December 5, 2013

Learning to Listen - Feiglin (2008)

Tishrei, 5769
Oct. '08

The following article is translated from Moshe Feiglin's Hebrew article on the NRG website.

I believe that G-d speaks to us through reality. We simply have to learn how to listen. Sometimes, it is not easy to know what He is telling us. But sometimes G-d's involvement in the details of our lives is glaringly obvious. We all experience this throughout our lives. I would like to share a few such stories with you.

A wealthy American Jew told me that a few years ago, at the height of the terror attacks in Israel, he and his wife decided to travel to Israel for Shabbat. Everybody told them that they were crazy to go to Israel in the midst of the near-constant terror. But despite all the dire warnings, they came. They landed in Israel on Thursday and proceeded to the King David hotel. The hotels in Jerusalem were empty. Tourists were keeping far away from the city after scenes of exploding buses and bombed-out Jerusalem cafes were broadcast throughout the world.

When he arrived in Jerusalem, our friend approached a man dressed in Chassidic ultra-orthodox garb and asked him what time Shabbat would be starting. "At ten to five," the man answered, and hurried along his way. For some reason, when our friend entered the hotel, he asked about Shabbat candle lighting time once again. "At ten to four," the receptionist said. "But an ultra-orthodox man told me it would be at ten to five!" our friend countered. "He probably forgot that we are moving the clocks today," the receptionist answered.

Our friend started Shabbat on time. The next morning, he left the hotel to search for a synagogue. "The streets of Jerusalem were empty," he told me. "I felt an atmosphere of fear. I walked the desolate streets alone, all the while berating myself; 'How stupid can I be? I should have listened to my family and not come to Israel. Now, at any moment, a terrorist can turn up. Maybe he will be disguised as a soldier, maybe as an ultra-orthodox Jew. What will I do?' That's how I was walking up the empty Jerusalem streets, scaring myself to death."

"Suddenly, I spotted a man in ultra-orthodox garb walking in my direction. 'This is it,' I thought. 'Here is the terrorist who is going to get me.' I tried to melt into the background, but he spotted me and followed me. I didn't know what to do. I began to run and he ran after me. Finally, I ran out of steam and he grabbed me from behind. I braced myself for the stab of the knife or the explosion. But instead the terrorist said to me, 'Forgive me, forgive me, I am so sorry. I want you to know that this has been the worst Shabbat of my life. I didn't sleep all night. Even my wife can't find the words to calm me down.'

"I turned around and saw that it was the same Chasid that I had met the day before. 'You asked me what time Shabbat would begin and I told you ten to five,' the Chasid continued. 'I forgot that we were moving the clocks. You started Shabbat an hour late because of me. I am so sorry! And now, while walking down the street, I suddenly saw you and wanted to ask your forgiveness, but you started running!'"

Tell me, dear readers, what is the chance that these two people would have met again?
If you are not used to listening for G-d, you will probably classify the above story as coincidence. But for those people who listen for G-d, it is clear that the pure sorrow of the Chasid awakened heavenly mercy that brought about the second - improbable- meeting.

My grandfather, of blessed memory, inscribed the following on the siddur (prayer book) that he gave to me when I was 12: To our dear grandson Moshe Zalman - a gift from Grandfather Avraham and Grandmother Zelda. How many people in the world would know by that dedication that I was the recipient of the siddur? That siddur accompanied me through thick and thin. It is bloodstained. My grandfather has since passed away.

When I forgot my siddur at the Western Wall, I was deeply saddened. I tried looking for it, but to no avail. I knew that it would be nearly impossible to find a small siddur between the tens of thousands of prayer books and the hundreds of thousands of worshippers at the Western Wall. Three years later, one of the few people who know the identity of Moshe Zalman the grandson of Avraham and Zelda returned the siddur to me.

Again, if you are not used to listening, you will call it coincidence. But simple calculation shows that of the millions who visit the Western Wall, the chance that a person who could identify me by the dedication would actually pick up that siddur is almost nil.

The second tractor terror rampage in Jerusalem missed me by just a few meters. Early that morning, I had come to the Old City in Jerusalem for my monthly ascent to the Temple Mount. As I was searching for a parking space, a Jerusalemite said to me, "Don't bother searching, I'm leaving my parking space and you can have it." "Thank you," I said and then, before he drove off, he said to me, "You should know that I pray for you every day."

That night, after all the commotion over the terror rampage had calmed a bit, I suddenly remembered the Jerusalem Jew. Maybe I am alive because of his prayers? Thank you, dear Jew.

Everybody has many stories like these. I don't usually write about these topics, but the High Holidays are a unique time. Don't waste them. Don't let the noise from the outside world drown out your ability to listen for G-d. Even if you, like me, do not feel spiritually prepared for these lofty times, listen to your inner selves; listen for G-d and no matter where you are - pray. Pray from your home, from the synagogue, from the prayer book, from your heart and from all the above.

Someone above is listening and He understands. No prayer is for naught. Certainly not on these holy days.

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