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
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
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
"I wasn't exactly raised with a silver spoon in my mouth,"
[Final part next week]