I need to tell you about a classmate of mine from elementary school in Toronto, Rachel Mechanic Swirsky ע”ה. It was shocking when she passed away just over one-and-a-half months ago, on the last day of 2012.
I’ve thought about her a lot since her premature passing. We were only friendly and so I mainly just watched her life from afar but we did have a few interactions over the years. There is one in particular that sticks out for me. In 2009 Rachel wrote to tell me this story about what must have happened between us when we were around 10 years old and classmates in Toronto:
Thinking about you
Ok, so this is going to be corniest facebook note I have ever written. you have been warned.
I don’t know if you remember back to your time in Netivot. I know that I try not to. But there are certain moments from my time there that truly stand out and help build the foundation for who I have become and what is important to me.
I don’t know if you know it or not, but you are a prominent person in one of those moments.
Purim one year I was going through a particularly lousy time. I was being thoroughly traumatized by a few of the girls in our grade. I remember coming to school in a costume that got me totally ridiculed and went home and planned to cry out the rest of purim. My mom does not drive and I was not old enough to go anywhere on my own. My plans to give any mishloach manot were pretty much non existent.
I sat at home miserable. Not a single person came to deliver mishloach manot all day- except you.
I can still remember the witches costume you were wearing. you were having trouble with extended green fingers that you could not get to stay on properly. The mishloach manot was a small plastic container with red lines on it.
I do not know if you were giving the whole class or if you decided to bring one down because you were smart enough to understand that no one else would. I don’t want to know. Either way you have no idea how much that meant to me.
I learned a lot about how I interact with other people now from that one gesture. I learned how important the smallest gesture can be to someone in agony. I try to look out to be there for people who might be ignored by other people. It has become a huge part of who I am and how I look at life.
The crazy thing about this story is that I don’t actually remember it myself. And yet, this action had a profound effect on Rachel’s life.
One of the main ideas of Purim is “nahafochu” – “upside-down thinking.”
Purim allows us to look at our thought patterns and consider how we might change some of them – the ones that cause us pain and that inhibit our growth. I really need that right now.
I think that the mitzva of mishloach manot is an opportunity to change the way many of us think. The mitzva is to give one person two food items on the day of Purim. Indeed, for many, it’s gone way beyond that modest set of rules.
In retrospect, the mishloach manot I gave Rachel is more meaningful than most other mishloach manot I’ve ever given and maybe the ideal should be to make it that meaningful every year. Maybe these food packages should always be going to someone who might be as touched as Rachel was to receive mine. (Kudos to my mother since there is no way I could have done this without her.)
I think that it was very kind of her to share this story with me. And despite the fact that Rachel was treated terribly in our class, it was really good of her to think of me in a positive light instead of asking me, “Why didn’t you do more?”
This year I’ve decided to honour Rachel’s memory by giving some serious thought to who the one person is I should give mishloach manot to who might be really touched by the gesture.
I also hope to use this opportunity to wrap my head around the idea that I don’t have to accomplish lofty goals in order to make a difference because the small ones on the way (which I don’t even necessarily remember) can make a huge impact as well.