Charity begins at home, goes the maxim. Pshat is that one should be kind to his or her own family first, and then extend kindness to others. 

The more subtle meaning is that charity — all the different brands of chesed and generosity one extends to the public — is likely connected to the fiber of one’s home, to whatever influences and messages reside between its walls.

If Rav Elya Brudny has emerged as one of the voices of compassionate leadership to the world of yeshivos and girls’ schools, it’s not because his insight comes from outside.

I heard this story from a fine, respected ben Torah, today the father of a beautiful family. He was 17 years old when it happened — not his most glorious period. He and a group of friends were idling the summer away, road-tripping from one purposeless destination to another. One Shabbos, they got word that a group of lifeguards, friends of theirs, would be vacating their bungalow for Shabbos in one of the Catskills colonies where they were working.

The teenagers decided in that why-not, sounds-cool way of aimless boys to crash and spend Shabbos in the empty bungalow. Their hachanos for Shabbos didn’t include stuff like Mikraos Gedolos Chumashim or lechem mishneh. Maybe not even the first lechem, or even bigdei Shabbos. They came tearing into the yeshivish bungalow colony, squealing tires and flying gravel, with minutes to the zeman.

The collection of kollel and chinuch families, men on the way to shul, women having just lit candles and sitting in small groups as peace descended, looked on at the group of boisterous teenagers and pulled their own children a little closer. 

On Friday night, no one from the lifeguard’s quarters showed up in shul, though they made plenty of noise. On Shabbos morning as well, there was no representation in shul, but the bungalow was blessedly silent. “Teenagers sleeping off the alcohol,” the more knowledgeable adults murmured disapprovingly and frowned.

At around two o’clock on Shabbos afternoon, a lone woman made her way down the dusty path toward the lifeguard quarters. She positioned the large pot in her hands and knocked. It took some time, but a sleepy-eyed, suspicious-looking young man opened the door a crack.

“Gut Shabbos,” she said. “I figured you boys didn’t have any cholent today, so I kept this warm for you. Here. Enjoy it. And gut Shabbos.”

Her name was Rebbetzin Peshy Brudny and this week is her tenth yahrtzeit.

The Rebbetzin is gone, but that message — so ahead of its time, an approach crafted alongside her life’s partner — is alive and well. And in the Rosh Yeshivah’s warm smile — the spirit of optimism and hope he exudes — one sees a candle paying her tribute.


Over Easy

Here we are, headed for the Three Weeks — with two long, difficult fast days following in close order.

Now, we all know that Jewish expressions are precise and important. I call my parents after Havdalah for many reasons, but a side benefit is getting to find out when to switch from a gezunte zummer to a gezunte vinter, when a gut yohr gives way to a gutten kvittel. Sephardim have their own blessings: The new year brings "Tizku leshanim rabbot tovot uneimot" and at the Mimouna celebration on Motzaei Pesach, and as they dine on moufletta, they wish each other “Tirbehu v’tisa’adu,” which is Judeo-Arabic for “LOL, Ashenazim are waiting on line at pizza shops.”

Anyhow, in the correct-wishes-for-each-season era in which we grew up, people wished each other “gut voch” at the start of a new week. Recently, though, I met someone on Motzaei Shabbos who told me to “make it a great week,” showing all his teeth and patting me on the shoulder like some kind of private life coach following me around. Huh? A gut voch to you too, buddy. Shavuah tov.

(This is part of a general strangeness that has taken over parts of our community, in which otherwise normal people call Shabbos “the weekend,” the Catskills “upstate” and Lakewood “Jersey,” as if they live in Cape May rather than Seventh Street.)

One of the more interesting new-agey wishes is “Have a meaningful fast,” which seems to be the go-to greeting on Erev Taanis. I’m all for meaning. Meaning is good. Especially on a fast day, as the Rambam (Hilchos Taaniyos 5:1) reminds us.

But back when people weren’t so correct, they said “Have an easy fast,” a leichten taanis. And I don’t remember those people marking the days in a less meaningful way than we do today, or in general, leading less meaningful lives.

The Chasam Sofer cautioned people against wishing each other an easy fast before Yom Kippur; since the day is meant to be one of “inuy,” affliction, it’s not meant to be easy. But for the other fasts, it would appear, the blessing can be appropriate.

So let me take the opportunity to wish you a meaningful summer — but do me a favor and have an easy fast. (Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 715)