You know the stories. Elijah crouches on the street corner, begging. She bangs on your door at midnight, fleeing an attacker. He sits in a wheelchair waiting by a broken electric door. She meows by the empty trash can.
Elijah offers you a choice.
Extend a hand. Give a coin. Turn a doorknob. Push a button. Open a can. Take a risk.
Choose well and olam haba is here. Olam haba. The better world that is coming. Messianic time. Cosmic consciousness. Life free of physical suffering. Choose well, and the better world you want is here.
Elijah showed up at our synagogue just in time for kiddush lunch, her only meal of the day.
Not so unusual at our synagogue. We’re in a “transitional” neighbourhood. Hungry people often stop by on Shabbat. Hungry for a safe dry room, a spiritual refuge, a free meal. They come once or twice. Occasionally for a few months. Then they move on.
Elijah didn’t move on. She came for lunch, twice a month, for a year. Then she came in time for the last hymn. For a year. Then in time for the sermon. For another year. Then mid-morning, like anyone else, to enjoy the music.
Elijah was elderly. Quiet. Shy. She had a tiny, beautiful smile. She loved hearing “Shabbat Shalom.”
At lunch, she sat with other older women. Jewish mothers, who filled her plate with food. Feeling welcome, she talked a bit. She had been to Israel. She had no children. She thought Vancouver was kind to the homeless.
Seven years passed. She came less often. When she did, she looked tired. Thin. She wasn’t well, she told her friends. They worried. Can we give you extra food? Help take care of you? No, she said. Politely as ever.
We didn’t see Elijah for several weeks. We had no contact information. We hoped she was well.
But the email came. Dear Rabbi Duhan-Kaplan. I am a friend of Doris. She has passed away and named me executor of her estate. Might you join me at a meeting with her lawyer? I’ve invited Rabbi B, whose synagogue she also attended.
We met at the lawyer’s home. Doris, he told us, was a millionaire. She owned several properties. She was estranged from her family of origin. She supported community meals for the hungry. Though a Christian, she felt welcome at any synagogue with a open table. She loved the Jewish people, and was heartbroken for Israeli children growing up in the shadow of conflict.
That’s why she had a special request for the two rabbis who had welcomed her. Would we please distribute her wealth to charities that supported children harmed by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?
“Say what?” we responded. “Have we stepped into a fairy tale?”
But out loud we said, “Of course. Let us know how to proceed.”
“That’s up to you,” said the lawyer.
Two rabbis. Two divergent political visions. Set to a single task. We researched, discussed, negotiated. And agreed. To support six types of youth.
Palestinian children in the West Bank. Critically ill Arab youth. Immigrant families. Progressive Zionist teens. Grieving Israeli children. Wounded IDF soldiers.
Too left wing? Maybe! Too right wing? Maybe! Too centrist? Maybe! Part of Elijah’s test? Definitely!
Elijah offered us a choice. We welcomed, we fed, we asked nothing in return. Elijah offered another choice. We were entrusted, we compromised, we gave. Those who receive the funds will give, too.
Is this a taste of olam haba? Did we pass the test? Only God knows.