July 13, 2024
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July 13, 2024
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Expressing Hakarat Hatov for a True Renewal

Editor’s Note: David E. Y. Sarna is a recent kidney transplant recipient. He gave the following speech at last weekend’s Teaneck fundraiser for Renewal, a Jewish organization that facilitates Jewish kidney donation.


Chanukah, the festival of light, is really the Jewish Thanksgiving.

In that spirit, it is a pleasure to be able to express a little hakarat hatov, an expression of gratitude: I am forever grateful to Renewal, to the incredible people who make up Renewal, to my wonderful donor, who wishes to remain anonymous, to my dedicated family, and to all those who helped me so I am able to write these words today.

But first, a few words of Torah.

The Gemara (in Berachot 61a, and the text is similar in Midrash Vayikra Rabbah 4:4) teaches,

“The Rabbis taught: The kidneys advise (k’layot yoatzot), the heart considers (or understands), the tongue articulates, etc.” Rashi adds: Et halev—k’layot yoatzot et halev—the kidneys “advise” the heart. How? The kidneys advise the heart by telling it: “Asay chen—do this.”

Rashi understood the Gemara literally, while Ibn Ezra thought it was to be understood metaphorically. I am here to resolve this dispute. I’m with Rashi! Rashi was right! As my kidneys failed, I was mostly confined to bed, and in addition, my thinking was not clear. I couldn’t think straight, and my failing kidneys lost the ability to be a yo’etz to my heart. For me, this was more difficult, even, than the physical disability.

Last Chol Hamoed Pesach, at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell, I received a new kidney facilitated by Renewal through an anonymous but extremely altruistic donor.

Rabbi Menachem Friedman and Rabbi Dovid Schisha were there at 6:00 AM when I arrived with my family, to make sure everything went well, even before I entered the operating room. Then they stayed with my wife and children for hours to be a support system and help them pass the time in a pleasant way. Then they came back to visit when I was in the recovery room and on every Chol Hamoed day thereafter. They followed up with bikur cholim visits to my home.

By Shabbat morning, the doctors at Cornell were ready to send me home. (I elected, of course, to remain until after Shabbat, to which Cornell graciously agreed.)

Within a day of the transplant, my mind was again clear. My kidneys were again able to act as yo’atzot to my heart and I was again able to participate in intelligent conversations with others and even to once again study the daily Daf Yomi. I could once again resume creative writing, which I love to do. Hodu LaHaShem Ki Tov (Praise Hashem because He is good) and hodu to Rav Mendy Reiner who had the vision to create an organization like Renewal and who took it from vision to fruition. There are no words that can describe the hakarat hatov I have to you, to Rabbi Friedman, to Rabbi Schisha and to Reb Sendy Ornstein, the chairman of the board of Renewal, who called me and my wife during my hospital stay and who came to visit even during Chol Hamoed Pesach.

The Talmud (Berachot 54b) teaches that the “survivors” of four dire situations have to give thanks: a voyage at sea, traversal of the desert, serious illness and captivity.

I was one of the sick, with a very serious, life-threatening illness.

I recovered.

The Talmud teaches, “A sick person recovers from illness when his sins are forgiven” (Nedarim 41a). Since I received a new kidney, I have to give thanks. I feel like I truly have been born again, in the Jewish sense, and I am trying to make the most of my new life, doing as many mitzvot as possible.

There are four partners in Renewal’s holy work. Obviously, the donor and recipient are partners, as is the organization Renewal. The fourth, of course, is HaKadosh Baruch Hu, Almighty God. Everything requires siyata d’Shmaya, the help of Heaven, including the success of kidney transplantations.

If you are a mite skeptical about divine intervention, let me briefly tell you my story. Kidney matching is complex. Many times, Renewal engineers complex swaps. I was the beneficiary of such a multi-way swap. The remarkable donor thought she was giving totally anonymously.

However… in the pre-op room, we were both there with our families.

Rachel, my dear wife and eshet chayil (woman of valor) never forgets a face. Lo and behold, the tzadekes (pious woman) donor sitting there in scrubs and gown, was, more than three decades ago, Rachel’s prize student, at Yeshiva University High School for Girls in Manhattan. She immediately recognized Rachel, too, happy to be assisting the husband of her favorite teacher.

Her entire beautiful family visited with me at Cornell.

She still wishes to retain her anonymity, and we all respect that.

I want to close by saying that Renewal’s remarkable work is not cheap. In addition to the four partners, we need a fifth partner group! That group is made up of the many large and small donors who make possible this melechet hakodesh, this holy, life-saving work.

May many more people merit having another chance at life, as I was privileged to receive, thanks to all five partners working together.

David E.Y. Sarna is a writer and technologist living in Teaneck. To learn more about Renewal, visit http://www.renewal.org. For more information about kidney donation or if you need a kidney, please call: 718-431-9831 or email:[email protected].

By David E.Y. Sarna

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