There are gifts that can never be anticipated, and certainly not repaid. When you think about your life; I am sure that you will detect many such presents. Some of them are so general and so easy to share that you can easily not see them. Last night, for instance, the sky assumed a usually deep shade of blue before it finally receded into black, and let the white/golden moon take its place with the kind of delicacy and splendor that are hard to find at the same moment. Everyone in Yerushalaim sees it; some of us were able to let it speak to us, and others were not.
There are other times that the gift you receive is so unique, that it stands out. Friday night, I received this kind of gift. I was with the Bnos Avigail for our Shabbos in the Old City. We stayed on Har Tzion, very near the tomb of King David. When we arrived on Friday afternoon, the security men only allowed 15 girls in at a time. The result was that the rest of us davened minchah immediately outside the kever in the open area that no doubt was the place that countless people davened or learned before us, and the girls who went inside had the rare experience of being there when there aren’t crowds of tourists breaking the silent speech of tefillah. After the seudah, we walked to the Old City.
To give you an idea of why I call this a miracle, I want to recall a conversation that I heard about a half a year ago. Professor Robert Aumann is a Nobel prize recipient, and is completely observant. In fact, when the committee in charge of the event informed him that 1) tickets for the event itself will only be given to immediate family, meaning parents, spouses and children, and 2) formal dress is required, and the Nobel committee in Stockholm will arrange for tuxedos for the men they were in for a surprise. Most Nobel laureates have relatively small families, i.e. a spouse, and two kids or so, and maybe an elderly parent. They were not ready for a laureate who needed 11 seats. He also informed them of the Biblical injunction to refrain from wearing wool and linen, and the absence of an official shatnez checker in Stockholm to check the tuxedos for himself and his sons. What this all tells you, is that he is both quite brilliant, and more significantly a man of deep commitment to Torah and profound faith in Hashem.
He was talking to a non-Jewish college quite a number of years ago when looking at the Old City from the panoramic view on the Haas Promenade. He was asked if he ever expected to get to go to the Western Wall. He had said that man will walk on the moon before this will happen.
When Hashem decided the time was ripe, in what was close to a dream sequence, everything changed, and we can walk through Shaar Tzion, the gate through which our forces entered as they re-took the Old City in 1967. Heading onwards, we walked on Rechov Chabad. I was explaining some of the history (we could see the Cardo, the remains of the ancient Roman marketplace), when an elderly gentlemen said, “I have a story to tell you about Yerushalaim”. He told us how he took an active interest in building a mikveh in the Old City, and raised funds, and sat with the architect and contractors about making it happen. As things turned out, they uncovered a water duct that goes all the way to Beit Lechem, built by Shlomo HaMelech, thus bonding the past and present in ways that typify being in the Old City. When he was finished, I asked him to give the girls a brachah. He said that the Talmud tells us that there are always 36 hidden tsaddikim, and he isn’t one of them, but he had one moment in which he as. Of course I asked him what happened.
“The law requires that before any reconstruction can be done in the Old City, the archeologists have to be given the opportunity to examine the site. There is a recently built basketball court built for the children of the Old City. As they dug, the remains of an ancient church were uncovered. The plan suggested by the secular authorities was to dig up the entire area so that the church be presented and become a tourist exhibit. He found out about this, informed the erudite senior Rav of the Old City, Rav Nebentzahl shlita who invited the mayor to his home to discuss the matter. The mayor, Mr. Leon, who Is traditional and very respectful of religion immediately agreed that what the Old City needs is not a bastion of avoda zara and arranged for the plan to be stopped. “That was my moment”, he told us. At that point I suspected something. I asked him for his name, and he said “Holtzberg”. I asked him if he was the Holtzberg who is so active in visiting the sick. “Yes” he told me. I immediately realized that he is Rav Aryeh Levine’s grandson, son of Reb Simchah Holtzberg who was also called the “Father of the Wounded” for his commitment to wounded soldiers.
Was this not a gift to the girls?
I only have one regret. I could have asked him about his grandfather, and about what his moments of being one of the 36 hidden tsaddikim were, since he told him that he had one.
But who has to look a gift horse in the mouth?
May you all soon be in Yerushalaim in the Bais HaMikdash, feeling the beauty of Hashem’s greatest gift to us; His presence.