Friday, February 16, 2007

Whither the Storm

Dedicated to the memory of Chana bas Shmuel.

This winter weather reminds me of a story.

The Cast: Rabbi Mordechai Gifter, the late great Dean of the Telz Yeshiva in Cleveland, and 8 students.
The Setting: A few years ago during a snowy winter..

One of Rabbi Gifter’s students was getting married in New York and had sent nine tickets to bring his rabbi and friends to his wedding. They were leaving on an early morning flight to attend an evening ceremony. It was a very happy time for all of them.

Halfway to New York, the pilot made an announcement:

“Ladies and Gentlemen, this is the Captain. The storm in New York has become an unexpected blizzard and all airports in the region are closed. No flights are taking off or landing. We are being diverted to Washington National Airport. I am sorry for the inconvenience.”

There was obviously nothing that Rabbi Gifter and his students could do. They were going to miss the wedding. This was not a pleasing outcome, but there was nothing they could do. They were not going to share this celebration with their friend.

Facing an indefinitely long wait in the Washington airport, Rabbi Gifter told his students, “Let’s go find a quite place to say the afternoon service.” Because of the storm, the airport was jammed full of stranded travelers. They could find neither nook nor cranny conducive to the intense meditation that yeshiva students prefer. Finally, one of the students stopped an airport custodian. His name tag said “Joe”.

“Is there a room here we could use to pray?”

Joe dropped his mop and gaped at them like they were from Mars. The student who had stopped him assumed that he didn’t speak English very well, so tried to communicate with a combination of monosyllabic words and sign language: “ROOM – FOR PRAY - QUIET – WHERE? QUIET ROOM?” he asked, gesturing.

Joe replied slowly and quietly, almost a whisper, “I have a work room you can use. Follow me.”

Pleased, they followed Joe into a room that was barely large enough for all of them, but it was quiet. They were grateful.

The entire time they conducted their service, Joe stood at the door and watched. When they had finished and were moving to leave, he asked, “Why don’t you say Kaddish?”

Needless to say, they were not expecting that question. Rabbi Gifter responded, “We need ten men to say Kaddish, and you see that we’re short one.”

Very deliberately, Joe said, “I am a Jew. Let me complete your minyan.” Then he became plaintive: “Please,” he begged, “Let me say the Kaddish.”

Needless to say, Rabbi Gifter and his students agreed. Joe put down his mop, moved to the center of the room, and took a deep breath. “Yisgadal v’yiskadash...” His voice trailed off, for he did not know the Aramaic by heart. So Rabbi Gifter coached him through every word and he and the students responded at all the appropriate times.

Then Joe told his story. “As you can see, I am not a completely ignorant Jew. I was brought up practicing. But as a young man I rebelled against my parents, especially my father, and stopped being observant. This caused an even bigger fight with my father and we didn’t speak for nine years until he died. I didn’t even go to his funeral last week.

“But last night I dreamed about my father. In my dream he spoke to me and said, ‘Yosaif, I know you’re angry at me! You didn’t even come to my funeral! But you must say Kaddish for me! You’re my only son!’

“In my dream I said back to him, ‘But how can I do that, I don’t know the words, and anyway you need a minyan!’

“He said, ‘Don’t worry, I’ll get you a minyan. Tomorrow!’ And then I woke up. And then the next day, that’s today, the nine of you show up, Heaven sent!”

Rabbi Gifter then told Joe their side of the story, about the wedding and the storm. “You see,” he said to the students as much as to Joe, “that literally nothing happens by chance. Not the wedding, not the nine invitations, not the snowstorm. Someone is looking out for you!”

Joe didn’t take much persuading to find a local minyan and continue saying Kaddish for his father for the duration of the eleven months, and on the annual Yarzeit thereafter.

For your table – Have you ever felt that events in your life were being orchestrated or that you were being tested?

Shabbat Shalom.

PS – if you would like to arrange Kaddish for a parent or other loved one, almost any yeshiva that has a daily minyan will make sure that it is said on your behalf in exchange for a small donation.

Yiddish of the Week.

mazal – (MAH-z’l) luck or fortune, as in, “It was good mazal that....”
beshert – (b’shairt) - meant to be, as in “It was beshert that...”
mine eltern – my parents
mine lair-er – my teacher

Nu, do you remember these past words?

anee — poor person
koptsen — panhandler
ballaboss — homeowner; layman
nu — various meanings (see archives)
mishpocha — family
mameh — mother
tateh — father

1 comment:

BarbaraFromCalifornia said...

A very inspiring story and good reminder that we should and have the power to make the best of our circumstances, regardless of where we are.