I once donated a kidney, but I am not a hero

It was three and a half years ago actually. Three and half years ago I donated one of my kidneys to a woman that I had never previously met. Her name is Linda, and I must say she was quite appreciative of the gesture. We had both contacted the organization Renewal. She contacted them because she needed a kidney, and I contacted them because I happen to have an extra one that I wasn’t using. Renewal made the shidduch, and in August of 2015, Linda and I met for the first time, each of us matching in our extremely unflattering flannel hospital gowns at the Cornell Weill Medical Center at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital.

So I donated one of my kidneys to Linda, something I’m told I can never ever do again.

And THIS is why I don’t believe that I am a hero.

Let me explain my, uneventful, non-heroic story.

Some four years ago I learned about someone who had donated a kidney altruistically, meaning, they didn’t know who the recipient was. It gave me great pause to think that someone would do such a thing.

“Donate a kidney? To a complete stranger?…Are they crazy?”

So many anxiety ridden questions ran through my mind.

What if they ever needed their other kidney?

What if something goes wrong?

Doesn’t it hurt?

For months I sat with these questions, and found it fairly easy to convince myself that this was not for me.

And then came January of that year, and I read Parshat Shemot.

In Parshat Shemot we are introduced to our greatest or at least most famous leader, Moses. Moses eventually becomes the leader of the Jewish people, but when he is first approached by Gd he has a very different agenda.

“Send someone else” he says…”I’m not your guy.”

So G-d proceeds to try to convince him. G-d explains that the people need him. He explains that He will save them with the merit of the forefathers Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He shares with Moses that the all merciful G-d has heard the cries of the people and of their suffering, and that it is time to save them.

Moses, however, is thoroughly unconvinced.

Moses responds with a series of questions,

“Who am I?”

“Who are You?”

“Who are they?”

And then G-d asks Moses a question…

“What is this in your hand?” (Exodus 4:2)

Moses replies to G-d that it is a staff.  So G-d tells Moses to cast it onto the ground and the staff became a snake. He then instructs Moses to grab the snake, and it turns back into a staff.

Now what was the purpose of this scene? G-d doesn’t need to ask the question — He knows the answer. But He is clearly trying to teach Moses a very simple but powerful lesson. As Rick Warren writes in his best selling book, the “Purpose Driven Life,” G-d is challenging Moses to look inside himself. “What’s in your hand?” What talents or gifts do you possess? Moses holds up his staff, showing that he is a shepherd. But G-d informs Moses that we are not defined by our professions nor by our possessions. We are not even defined by our talents, skills or gifts. We are only defined and judged by what we do with those talents and with those gifts.

“What’s in your hand?” G-d asks Moses. “Do you think I gave you these gifts so you can just be a lonely shepherd? Do you think I gave you these skills and talents and resources for nothing? What are you going to do with them? How are you going to use them to help the people?”

As I read those words over and over again, I started asking myself “What is it that G-d gave me for the purpose of helping others?”

So I gave my spare kidney to someone who needed it.

Every day of the year, there are people who risk their lives to help people. There are first responders, soldiers, medical professionals… so many of them sacrificing in order to save others. And what does a 19 year old soldier do after he just faced enemy fire, or what does a fireman do after running into a burning building? They go back the next day and do it again.

These are heroes. They ask the question “What’s in my hand?”, and then they use it to save people  – every single day.

My story is not that eventful. I just gave a kidney once, spent two days in the hospital, a couple of weeks recuperating, and within 5 weeks I was completely back to my former self.

And I only wish I could do it again.

Everyday, I still ask myself that question that G-d asked Moses at the Burning Bush. I try to use whatever gifts I was given to help and benefit others.

Inevitably I stand in awe of those who save lives every single day. They are the real heroes. I just hope I can be a little bit like them.

About the Author
Rabbi Ira Ebbin serves as the Rabbi of Congregation Ohav Sholom, a Modern Orthodox Synagogue in Merrick, NY.
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