Chesed is a unique form of life insurance. Not only does it protect the doer, but it safeguards his offspring in ways that sometimes – as in the following story – become abundantly clear.
The story takes place in a small Hungarian town, several decades before World War II. The townspeople employed a rebbi to teach their boys, but they were unable to pay him any money. Instead, the parents took turns providing meals for him and his family. After many years, the rebbi’s wife died, his children moved away and he was left alone. No longer able to teach, he was replaced by a new rebbi. Those who had brought meals to the old rebbi turned their attention to the new one. Only one woman felt a continued obligation to support the man who had taught her children so well, albeit many years ago. For five years, until the end of the rebbi’s life, she repeated her daily climb of the stairs to his small apartment to bring him his lunch.
Time passed, and the war quickly crushed the small Jewish community’s tenuous existence. The woman, however, was saved from witnessing the worst of the destruction; she died of natural causes. Most of the townspeople were herded away to their deaths, but this woman’s grandchildren somehow found help. They were led to a small apartment, where a brave gentile woman risked her life to hide them behind a false wall that she built for them. She provided their meals, each day weaving a tortuous path among the shops to purchase only small portions that would attract no suspicion. Her apartment sustained several raids and searches, but her “fugitives” were never discovered.
When they emerged from hiding, the children learned that their refuge had once belonged to a different tenant – the old rebbi their grandmother had fed. The same stairs the gentile woman climbed, bearing their provisions, had born their grandmother upward as well, on a mission of chesed that, decades later, saved their lives. ~ Chofetz Chaim – Loving Kindness