Of tefillot and tickets
as published on www.ou.org, by Sheila Siegel
"It could only happen in Eretz Yisroel," declared Blimi, her dark eyes gleaming. Our shabbos guest, Blimi Wechsler, was enthusiastically describing the trip she and her friends had taken after Chanukah. Visiting from New York for two weeks, Blimi and three friends had decided to devote one day of their trip to daven at kivrei tzaddikim in the north of the country. Pooling their funds, they hired a taxi for the day, and set off before dawn, eager to reach Teveria for shacharit.
The cool winter morning found the four girls clasping their siddurim, briskly walking up to the kever of Rabbi Akiva. Moist dew glistened on the grassy path, as the sky slowly lightened. An orange ball of sun peeked out from between soft clouds warming the girls' breath as they hurried up the incline to the kever. The place was deserted, and each one chose a spot, slightly distant from the others, to begin her tefillot. The twittering and trilling of some dun-colored birds provided a sweet harmony to the girls' hushed voices, murmuring the tefillot with an uncommon devotion. They completed their davening with several pirkei tehillim, including lists of names of friends and acquaintances that needed a yeshua or a refuah.
The taxi driver suggested a short breakfast stop, which the girls welcomed gladly. The air was warmer now, and it was pleasant to sit on a wooden bench in the small park and sip coffee from the thermos that they had brought with them. Munching sandwiches, they conversed in quiet tones, relishing the peaceful stillness.
As the morning wore on, they traveled through Teveria and on to Meron and Tzfas, pouring out their tefillot at the numerous kivrei tzadikkim that they included on their journey. As the hours passed, the air grew colder and the sky grayer. They were feeling weary from all of the driving. In addition, the effort of navigating rocky, slippery footpaths to the sites they were searching for in the waning light was taking its toll. And yet, there was still one spot they wanted to visit. Amuka, which was the burial site of Rav Yonasan Ben Uziel. This was where thousands of single men and women streamed, to pour out their hearts to Hashem. The friends were unsure of the source, but various legends abounded about the effectiveness of davening at this Tanna's kever to assure success in finding one's bashert.
The four friends, each in her early twenties, hoped to share in the segula of davening in Amuka to achieve her goal of finding her intended soul mate. The sky was inky black as they wended their way down the narrow, winding road that led to the kever. Many minutes passed in silence as they descended further and further down the mountain to the small building that housed the kever. Loud mooing startled them as they left the taxi. Several large cows were strolling through the parking lot, liquid brown eyes gazing benevolently at the carloads of visitors. Giggling nervously, they skirted the ambling cows and soon reached their goal. Mindful of the driver's repeated requests that they hurry, since they had a long drive ahead of them back to Jerusalem, they lost no time in entering the small room. The girls concentrated intently, each one wrapped in her cocoon of supplication. Blimi felt a gentle tap on her shoulder, and saw her friend gesturing toward her watch. "Okay, I'm coming," she whispered softly, and reluctantly closed her siddur. She joined her friends down the long path to the parking lot, and found the taxi driver impatient to leave. The girls settled in the taxi, and resigned themselves to the nearly four-hour trip back to Yerushalayim. They ascended the snake-like path back up to the top of the mountain, the driver maneuvering skillfully in the almost complete blackness that enveloped them. As they reached the top, they were momentarily blinded by the bright lights of a police car that was parked at the side of the road. A police officer motioned them to pull over and stop. The driver complied, and turned off the ignition. The officer peered inside the taxi and his eyes narrowed in anger.
"Why are your passengers not wearing seat belts?" He demanded. The driver turned around in some confusion. It was true, the girls had not fastened their seat belts and they shamefacedly stammered some excuse in a mixture of Hebrew and English. The officer whipped out a pad, and started scrawling. "I'm giving you a fine of 500 shekels, and that's getting off lightly," he warned the driver, as he slapped the paper in his hand. The driver, shocked and dismayed at the fine, began to argue heatedly with the police officer. The girls felt terribly guilty, and agreed among themselves to reimburse the driver for the fine, since they were at fault.
"You know, officer, these girls have been praying all day at different kivrei tzaddikim. I've been driving them since daybreak, and they haven't put their siddurim down even for a few minutes." In a last desperate gamble, the driver was hoping to pierce the heart of the traffic policeman and convince him to change his mind about the heavy fine. The girls saw the policeman pale and stagger suddenly. He leaned heavily on the taxi, and then gazed at the group with tear filled eyes. He nodded slowly, and then spoke in a barely audible whisper.
"My only daughter, Noah, was just diagnosed with leukemia. She is seven years old, and a wonderful child. My wife and I waited many years till she was born, and the happiness we felt at her birth has only increased each year. I am devastated by the painful treatments she will have to endure, and I can only hope she will recover. The doctors make no promises, and the prognosis looks grim." He buried his face in his hands and his shoulders heaved. The girls were horrified at this disclosure, and the pain of the distraught father touched them deeply. The man looked at them and continued speaking. "I agree to completely waive the fine. However, I do have one request to make of you. Please, daven for my child. May the power of your prayers help Noah bat Elisheva." They immediately opened their siddurim and in choked voices said three pirkei tehillim. The policeman thanked them profusely, and deliberately ripped the ticket to shreds. He gratefully acceded to their request to keep them posted on the condition of the little girl. After carefully fastening their seat belts, the taxi pulled away. Throughout the long ride back to Yerushalayim, the girls were silent, each lost in her own thoughts.
Blimi was profoundly moved by her experience and was determined to follow the progress of the sick girl. She added the name Noah bat Elisheva to her list of names that needed a refuah sheleima, and decided to keep in touch with the family in Israel even after her return to the States.
Blimi ended her story with a sigh. "Where else but in Israel would a policeman disregard a legitimate fine, on condition that some religious girls say tehillim for his sick daughter?"
"Yes, " I added with a meaningful look at Blimi. "And where else, except among Klal Yisrael, would you find girls that care so deeply about other people and their troubles?"
* * * * *
This story has no ending yet. The child (whose name has been changed) is still receiving treatments, and seems to be responding well. Blimi, who has continued davening for her, has since become a kalla.
Sheila Segal teaches in a women's seminary in Israel, where she has been living for the past 23 years. She enjoys writing in her spare time.