Rabbis Without Borders
Rabbis Without Borders is a dynamic forum for exploring contemporary issues in the Jewish world and beyond. Written by rabbis of different denominations, viewpoints, and parts of the country, Rabbis Without Borders is a project of Clal – The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership.
For the last two weeks, I’ve been thinking about Hailey, who saw me in distress and stopped to help.
My physical bruises are nearly healed. The swelling in my thumb is still noticeable but I have enough mobility to be able to write and type these sentences with only minor discomfort. When I fell, the pain was so great I cried out in anguish, like a wounded animal. Then, even as part of my brain was aware I was broken and bleeding, I was able to stand, unwind Luna’s leash from the fire hydrant, and keep running. Overcome as I was by fear for Willow, my recently rescued dog, when I glimpsed Hailey’s car slowly descending the hill and accompanying her, ensuring she stayed on the sidewalk, I found the strength to continue.
On that Shabbat afternoon, it was the adrenaline that allowed me to lift my body from the pavement. It was Hailey who restored my spiritual balance.
During these two weeks, I’ve rubbed my badly bruised thumb with Arnica gel and gently covered the pads of Willow’s paws with Silver Sulfadiazine cream and stylish booties so they would heal quickly. I’ve also reviewed the Mishnah related to hashavat avedot, returning lost property, with my 10th-grade students, and my thoughts repeatedly returned to Hailey, who exemplifies the biblical verses that are the foundation for the rabbinic law:
You shall not see your neighbor’s ox or sheep driven off and hide yourself from them. You shall bring them back to your neighbor…you may not hide yourself. You shall not see your neighbor’s donkey or ox falling in the road and hide yourself from them. You shall lift it up….(Deuteronomy 22:1-4)
When I finally caught up with them, Willow had run past our house and deeper into the neighborhood, too frightened–and too smart–to cross in front of Hailey’s car that stood between her and the front door. Hailey had turned her car around and was returning for me and Luna.
“Oh, you live here,” she said, as I ushered Luna into the house and called to my spouse to help. “Let me park and help you search.”
We three canvassed the southern end of the neighborhood, confident that Willow would not be able to slip through the sturdy fence and back onto the main road. It was Hailey who found her, curled up and panting at my neighbor’s back door, too tired and, as we would later learn, too injured to run away when Hailey approached her. Because she was sitting on the leash, Hailey lifted her up and carried her back to the street.
Only then did I catch my breath and, becoming emotional, ask her why she stopped to help a stranger.
In a matter-of-fact manner, she told me that she’d seen it all unfold: she first noticed me running fast, faster than I’ve run since I was a sprinter on my high school track team, Luna galloping beside me. Then, when she drove past us, she saw Willow running up ahead, her bright pink leash dragging behind her. Finally, as she slowed down and glanced in her rearview mirror, she told me, “I saw you fall, and I knew I had to help. Somebody needed to help you.”
What I said: “How can I ever thank you?”
What I meant: How can I ever thank you for restoring my faith in our human capacity for compassion? How can I ever express my gratitude to you for seeing me and doing something?
With a smile and a shrug, Hailey opened her car door and replied, “I’m just glad your dog is safe and you’re okay.”
And she drove away.
She never even told me her last name. And yet, she did not hide herself. She saw us, our need, and lifted us up.