A Gift of Life
Mr. Klein wanted to die. Suddenly he was given an unexpected new lease on life.
Early one morning, Rabbi Nosson Sachs, a veteran hospital chaplain at UPMC Shadyside Hospital in Pittsburgh, PA, received a frantic phone call. “My dear friend, Mr. Klein, is in the Cardiac ICU and he’s dying. He is a Holocaust survivor who has lost his faith along the way.” The man asked Rabbi Sachs to visit Mr. Klein to say with him the Krias Shema and Vidui, the typical prayer said before a person passes away.
Rabbi Sachs entered Mr. Klein's room and found him to be in a very bad situation. From his years of experience in the hospital, Rabbi Sachs knew that the end was near.
Mr. Klein lay on his bed with very little life in him. He lacked the strength to even move his limbs. The only evidence that he was alive, other than the beeping of his heart monitor, was his eyes. They were partly opened and they followed Rabbi Sachs as he sat down by his side. On the other side of the room sat the elderly man's son, with a look of sadness on his face, combined with an expression of bewilderment about how to deal with the situation.
After sitting down, Rabbi Sachs brought his face close to the older Mr. Klein's and spoke to him.
"I told him that his friend had asked me to come to him and help him say Vidui and Shema. I asked him if that would be alright. His only response was a quick flickering of his eyes. He could not speak. And so I said that I would take that for a yes. I told him to listen carefully and in his heart agree with my words."
Rabbi Sachs said the prayers, sat with Mr. Klein for a few minutes, and then got up to leave. There was no response on the patient's lifeless face.
After leaving the room, Rabbi Sachs asked the nurse to page him when Mr. Klein passed away.
Rabbi Sachs, right
Rabbi Sachs went through the regular routine of his day as a chaplain in the hospital. By mid-afternoon he realized that he had not received the expected page. Rabbi Sachs was somewhat surprised and went back up to the Cardiac ICU to check on Mr. Klein.
As he entered the ICU unit, the nurse ran over to him.
"What did you do in there?" she asked.
"I said a prayer with him. Why?
“Look," she said as she pointed through the glass door leading to Mr. Klein's room.
Inside, Mr. Klein was sitting up in his bed, eating a meal and speaking with his son. It was as if the dying man had been replaced by a healthy lookalike.
Rabbi Sachs was in shock and ecstatic at the miraculous turnabout of events.
Rabbi Sachs was in shock and ecstatic at the miraculous turnabout of events, and completely unprepared for the reception that he received when he walked into the room.
“You!” Mr. Klein shouted at him. “You did this to me! I want to die! Don’t you get it? I’m tired of suffering. I’m tired of medication. I’m done. And then you walk in here with your prayers and your Shema. And now look at me! What am I supposed to do now?”
Rabbi Sachs was at a complete loss of how to respond, so he decided to answer the man's last question first.
“What are you supposed to do now? Are you eating kosher food here?”
“No," he said.
“A Jew who has been called back from death should be eating kosher food!”
A look of surprise crossed Mr. Klein's face as the idea sunk in. He thought about it for a few moments, and then his demeanor changed as he realized that there was something positive he could do in his situation.
“Okay!” he exclaimed. He pushed away his food tray and asked the nurse for a kosher meal.
Mr. Klein and his son spent much of the afternoon in conversation. It was an unanticipated gift for each of them. The older man expected to have already departed from the world, and his son had expected to have already been at the funeral home arranging for his burial. Instead, they received a gift of more time together.
The next morning Rabbi Sachs visited again. Mr. Klein was sitting up in his bed, speaking to his son and a physician. On the tray in front of him was the packaging of the kosher breakfast he has just finished eating.
The doctor was Mr. Klein's cardiologist who was completely dumbfounded at the sudden turn of events. As Rabbi Sachs entered, he heard the doctor say, “I don’t know what you should do. Maybe you should ask the Rabbi… he seems to know more about it than I do.”
"What should I do Rabbi?” Mr. Klein asked.
“Have you given tzedakah today?”
“A Jew should give tzedakah every day,” Rabbi Sachs reminded him. “I’ll get you a tzedakah box.”
“Okay,” he said.
Throughout the day a long line of friends and family members visited Mr. Klein, as shocked as he was at the turn of events and in awe at the unexpected gift of life the Almighty had given to him.
Later that evening, Mr. Klein returned his neshama to his Maker. This time, there was no calling it back for another chance.
However in those additional 36 hours, Mr. Klein merited to perform several valuable mitzvot and spend quality time with his beloved family and friends.
Throughout his two decades working in the hospital, Rabbi Sachs was witness to some of the brightest and darkest moments in people's lives. He has shared their tragedies and triumphs, their sorrows and their celebrations. Many of them walked away from their interactions with him uplifted by his encouraging words, or sometimes just by his presence.
But the greatest mark was left on Rabbi Sachs. He grew from seeing the courage of patients, and their strength in facing the worst odds. He learned from patients like Mr. Klein to never underestimate even a single moment of life, and to appreciate the significance of every prayer and every mitzvah.
More of Rabbi Sachs' dramatic stories, as well as moving tales from other people, can be found in the recently-published book Homeward Bound: Inspiring Stories of Return by the author.
Adapted from an article which originally appeared in the Jewish Press.