A story from before Covid-19 – a look into our past.
When I am not a rabbi in Passaic, I moonlight by teaching at Landers College for Women in New York. The school is just a few short blocks from the famous Central Park. The Park attracts over 42 million visitors annually. The Park affords me a quiet and peaceful respite from the sometimes grueling frenetic life of a shul rabbi.
On one fine day, I met Larry Levine (name changed). It was near the Sheep Meadow (for those of you not from New York be advised that there are no sheep in the Sheep Meadow) when I first heard the word.
“Shalom!” Standing in front of me was a man in a white sweatshirt emblazoned with the words, “I love New York.”
“You’re a rabbi, aren’t you? Do you have a minute for me?”
“Of course,” I said.
“My name is Larry Levine, and I live on West 72nd, I come here daily. My parents were Holocaust survivors. I was their only child born in 1949. I was drafted when I turned 18, and by January of 1968, I was in Vietnam. When I returned, I was a broken man. Both my parents have passed on and I never married. I live off my military disability payments, and I go to shul when I can. I am now 71 years old. I have nothing to live for, and I feel as if I have lived for nothing. When I could, I helped out in the local food pantry. I still volunteer in shul to set up the Kiddush. Did G-d allow me to be born to live a life of loneliness and sadness? My only joy is coming here to the Park. Is this all there is? Will one day a neighbor find me lifeless in the apartment, and that was my life?”
I looked at Larry, and then I looked out onto the Great Lawn and back to the Sheep Meadow.
“Larry, you know how you love coming here to the Park? Isn’t it amazing that we are just a few hundred feet from the busiest city in the country, and yet, we sit here together as if we are in the Garden of Eden? We have escaped the stress of the city for the serenity of this oasis in the middle of Manhattan.
“Larry, the four walls of your lonely apartment are not the end of your life. Indeed, G-d has allowed you to come here daily to get a glimpse of what awaits you in the next world. This world is just an antechamber, a waiting room, and a passageway to the next world. The sacrifice you made fighting for your country did not go unnoticed by Hashem. The good deeds you did are never forgotten. Larry, what awaits you is a perpetual and enduring afterlife in the Central Park of the next world. This is not the end of the story; it is only the beginning.”
Larry looked at me in amazement.
“Rabbi, you mean to tell me that G-d has not forgotten me, and all the good deeds I did will be remembered, and I will eventually live in bliss in the Central Park “upstairs?”
“The rabbis taught us, ‘Your Employer is trustworthy to pay you the reward of your labors. And know that the reward is in the World to Come.’”
Larry smiled broadly and gave me the biggest hug I have ever received. “Thank you; you have given me hope. You have spiritually revived me.”
I watched Larry walk away down the path. I was happy that I was able to give another Jew a sense of hope and helped dispel his despair. As I slowly stood up, I pondered, “If only I could internalize that lesson myself, what a better person I would be.”