Saturday, Jul 13, 2024

Relief in Rahway

A well-intentioned individual harbored a deep-seated desire to meet Eliyahu Hanovi, who, as our sages tell us, is known to arrive on Heaven-sent missions to deliver salvation and succor in times of distress, often at the most unexpected of moments.

            This man repeatedly begged an elderly sage in his community to teach him how such a merit could be his. After initially attempting to push him off, the sage eventually relented.

            “There is a desperately poor family living at the edge of town,” the sage told his petitioner. “They have almost nothing. They are desperate for any assistance they can get. But they are terribly embarrassed to accept handouts from strangers. If you would go there once a week and discreetly leave an envelope at their doorstep with funds to provide them with their basic sustenance, you will merit seeing Eliyahu Hanovi.”

            Excited at the prospect, and enthused to do his bit to ease this desperate family’s plight, the man immediately began a weekly visit to the outskirts of town, where he would drop off an envelope filled with bills. He truly had no idea how these envelopes were literally life-savers for this struggling family. It helped pay for food, fuel and medicine. While still desperately poor, the family suddenly felt infused with new life and with hope.

            A month passed and the man was making his way towards the outskirts of town once again. While he appreciated the greatness of what he was doing for its own sake, still, he could not help wonder when he would actually merit seeing the holy prophet Eliyahu, as the sage had said he would. Would he have to wait much longer?

            In the meantime, as he drew closer to the home of the unfortunate family, the husband and wife were having a conversation. “The envelopes that were dropped off at our doorstep these last few weeks truly saved us from calamity,” the wife was saying. “But now we have once again exhausted every last cent and resource. Everything we’ve tried on our own has once again failed. How will we manage this week?” she cried to her husband plaintively.

            The husband was about to answer when – unbeknownst to him – the man who had been assisting them arrived outside their doorstep at that exact moment. As he bent near the door to leave his envelope, he heard the voice of the husband clearly through the thin, drafty, door. “Don’t worry,” the husband said to his wife, “Hashem sent us Eliyhau Hanovi these last few weeks. Surely He’ll take care of us now as well. Who knows? Perhaps Eliyahu will come to us soon once again.”

            Outside the door, the man froze. These people thought that he was Eliyahu Hanovi! And here he was, himself, waiting to see Eliyahu Hanovi…

            The lesson of the sage was clear. Perhaps we may not merit seeing the actual prophet — in angelic form — in our lifetime. Even so, each and every one of us, if we but open our eyes, can merit seeing G-d’s messengers in our lives.

– – – – –

            We usually think of Heaven-sent messengers in terms of angels or other such esoteric beings. We imagine that Divine assistance – in situations where we cannot fathom how we would get through something naturally – can come about only through otherworldly intervention.

            The truth is often a lot less mystical. Hashem has many messengers. A neighbor, a friend or a stranger can all be our “Eliyhau Hanovi.” What’s more, as the above tale illustrates, we, ourselves, can be someone’s “Eliyahu Hanovi” as well.

            The aforementioned tale was related to me some weeks ago after my family and I experienced an awesome, heart-warming and eye-opening incident one Friday afternoon on the Garden State Parkway. Our “Eliyahu Hanovi” – or at least one of them, for we had many of them that day – came to us in the form of one of the last Jews living in Rahway, NJ.

            There are Jews in Rahway?

            Apparently, the last synagogue there closed its doors some years ago, but a small number of Jews — perhaps only three families — still reside there. Most are elderly, but the youngest of these reminded us once again on that Friday afternoon that a Jew — no matter who, when or why — is there for someone in need.

            It all began on our way from Lakewood, NJ, to Monsey, NY, for a simchah. We left with ample time (at least three times the amount of time it should take to get there) before Shabbos just in case anything should come up. Heavy traffic on Squankum Road set us back almost immediately, but we still had more than enough time and were more frustrated than worried.

            Then, just as we were reaching the multi-lane bridge that crosses the Raritan River, our minivan began shaking – mild vibrations at first, which soon turned into violent shaking. Having no idea what was wrong, but feeling that something was not right, we put on our hazard lights and tried slowing down as much as was safe. Keep in mind that with cars whizzing by at 75 to 80 miles per hour on average, one cannot safely just stop or slow down all that much.

            We were at 45-50 mph with our hazard lights on – our first miracle of the day, because, suddenly, with a tremendous bang and jerk, the front passenger-side tire blew out completely. Just keeping the car in its lane while slowing down and then stopping is a feat (with credit going to the missus, who was driving). Though many of the “little” factors did not necessarily enter our consciousness then – what with the major incident and more immediate necessities coming to mind first and foremost – there can be no question that the difference of driving 45-50 mph rather than 65-70, with a cushion of space between other vehicles that our hazard lights may have very well provided, easily spells the difference between what could have been a calamity, chalilah, but was ultimately a safe, if numbing, stop.

            There we were, thankfully untouched by the blowout, but still smack in middle of a multi-lane highway with cars whizzing past at dizzying speeds. Not a safe place for a family in a minivan to be sitting by any stretch. There seemed no way to pull over to a shoulder. Even if a car would want to stop so as to let us pass in front of him, he couldn’t safely do that with cars zooming behind him as well. One cannot brake suddenly in middle of a busy highway. Yet, there we were, needing to pass three lanes to get to the shoulder.

            I immediately dialed 911 on my cell phone, with the thought that we simply needed assistance in getting off the highway.

            However, before I could even tell the operator where we were, a huge flat-bed tow truck suddenly appeared behind us. Immediately sizing up the situation, he turned on his lights and maneuvered his truck on an angle so that he blocked all three lanes of traffic to the right of us. At the time, we truly did not appreciate the Divine providence of this truck appearing exactly when it did and the magnitude of the “bit” of assistance it provided.

            Even as we slowly limped our way towards the shoulder of the highway, my mind was already racing. Surely this guy wanted the business of towing or assisting us. Personally, I know how to change a tire and should not need assistance putting on our spare. Now I’m going to have to shell out whatever this guy will seek as he takes advantage of coming upon us in our precarious situation.

            However, as soon as we made it safely to the shoulder, the truck shut off its lights, straightened out and zoomed off. Apparently, his intention had been nothing more than simply to assist a motorist in need. May Heaven grant his reward.

            Now at the side of the road, I got to work, first extracting our spare tire, then jacking up the van. As the van began to rise, though, I noticed that it was going up on a slight angle. Deciding this was not safe, I began lowering the jack to reposition it and try again. Too late. As the van was being lowered, it fell forward (since the jack was not completely straight), falling off the jack. That wouldn’t have been such a big deal if not for the fact that as it fell, the weight of the van cracked the jack.

            Now we had no jack, a blown tire, and time was moving inexorably forward. We’d been in touch with a family member who had been traveling to Monsey as well and was a bit behind us, and he pulled over just then. Unfortunately, though, his jack – made for a high, 12-passenger van – was too high to fit under our minivan even on its lowest setting. We were wondering why other frum people weren’t stopping, but it soon became apparent that anyone continuing on the Garden State Parkway to Monsey (as opposed to those who had already gotten off earlier, heading for Brooklyn) would be traveling on the far left of the highway. We were on the right shoulder.

            I called my insurance company and, after going through an arduous process of giving details and numbers, was finally told that they were not allowed to tow us in any case. Only the Garden State Authority could tow cars from where we were. We would have to pay the GSA and would be reimbursed by our insurance company later. However, the GSA could only have a tow truck reach us not before half an hour. Practically speaking, I was informed, that could easily be an hour and a half.

            We still had time until sundown and Shabbos, but it was getting a bit uncomfortable. Moreover, it was a boiling hot day and the entire family was just sitting there in the baking sun.

            Just then, a frum couple heading for Monsey pulled over. The yungerman, a Reb Kaplan – I never learned his first name – asked if he could be of any assistance. When I mentioned that I needed a jack, he immediately offered his. In his model car, the jack was buried beneath the floor of the trunk. This meant that he had to empty his entire trunk — suitcases, shaitel boxes, baby paraphernalia, etc. — in order to access the jack. While I felt terrible to inconvenience him, he hesitated for not even a second. Within moments, a working jack was in my hands.

            As I got down to jacking up our van once more, in the back of my mind I was wondering how much time we still had to make it to Monsey. Driving on our spare (an undersized “donut”), we could not drive too quickly, and we were still some distance away. Finding a place to get a new tire would not necessarily be an easy task and would surely be time-consuming as well.

            It was then that one of my children informed me that someone else had stopped to assist us. I looked over my shoulder and saw a man with a bushy beard and a brown hat. He had emerged from a red pickup truck. As I’d changed our tire more than once before, I didn’t think I needed any more assistance at this time. Still, the man got straight to work. Bending down beside me – and sizing up that while I perhaps knew how to change a tire, I surely was not having an easy time of it – he simply took over, no questions asked.

            The man was both strong and knowledgeable. In seconds, he was unscrewing the tightest nuts. I thanked him but felt bad that he should be doing menial labor on my behalf. “I really can do it,” I said.

            If he heard me, he didn’t acknowledge it. He just kept going, taking off the wheel, putting the spare in place, placing the old tire under the van (for added safety, just in case the van would fall, he informed us), and then tightening the nuts on the spare. As he worked, he informed us (in response to my “Fun vament kumt ah Yid? Where are you from?”) that he lived right “here.”

            Here? We were in middle of (what was to me) nowhere. Just some in-between stretch on the Garden State Parkway.

            We were in Rahway, he pointed out, and he lived there. Though the last synagogue closed when he was five, there are still three Jewish families left. Still, he is by far the youngest Jew there.

            Before we could talk any further, he was already lowering our van.

            As the van came down, the spare went down – perhaps a bit more than seemed comfortable. I saw him grimace. “The spare is not too full,” he said, “but don’t worry. I know a place just down the road — two places actually — where you can get a new tire.”

            What were the chances of finding a local Jew — or of him finding us — in middle of the Garden State Parkway, a local who knew the neighborhood and thus knew exactly where we could get a new tire on a Friday afternoon?

            This fellow wasn’t done yet.

            “How do I get to these shops?” I asked.

            “Just follow me.”

            “I’d hate to inconvenience you. It was nice enough that you pulled over and even changed our tire!” I said. “Surely you have other things to do.”

            “Just follow me. I’ll take you right there,” he insisted.

            Seeing me struggling with the ripped up tire on our wheel and trying to find place for it in the stuffed back of our van, he grabbed hold of it. “I’ll just throw it in back of my truck. Come.”

            As we followed him (and I called to cancel the GSA tow truck request), one of the family members remarked that from the way this angel-in-disguise was assisting us so magnanimously, he was probably even calling ahead so the shop would be ready for us when we got there. We followed the red pickup for a while, turning here and there, and it soon became clear that we would have had quite a job and would have spent quite some time — on this Friday afternoon — trying to find a place to change a tire on our own.

            Before too long, though, we came upon a tire shop and pulled up alongside the red pickup. I exited our van as he got down from the back of his truck with our tire in one hand. It was surely a good feeling to be taken care of like this, but again I felt bad to take his time and told him that now that we were at the shop, it would really be okay if he needed to go.

            “Let’s just go into the shop,” he said.

            We entered and I was about to tell the clerk that I needed a new tire, when our new friend said, “I just called you. About the Chevy…”

            “Oh, sure,” the woman said. “Just bring the van right around to the front. They’re waiting for you.”

            Indeed, he had called ahead!

            It soon became clear that he’d done more than that. “The other place is really a drop closer,” he told me, “but this place is much more efficient.”

            It seemed he’d called both places, and as the closer shop either didn’t have our tire or couldn’t promise to assist us immediately, he called the second shop and found their response satisfactory. Indeed, within minutes, our tire was changed, balanced and placed.

            “Tell him to fill your spare with air too,” our friend told me. “Just in case you should ever need it again.”

            In the few minutes it took for our van to be ready, we had some time to converse some more. I learned that the name of our “angel” is Ari White. I gleaned a bit of his background (apparently, he was not Eliyahu Hanovi, but a real, actual, Jew!) and hope I was able to express at least a tiny bit of my appreciation for what he had done for us.

            Perhaps most interesting was one tidbit he shared with us. The red pickup he was driving, he told us, originally belonged to his grandfather who had passed away just last year. “When I passed you by,” he said, “I thought to myself that my grandfather would never pass anyone on the side of the road and not offer to help. Although I was on the other side of the highway and it was too late for me to pull over, I got off the exit, went around, and came back. I knew I couldn’t pass by and not help, especially not in his truck.”

            No doubt, the act was an immense merit for the soul of his grandfather. More than that, it brought home once more the simple truth of the words of our sages (Yevamos 79a) that “There are three traits in this [Jewish] nation: They are merciful, bashful, and seek loving-kindness.” On top of that, it was a reminder that Hashem’s assistance can come about in the blink of an eye, and in the most unexpected of ways. His angels are everywhere, and if we but make the effort, we can very well be His angels ourselves.

– – – – –

            Yes, thanks to the Divine assistance and His human emissaries, we made it to Monsey in time. While we just missed the “early” Shabbos, we had more than enough time until sundown. All we needed was to find a later minyan, but that’s a whole other story…




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