Friday, October 29, 2004

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Miracles in Meron

Copyright 2004 by Akiva Marks

Miracles in Meron – Yehuda’s Story

In Petach Tikvah there lives an old yidele (old Jewish man) by the name of Yehuda. He would be very insulted to hear himself described as such, as he’s only 72 in a family blessed by longevity (his parents survived into their late 90’s), and coming from a Sephardi (Mediterranean) family that has lived in Eretz Yisroel for generations, he doesn’t speak Yiddish (and would say, “what’s a yidele?”) We were blessed to have him as a neighbor for years, though we’ve both since moved.

He was visiting our area, and joined us for Shabbat. At the evening meal, we have a custom with our children to share stories of tzaddikim (righteous people). At the appropriate time, the children raised a clamor for a story, and Reb Yehuda (again he would be insulted, “Reb”, me? I’m just a man who worked my whole life and learned a few words of Torah in the Beit Knesset [synagogue], Baruch Hashem Yishtabach Shemo [Thank G-d, Holy is his Name], stop such nonsense!) asked what the children were shouting about (their fast English being a bit much for him). I explained, he lowered his head and held his long white beard for a minute, then straightened up and said, “Children! Be quite, listen carefully, I have a story for you”…

“When my mother was a young girl, her family used to visit Meron (northern Israeli village) on Lag B’Omer (Jewish holiday). Understand, it’s wasn’t like today with a nice highway and a visitors center. No, it was a long trip on dirt paths up into the mountains. And it wasn’t like today, Baruch Hashem, Yishtabach Shemo!, with 200,000 visitors on Lag B’Omer. No, maybe 200 in a busy year, and 50 of them mekubalim (kabbalists/mystics) from Tzfat (northern Israeli village of mystics).

One year, during their visit, there was an unusual commotion with the arrival of a rich woman. This was quite unusual and the woman was obviously from outside Israel. The one thing that struck my mother was she was wearing the finest scarf my mother had ever seen. This woman came to the kever (burial site) of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai (author of the Zohar), which was quite a climb in those days. There was no paved path or steps, just rocks and boulders and a difficult path. Anyway, she came to the kever and prayed for a child, promising to return with him for his first haircut at 3 and promising to come with scarves for everyone. Now, it wasn’t like today, when you can go to the shuk (market) and buy a fancy scarf for 20 shekels, in those days such a scarf was more than anyone could afford. To offer hundreds, everyone was astounded. But the visit ended, my mother went home with her family, and thoughts of foreign women and scarves passed from her thoughts, even as she visited in subsequent years.

Four years later, again at the kever on Lag B’Omer, my mother was amazed to see the foreign woman return. But this time, she came with a beautiful young child. Ah, such a child, with a bright face and long beautiful hair. As she followed the difficult path to the kever, the child scampered about, brightening the path as he ran past. As she reached the kever, the boy climbed some of the rocks, though you would call them boulders, around the kever. Suddenly, there was a scream, as the boy slipped, fell, and hit his head on the rocks below. The mother turned and ran to her son. Hashem Yishmo (G-d should help!), he lay still, and the glow of life left his face as his mother picked him up. The mother screamed, and such a cry you should never hear. She picked up the child and ran into the kever, where she placed him and yelled, ‘Rabbi Shimon, I came here with a living child to fulfill a vow, and I’m not leaving without one’, and she sat and could not be moved.

As the afternoon came to a close, an elderly rav, one of the mekubalim (mystics) from Tsfat, came over to her and said, “Come, you must go, it’s time for us to pray Minchah, and we will take care of your child.” The mother was reluctantly persuaded to leave. Then the rav stood up and shouted, “everyone, OUT”, except for 8 other men that he carefully picked. He ordered the door to the kever to be closed and locked.

He placed a holy sefer (book) with the child, stood up and shouted, “Ribono Shel Olam, Master of the Universe, there are 9 men standing before you who have never prayed without a minyan (prayer group of 10 Jewish men) in their life! In the merit of Rabbi Shimon, Adonaynu Bar Yochai, and his bracha (blessing) given for this child, complete this minyan!” And they began to pray the holy Minchah (afternoon Jewish prayer).

Now, this was not an Ashkenazi minchah, starting with the Ashrei prayer. This was a Sephardi minchah, prayed slowly with concentration on each word. It begins with the Korban Mincha, the holy offerings in the Beit Hamikdash, Hashem should have mercy and it should be speedily rebuilt in our days! As they prayed, the sun fell lower in the sky, setting into evening. None could join them now, for it was past the time for those who were not already praying.

Finally they came to the Ashrei prayer, saying the holy words from Dovid HaMelech with kavana that few know. Together they reached towards the end of the prayer, two pasukim (lines) away from where a minyan is required for the holy Kaddish. Tehilat Hashem Yedaber Pe, My Mouth will utter Praise of Hashem ……... And the child answered, “Vevarach Kol Basar Shem Kadsho Le’Olam Voed”, and All Flesh Bless His Holy Name Forever! … And together, the minyan completed the holy Minchah prayer in the kever of the holy Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai.

Reb Yehuda looked up, his eyes red and his voice choked up, with the memory of his mother telling him the story clear in his eyes. “So many years, and the story still leaves me like when I first heard it. Children”, he said, “do not doubt for a moment the brachot (blessings) of our holy tzaddikim.”

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