It was incongruous. He lay in his bed wearing suit pants and a white shirt and tie. It looked like he had places to go and people to see. But he wasn’t going anywhere. At least that’s what he told the recreation therapist who came to his room, at the nursing home where he lived, to invite him to the Shabbat afternoon get-together, called Oneg Shabbat. I’ll call him Shmuel.

Shmuel came to every Oneg Shabbat. He liked hearing the discussion about the Torah portion of the week, and he often had something to say if the topic triggered something in him. But today he was just staring up at the ceiling. The recreation therapist—whom I’ll call Joel—really had to get back to the dining room on that floor, to be with the sixty residents who were waiting for him to do his program. But Joel wanted so much for Shmuel to come that he wasn’t ready to leave him so soon.

Whatever the aide had said to him had cut him to the core of his being“What’s bothering you?” he asked.

When he didn’t get an answer, he asked a minute later again. And then a minute later once more. Finally, Shmuel said a few words about how he didn’t like how an aide spoke to him that morning. He didn’t elaborate, but Joel could imagine that whatever the aide had said to him had cut him to the core of his being. That it was difficult enough for him to be in the nursing home . . . that so much had been taken away from him . . . that he didn’t have the strength to fight off an affront to his dignity.

Meanwhile, Joel was now two minutes late for his program.

Despite the sixty people who were waiting for him in the dining room, he felt a deeper obligation to help the normally gracious and sociable Shmuel get back to himself.

So Joel started a conversation with him that had nothing to do with the Oneg Shabbat, and nothing to do with how the aide had spoken to him.

Grudgingly, Shmuel gave short answers to the questions that Joel was asking him. Somehow, the topic turned to the work that Shmuel had done, and he said that around forty-five years prior he used to go around to apartment buildings in New York City and collect the quarters that were in the washing machines. (Joel was now three minutes late for his program.)

Shmuel recounted a time that he came into the laundry room of one apartment building, and found three one-hundred-dollar bills wrapped in a rubber band on the floor. He wanted to do the right thing and return it to its owner, but he did have a job to do. Joel saw how Shmuel was becoming more energized in the telling of this story.

Shmuel said, “I went to a pay phone and called my boss and asked him what I should do. He told me I could wait around and see if anyone came for the money, but I would still have to finish my route no matter what time I left the building.

“I decided to stay.”

Shmuel now had a smile on his face, and Joel was not even aware he was six minutes late for his program.

“About fifteen minutes later,” said Shmuel, “a woman came into the laundry room looking everywhere. Then she started to cry her eyes out. She said, ‘My husband’s going to be so upset with me. I lost the rent money!’

Shmuel now had Joel’s rapt attention, and he knew it. “I said to her, ‘You can stop crying, lady. I found your money.’” Shmuel recounted how, when he handed her the money, she thanked him repeatedly.

“That was a big mitzvah you did,” said Joel.

Beaming, as if the event he was describing was happening at that moment and not decades earlier, Shmuel said he was glad he did it.

The kind deed he had done was able to reach him forty-five years laterThem Shmuel got off the bed and, with a voice of pure sense of purpose, said, “Let’s go to Oneg Shabbat.”

Following the quickly moving Shmuel down the hall, Joel was impressed with what had happened with that three hundred dollars found on the ground. If Shmuel would have spent it oh so long ago, whatever material gain he would have gotten from it would almost definitely not be helping him now. But the kind deed he had done was able to reach him forty-five years later, and breathe a renewed enthusiasm in him to enjoy his activities of daily living.

The power of a mitzvah is astounding.

Yes, Joel was ten minutes late for the Oneg Shabbat, but he apologized and then led a well-received and stimulating Torah discussion that included eliciting feedback from the residents. He was, no doubt, inspired by what he had heard and seen from Shmuel. Next week he would endeavor to start closer to the starting time, but for this week it was more important to go back in time to help one man figure out for himself that, no matter what one aide had said about him, the sparks of G‑dliness in him are stronger.