisdom gained from life's experience and her rich experience with people in distress, Rivka understood the deeper message that was behind Liat's concise words. There are people who flourish -- not in spite of, but because of -- adversity. They grow from their weakness. Their lack serves as a springboard to elevate them and spurs them to rise about their difficulty. They cling to what they do have remaining and with it, reach great heights.

"I wasn't exactly raised with a silver spoon in my mouth," Liat said.

[Final part next week]


All material on this site is copyrighted and its use is restricted.
Click here for conditions of use.