Terumah: Peanut Butter and Banana
Eldad wouldn't take no for an answer. 'So what if I have Down's Syndrome?' he said defiantly to the IDF recruiter. "Why not look at the rest of my record...'
by Rabbi Lazer Brody
Although the names and the facts in the following story are fictitious, they are based on a true story.
Eldad wouldn't take no for an answer. "So what if I have Down's Syndrome?" he said defiantly to the IDF recruiter. "Why not look at the rest of my record. I graduated High School and passed the matriculation exams. So what if I don't look like a movie star? Is that all you care about? External experiences?"
The recruiter, a young captain, had never been chastised like that before. Eldad had a great vocabulary and a slightly above-average IQ. Other than his Down's, the rest of his physical shape was more than satisfactory. He had even played on Israel's special-Olympics soccer team. Sure, Eldad was a precedent, but there really was no reason not to accept him into the army. The captain looked once more into Eldad's file. There were plenty of soldiers less qualified than Eldad was. The captain extended his arm and shook Eldad's hand. "Mazal Tov, Private Eldad! You've been accepted to the IDF. Report to the Tel Hashomer Induction Center on May 9th."
With a smile that made the sunshine look dark, Eldad jumped up from his chair and saluted the captain. Unable to control his emotions, he ran around to the other side of the desk and hugged the captain. This was one of the rare moments when you're fortunate enough to make another human being really happy...
Eldad loved to cook. After a 6-week basic training, he attended cook's school, which he finished with surprising success. Life wasn't easy for him because everyone around him construed that a young man with Down's can't do anything more than peel potatoes, shell hard-boiled and wash dishes. Most of the time, he was stuck with washing the oversized army aluminum 25-gallon pots no picnic, to say the least. Yet, Eldad accepted everything with a smile.
Everything, except for his first base assignment...
"Eldad," the personnel officer said, "don't you know that you're not supposed to dispute orders? We need you at the supply base. It's near your home outside of Petach Tikvah, so you'll be able to go home once a week and every other Shabbat."
"I don't want to be stationed at a supply base near a shopping mall in the middle of the country. I'm not stupid I volunteered for this. But if I'm going to get stuck washing pots and pans, let me at least do it on the Lebanon Border or on the Syrian Border. If I'm in the kitchen there, then a Golani paratrooper wont have to be washing dishes. Please, sir this means so much to me." Eldad wouldn't give up. He appealed and cajoled until he got himself stationed on Har Dov one of the coldest, most dangerous places in all of Israel, right where the borders of Israel, Syria and Jordan meet.
Eldad didn't have an easy life. Like he thought, he spent most of his days washing dishes. The company cook was pleased to have a full-time dishwasher, something that none of the other young cooks would ever agree to.
It was the middle of winter and three feet of snow fell on Har Dov and Mount Hermon. IDF D9 bulldozers had to pave the way for the armored troop carriers, "ATCs", so that they could do their morning patrol along the border. Yet there was a problem. The company cook miscalculated badly and the kitchen was low on supplies. And, you could forget about seeing a supply truck coming from Nahariya or Kiriat Shemona to Har Dov for the next 24 hours. There were no eggs left and no tomatoes. Even the supply of luft, the Israeli Army's mystery-meat version of Spam, had exhausted.
There was nothing to give the two ATC crews of mechanized infantrymen who were about to go out on patrol in the sub-zero weather.
The hotheaded company cook cursed his bad fortune and everyone around him, blaming everyone in the world. He knew he was in big trouble his own fate was what concerned him...
Two things were plentiful in the supply bunker. Whatever there's a surplus of in the civilian market gets sent to the army. There were bananas about to rot and loads of peanut butter. Without thinking twice, Eldad took the old loaves of sliced bread he found and cut off the moldy parts. He spread the slices liberally with peanut butter, placed a few slices of banana on top, closed the sandwich and wrapped it in army-issued sandwich bags. He made 72 sandwiches as fast as he could and split them up into two sacks of 36 each. He put on his Chermonit whole-body parka, went out in the freezing cold and put a sack of sandwiches in each of the two ATCs.
Eight hours later, the two crews came back to the outpost. The peanut butter and banana sandwiches had made their day. With no K-rations left in the ATCs, they didn't know what they were going to eat. But thanks to Eldad, they had calories and they had energy. What's more, they could feel the love that went into each sandwich.
Lieutenant Motti, the platoon commander who commanded the morning patrol, hugged Eldad. He said to the company cook, "From this moment on, if Eldad doesn't receive the same privileges as any other cook, you will be messing with me, Edri! It's about time that you learned to cook something from the heart too..."
"Speak to the Children of Israel and let them take for Me a contribution, from every man whose heart motivates him, you shall take My portion." (Exodus 25:2)
If Eldad had lived in the time of the Tabernacle in the desert, his peanut butter and banana sandwiches would probably have become a part of our sacrificial ritual. Why? Just as this week's Torah portion says, the goodness of Eldad's heart is what motivated him. Yes, Hashem gave Eldad Down's Syndrome; that didn't stop Eldad from using his G-d given abilities in the very best way he could.
We learn from Eldad that any disability can become an ability as long as it's strongly motivated by a good and willing heart. And, anything done with a willing heart is a worthy offering that Hashem is happy to receive.
Rabbi Lazer Brody was born in Washington, D.C. in 1949. After receiving his bachelor's degree in agriculture from the University of Maryland in 1970, he moved to Israel and joined the Israel Defense Forces regular army, and served in one of the elite special-forces units. He is a decorated combat veteran of two wars and numerous of counter-insurgence and anti-terrorist missions on both sides of Israel's borders.
Rabbi Brody is the English-language editor of Breslev Israel's highly popular English-language website at www.breslev.co.il, and the founder and director of Emuna Outreach. Between Breslov Israel and Emuna Outreach, he devotes his time to spreading emuna and particularly the teachings of Rebbe Nachman of Breslev around the globe.
"Lazer Beams," Rabbi Brody's award-winning daily web journal, has been instrumental in helping tens of thousands of people around the globe find joy and fulfillment in their lives.