When Simcha showed up at my door right before Shabbat it took a moment for me to place him. It had been about twenty years since we last saw each other and I never imagined I would see him again, let alone in this context.

"Sure you can come inside," I sputtered when he asked for shelter. "Sure you can have something to eat."

As he stepped into my house I said, only half lying, how nice it was to see him. "How have you been?" I asked excitedly. "What have you been up to?" But the answer was obvious from his twisted trunk, and tattooed and track-marked arms.

The answer was obvious from his track-marked arms "Well, I ain't doing too good," he slowly uttered, his cheeks, bracketing upturned lips, coloring crimson. "I got kicked out of the half-way house I've been living at and now I've got nowhere to go. I was walking around the neighborhood trying to figure out what to do and when I saw your house I remembered how nice your family always was to me so I thought I would come say hello.

"I didn't expect to see you though," he said uncomfortably. "I thought you lived in Israel."

"I did," I said, glancing over my shoulder at my husband who was approaching with our three kids. "We moved back to America last year and at the same time my mom moved out of her house. We have been living here ever since." My husband came closer and I introduced him to Simcha. While they shook hands and exchanged hellos I wondered what Simcha wanted from us and hoped it wouldn't get in the way of my hopes for a quiet and restful Shabbat. The previous week had been extremely hectic and had left me exhausted and longing for relaxation. Simcha's presence posed a threat to my dreams and I stood pensively as our conversation ensued.

"That's cool," Simcha said, referring to us living in my parents' home, "I remember this place. It's big. Still got that bar in the basement?"

Not skipping a beat my husband asked Simcha why he got kicked out of the half-way home. "Nothing serious," he responded. "I broke curfew one night. I was forty-five minutes late. But so what, I mean it's not like I was doing drugs. I've been clean for a few months now. But what about you, Sunny?" he said, attempting a normal tone of concern. "How've you been? I heard your father died. I always liked your dad. When did he go?"

We led Simcha toward the kitchen to give him something to eat. As the day rolled on he drank cup after cup of coffee and disclosed personal horror stories about his parents' messy divorce, his troubled childhood, ten years of drug addiction, and time spent in jail. Growing up, Simcha and I were family friends— which meant we shared many Shabbat lunches and the occasional play date. We were enrolled in the same Tae Kwon Do class and when I was old enough, I babysat him and his sisters. Then one day he and his family picked up and moved out of the state. That was the last I ever saw or heard of Simcha. I felt bad for my old friend and wanted to help. So despite my hopes for a quiet Shabbat, my husband and I agreed that Simcha could stay with us at least until Saturday night— another twenty-five hours.

Those twenty-five hours were rigorous Those twenty-five hours were rigorous. As more of his story came to the foreground and more of his dysfunctional, needy and helpless mannerisms came to the surface, my generosity, hospitality, and overall excitement about doing this particular mitzvah started to fade. All those years of pursuing illegal pleasures, avoiding responsibility, and running away from family had turned Simcha into a social paraplegic: unaware of healthy boundaries, normal behaviors and acceptable etiquette. He needed me to pour his juice, serve him breakfast, clean up after him, and give him snacks. He stayed up all night drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes. He left the door open when he went to the bathroom. He spoke with vulgar and inappropriate language even after being told not to and ate boxes of crackers in his bed, leaving crumbs all over the room. By the end of the day I felt overextended and overworked. I wanted my life back. I wanted him to leave.

When Shabbat was finally over on Saturday night I told him that it was time go. "I'm sorry Simcha" I said, "but we can't have you here any longer. Tomorrow morning you are going to have to find another place to go."

And much to my surprise, Simcha began to cry. "Please," he begged tenaciously, "Please let me stay with you a little longer. Just for Sunday. If you kick me out I'll be on the streets and I might die. I've got nowhere to go. Nowhere! I've got no money. No friends. Nothing! You don't understand what a big mitzvah you are doing by having me here. I wish I didn't have to ask for this. I wish I wasn't in this situation, but I am. Please," he pleaded in desperation— holding his hands together by his heart, "we've known each other since we're kids. I always looked up to you in our Tae Kwon Do class. My father and your father were good friends. Please give me until after the weekend to get it together and figure out where I'm going to go next. Please," he continued, "I would do it for you."

I was completely dumbfounded. Never in my life had I been in a situation like this. Never before had I been begged, from within my very own home, for some basic hospitality. I felt lost in a giant existential crisis without a compass and I had no idea how to navigate through the tangled terrain of what was right and what was wrong. On the one hand, how could I possibly say no to somebody who was begging me to stay for one more day? On the other hand, as much as we wanted to help him we had to take into consideration if it was safe and healthy for our children, both physically and emotionally.

Being begged for elemental hospitality, what our forefather Abraham strove to give to wayfaring strangers, left me feeling like a heartless aristocrat abusing a peasant.

He continued to beg.

"OK," I said, my temples throbbing. "You can stay with us until early Monday morning but you've got to follow my rules and if you don't you have to leave right away. Clear?

"Crystal ," he said with a big smile.

"You may only eat in the kitchen."

"You have to clean up after yourself."

"Don't smoke in the backyard or within in twenty feet of the front door, and no swearing, and no more stories about "drunken kings and dumb queens" in front of my kids."

Simcha exerted himself Simcha exerted himself and he followed the rules. But even on his best behavior his presence blanketed me in an airless cloak. He vied for my attention like a child himself, even when my own kids were screaming.

"Can I have a drink?"

"Will you make me something to eat?"

"Will you show me some of your Tae Kwon Do moves?" "Can I try on your black belt?" "How many boards can you break at one time?" "Can I use your computer?"

By Sunday night I was literally counting down the hours for him to leave.

As I lay in bed that night tracing the creaks in the guest-room floor upstairs from Simcha's mid-night meanderings, I mulled how a person can get so far gone. So swamped in negativity and bad decisions that there are no family members or friends left who are willing to help. I imagined what the void created by a dysfunctional and unstable upbringing might feel like and I thanked G‑d for the things I previously took for granted, such as parents who got along beautifully, close sibling relationships, rules, consequences, and healthy outlets for my stress such as Tae Kwon Do and journal writing. I even thanked G‑d for the things that used to make me cry, like my older brother Josh who was born blind and mentally handicapped, and the various ways in which that effected me. Because in retrospect, I could see how all those challenges were brilliantly and lovingly placed before me in order to stimulate growth, stability, perseverance and sensitivity.

I thanked G‑d for the things I previously took for granted My appreciation deepened as I continued to think about the benefits of my so called "curses." All those difficult issues of my youth suddenly seemed more like anchors than problems: Tough like iron yet grounding and stabilizing. Without them weighing me down, I reasoned, I too could have ended up like Simcha: lost and alone, wandering circuitously on some wayward path. Basking in the brilliance of G‑d's loving plan, my thoughts were abruptly interrupted by the creaking sound of our backdoor. I got out of bed and peeked out the window into the backyard. There stood Simcha in his pajamas lighting a cigarette under the glimmering midnight moon. And even though I had told him numerous times not to smoke on our property, I couldn't be mad at him. I couldn't be upset. All I could do was sympathize. I felt bad that rather than anchoring him, his "anchors" had temporarily drowned him. I wished I could help him. I wanted to call his parents and ask them to pick up their son and give family life another try but I couldn't. I couldn't fix Simcha's problems. I couldn't bring his family back together. I could, however, seize the moment and apply the fix-it spirit to my own family.

Watching Simcha pace up and down the yard I thought about how difficult this must be for his parents. Surely they never intended this for their son. No normal parent does. We want the best for our kids. But what is "the best" I wondered? Is it something that I have ever clearly defined for myself? And am I doing anything to assure that my kids and I get there? Simcha showed me a clear image of what I don't want for my kids, but knowing what I don't want is not enough. He helped me realize that I have to know what I DO want. That way I have something to work toward. Without giving serious thought to their future and having a goal in mind for how I would like them to turn out, I will be more prone to live my life day by day, acting on a whim without stopping to consider the outcome of each particular action I make.

On the other hand, if I have a long-term goal and I'm serious about reaching it, the goal will influence my present tense choices, attitudes and behaviors. And perhaps the next time I feel the urge to unleash negativity on my kids, act unfairly, criticize my husband or lose my temper, I will think about the future I long for and hold myself back from the instant gratification of impatience, coldness and meanness knowing that I will enjoy far greater rewards in the future.

When Simcha finished his cigarette he flicked it over the fence into our neighbor's backyard. I smiled knowing that this was his way of respecting my property. He slowly turned around and headed for the door. Once I heard the creaking sound of the closing door I lay back down in my bed. Before drifting to sleep I asked G‑d to provide Simcha with a nice place to stay and to give him the strength to turn himself around and use his pain and trauma as fuel for upward mobility. I prayed that one day he should be able to teach and inspire people toward greatness. I thought for a moment about my prayer and with my next breath thanked my Creator for answering me so quickly. Simcha, I reflected, had already taught and inspired me.


Late Sunday night when Simcha was scrambling to find a place to go and calling everyone he could think of, I suddenly thought of a young man, Dov, who could help him. I told Simcha to call Dov, also a recovered drug addict, because he knows everything about these kinds of resources in Chicago. Dov agreed to help Simcha. Early Monday morning, we dropped Simcha off at Dunkin Donuts where Dov was waiting for him, and they spent all day working on finding him a place to go. After about six hours they found another half-way house that would take him. Simcha (not his real name) called us from the half-way home a few days later to thank us and say he was fine…